If You Want Your Clients to Truly Value You, You Need to Be Their Trusted Advisor. Here's How. Focus on relationship-building strategies and developing trust with your clients to generate long-term results.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Do old-school sales tactics still work in a new-school world? Technology has enhanced many aspects of the sales process by helping customers connect with companies around the world that are most well-suited to their needs. But simply providing a product that fulfills a specific need is not a guarantee of continued business with that customer. A sales strategy based solely on price and product will never be as successful as a long-term, relationship-building strategy that helps the customer achieve their goals.
In relationship selling, the salesperson focuses on the personal connection with the client versus an emphasis on the price or details of the product. To bring the strategy of relationship selling into the present, let's rename it the "trusted advisor" strategy. A trusted advisor strategy offers insight and thought leadership. It is less about selling than it is about creating a connection with the client. It usually involves a longer-term sales cycle and building rapport and trust with the client. In countries like Japan, business etiquette is a complex combination of rules, customs and traditions that are geared towards building trust and respect. In the United States, rapport is built by active listening, showing empathy, being authentic and taking 10 minutes before the meeting to chat about something other than the work at hand.
Active listening and empathy build strong relationships
Active listening might not seem like the best strategy for a fast-talking salesperson, but asking informed questions and listening to the answers will help you understand what the client's actual needs are and determine an appropriate solution.
In addition to active listening, we need empathy to determine the best solutions for our clients. Empathy is "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another." By treating our clients with empathy, we get a better idea of their thoughts and motivations. We can offer unique solutions to their evolving needs. Empathy builds trust and fosters strong relationships. Don't be afraid to share your vulnerability as it makes you relatable and helps clients see who you are.
Position yourself as an industry expert
Know your industry inside and out so that when someone looks for an industry expert you are top of mind. One of my company principles is "Stay Nimble, Never Stop Learning." In the SEO industry, algorithms change constantly, so we must stay ahead of the game. Make sure your company offers continuing education programs and recognizes people who make the effort to keep learning and growing.
When you're asked to give speeches, say yes. This will help build your reputation as a thought leader in your industry. If you don't have speaking opportunities yet, you can simply record a quick video offering nuggets of wisdom and share it on your social media channels. I like to create quick, one-minute reels talking about whatever is inspiring me that day.
Be flexible, and review your systems regularly. As your business grows, you will likely need to adapt and make changes to keep up with new demands. Build better processes, hire good leadership and invest in training. Your clients will notice and appreciate your efforts to continually improve and serve them better.
I recently did a poll on LinkedIn to ask how a company's ideal client finds them. Word of mouth came in at number one. Even in a digital world, personal relationships and brand loyalty continue to be the most important factors in getting new business. Building a positive brand image takes effort. There's a lot of misinformation out there — myths get repeated so often they become "truths" with no attempt to verify their veracity. If you can combat that misinformation by educating clients, sharing best practices using case studies, doing webinars and talking about your processes and ethics, you will build a reputation as a trusted advisor to your clients.
Get your name out there by answering questions
Offering tips and answering questions on forums like Quora and Reddit can be helpful ways to get your name out there as a subject matter expert. Do some research and find what questions your clients are asking, and spend the time to craft informative answers. I also recommend HARO, Help a Reporter Out, a site that connects journalists looking for experts for their stories with sources who have that expertise.
In another LinkedIn poll, I asked clients what factors build trust and what they want from the firms they choose to work with. Their number one answer was transparency. Transparency means sharing information and accountability throughout your organization. It also means having systems and policies that support that transparency. We try to have a no-blame culture at our company to encourage employees to take some risks and understand that failure is part of the learning process. When a mistake happens in an open and transparent company, it's acknowledged and then processes are put in place so it won't happen again.
Authenticity is one of the most important ways to develop trust. Sharing your personal stories, both good and bad, will help clients see you as a real person instead of someone on the other end of a Zoom call.
Never stop learning, set yourself up as an industry expert through continued education, then share that knowledge with others by answering questions on various forums or by speaking at industry events. Add value by offering pieces of wisdom on your social media channels. Be an active listener. Ask informed questions so that clients feel heard. Put yourself in your client's shoes so that you better understand their problems and can offer unique solutions. Which strategies can you start today to begin shifting into a trusted advisor role?