The Trusted Advisor





  • This book is about Trust: building it and using it to make working relationships more effective.
  • The cost of lack of trust is enormous. With trust, your client assumes you have their best interest at heart. Without it, both sides expend a disproportionate amount of effort in verifying and obtaining certification. This is all effort that could have been spent on solving the actual problem the client had.

Reading Notes

Part One: Perspectives on Trust

  • There are four stages in the client-advisor relationship:
    1. Subject Matter Expert (solve the problem at hand, handily)
    2. SME + related fields (wider range of expertise than originally hired for)
    3. Valuable Resource (now recognized for putting issues in context and providing perspective)
    4. Trusted Advisor (now recognized for being authentic, competent and trustable)
  • Traditionally, there are three types of sales relationships (Maister adds a fourth):
Focus is On: Energy Spent on: Client Receives: Indicators of Success:
Service Based: Answers, exertise, input Explaining Information Timely, high quality delivery
Needs-based: Business problem Problem Solving Solutions Problems resolved
Relationship-based: Client organization Providing insights Ideas Repeat business
Trust-based: Client as individual Understanding the client Safe haven for hard issues ?

Obtaining repeat business happens because the relationship itself becomes the basis. This happens when the client perceives that the service provider has established a track record of not just providing solutions, but doing so with the client's best interests at heart.

  • Most people overestimate the trust they enjoy with another.
  • There are three core skills in becoming a Trusted Advisor:
    1. earning trust
    2. giving advice successfully
    3. building relationships

Earning Trust

  • Being generous with knowledge and service (within measure) indicates a wealth of such capability and can give your client the impression that you have something to give (you've given them a sample).
  • Sincerity is "proven" with consistent delivery of care/generosity. In the face of doubt, your response should be to "win them with kindness"
  • First, you must establish a genuine common identity — friends, interests, or background in common. (none of this in an attempt to manipulate anyone… rather, to bring the relationship more direct and create the conditions for a satisfying relationship).

Giving Advice Successfully

  • seek first to understand the client…
    • try to understand their concerns and goals (=agenda)
    • identify the players and their agendas
    • resist taking a position too early (learn how to deflect/defer demands for advice too soon)
  • then give advice
    1. provide options (do your homework)
    2. engage the client to explore each option in depth
    3. make a recommendation
    4. let them choose.
  • Giving advice is a lot like teaching:
    • you're guiding your student from their current understanding to a new understanding
    • very very likely, you will learn. This means your understanding improves and you'll be more effective.

Building Relationships

  • Advice-giving is a duet, not a solo
  • Be Authentic
  • Cultivate a genuine interest in your client on a personal level; be curious about them.


  1. Client-focus — instead of "how this reflects on me", "solving my client's problem".
    • make that transition from the power of "technical competence" to the power of "facilitating competence"
  2. Self-confidence — instead of being steeped in insecurity, focusing our attention on the problem at hand.
  3. Ego-Strength — instead of assigning credit/blame, focusing on bringing about the solution
    • "It's amazing what you can achieve when you are not wedded to who gets the credit"
  4. Curiosity — instead of "knowing", an attitude of inquiry
  5. Inclusive Professionalism — seeing the client as a peer, solving the problem together

Sincerity and Technique

  • Getting into the right mental frame of mind happens in two ways, simultaneously:
    1. "from within" — feeling a genuine interest/caring for the client and their success
    2. "from without" — acting in ways that express interest/caring for the client.
  • Sometimes you have to start with one end or the other; "from without" is easier to kick-start.
    • "Fake it 'til you make it"
  • You can have genuine human contact without being a personal friend.
    • there's no need to create a whole scene about it: just be present.
  • In very rare cases, you just won't be able to work with someone.

Part Two: The Structure of Building Trust

The Trust Equation

\begin{align} T = {[C + R + I] \over S} \end{align}


Enhancing Credibility:

  1. Tell the truth as much as possible without injuring others.
  2. Don't EVER tell lies. Never. Don't even exaggerate
  3. Don't say anything others might consider lies or "lines"
  4. Be expressive and energized in your delivery
  5. Don't just point to references, introduce your clients to each other.
  6. When you don't know, say so, quickly and directly.
  7. Share your credentials
  8. Relax; you know more than you give yourself credit.
  9. Do ALL of your homework on your client.
  10. Don't show off; they assume you already know what you're talking about.
  11. Love your topic.


Enhancing Reliability:

  1. Earn immediate "reliability credits" by making small, specific promises and then delivering on them, on time, quietly.
  2. Send meeting materials ahead of time so they have the time to review them. (respecting their time and opinion)
  3. Set clear goals for meetings, not just agendas; strive to meet those goals in the meetings.
  4. Adopt the client's "fit and feel" (terminology, style, formats, hours)
  5. Announce changes to commitments as soon as they happen.


Guidelines in developing Intimacy:

  1. Don't be afraid.
  2. People in senior positions appreciate the candor of being emotional available.
  3. Find the fun of getting to know someone.
  4. Be conscious of "the line"
    • if you were the client, would this subject matter be something you'd want to talk about?
    • in the way you're presenting it, have you given the client an "out" so they can gracefully not answer the question?
  5. Practice to test out different deliveries.
  6. Make the first move.


Comes in forms of unchecked/unexamined fears of incompetence. You can detect Self-Orientation if you see these behaviors/thought-patterns in yourself:

  • a need to appear on top of things/intelligent/be right/adding value
  • a desire to jump to a solution
  • being "too busy"
  • fear of: not knowing / not having the right answer / of being rejected.

Practices in reducing Self-Orientation

  1. Let the client fill in the empty spaces.
  2. Ask open-ended questions
  3. Focus on problem definition, not solution guessing
  4. Say you don't know when you don't know
  5. Learn to tell the client's story before you write your own.
  6. Be an engaged and active listener
    • remove distractions
    • use reflective listening
  7. Resist (with confidence) a client's invitation to provide a solution too early.
  8. Trust that you can add value after listening (rather than doing so during listening)
  9. Take most of the responsibility for failed communications.

Economics of Trust

  • It costs 4 to 7 times more to win business from a new client than to earn additional business from an existing client.
    • For new clients, the initial trust is low (remember it's a process)
    • For well-served clients, the developed trust is likely 4 times greater… roughly in proportion to the cost differential for earning additional business.

Part Three: Putting Trust to Work

There are five stages to developing trust:

  1. Engagement — the skill of being noticed with credibility.
  2. Listening — requires being able to understand another human being.
  3. Framing — needs the ability to synthesize new ideas (creative insight) and emotional courage (both!)
  4. Envisioning — involves the spirit of collaboration and creativity (getting past what's possible, today)
  5. Committing — requires the ability to manage enthusiasm (both to build-up and train-down)


Engagement is about demonstrating to the client that you have something to offer them. This means that you have some insight… something valuable to contribute. And that's "valuable" from their perspective.

The goal of engagement is to establish with the client that you are someone they should be talking to about something that's important to them.


  • relevant details are powerful illustrators of potential insight.
  • people feel connection when you invoke the familiar.
  • people (subconsciously) detect your self-orientation.

In practice you:

  1. do your homework — prepare a dosier of your client and their company.
    1. do an industry search — contextualize your client in their marketplace.
      • who are the competitors? what are they up to?
      • what are the industry challenges?
      • how might you support your client in their specific challenge?
    2. do a personal search — do you possibly have an indirect connection with your client?
      • on Linked-In? on Facebook?
      • ask around your friends if they know someone at the company.
  2. be sensitive to timing. It is likely the thing that is both important and urgent.
  3. deliver a pitch that expresses concern from their perspective and without assertions.

New vs. Existing Clients

Obviously because the relationship is in a different place, you'll have a different conversation with an existing client than a new one.

The key difference is in how personalized the pitch can be.

  • for new clients, you'll be limited to content and expertise-driven conversations.
  • for existing clients, given you know more about the internals, you'll be able to appeal to career or personal challenges.


  • We listen to earn the right to have an opinion.
    • first, in so that the client feels heard.
    • at the same time, because we genuinely want to understand this context.
  • Beware of:
    • Overly Rational Listening — only taking in the text of what's being said; don't turn off emotional elements and non-verbals
    • Overly Passive Listening — make sure your audience knows you're listening
  • Respect the sequence of story telling: background, setup, delivery
  • When starting a conversation, have a quick discussion (even if just agreement) of the agenda.

Kinds of Acknowledgement

There are three kinds of acknowledgment that convey listening:

  1. Reflective response
  2. Supportive response
  3. Seeking possibility


There are two aspects to framing a problem:

  1. an emotional framing where key emotional concerns are addressed, processed and resolved.
  2. a rational framing into a model (however simple or intricate) that helps elevate the fundamental, critical, and often hidden aspects of the situation.

Naming and Claiming

(aka emotional framing)

Humans tend to intuit (which is heavily influenced by emotion) and then check their conclusions to see if they hold water (i.e. are rational). It is in these emotional places where assumptions tend to remain hidden. Bringing these to light is critical to your client's success.

Since emotional framing can be so charged, when delivering such framing, it is important to do so in a skillful way:

  1. Acknowledge the difficulty of raising the issue, accepting responsibility for raising it. Use caveats to soften the delivery:
    • "I hope you will forgive me for not quite knowing how to put this…"
    • "This might be old hat for you, but…"
    • "I don't mean to slow things down, here, but there's this bit that I'm not quite understanding, …"
  2. State the issue. Make objective observations.
    • "I sense you're upset by …"
    • "I'm feeling a lot of tension in the room …"
    • "I notice that everyone's arms are crossed and we're not making much eye contact …"

Where the audience may not respond well to direct references to "emotions", refer to these aspects in terms of "complexity." (e.g. "I sense there are added complexities we haven't put on the table, yet.")


In order for framing to be useful, it must be sufficiently free of blame. Blame is someone's ego protecting itself. It's, then, self-orientation at work.

Since cohesion is a key element in pulling through the solution; and trust is the means by which cohesion is built; then the framing of the solution must be rooted in trust-building elements (ergo, free of trust-breaking elements).


  • It is temping to jump from a problem statement (i.e. framing) to a solution (i.e. commitment).
  • But guidance comes from illuminating the "Why" — digging into true intentions.
  • This is best captured and expressed (fit for sharing) through a vision.
    • classic: Dr. MLK's "I have a Dream"
  • Helpful probing questions:
    • what are we really aiming for here?
    • what will it look like when we get there?
    • how will we know when we are there?


  • Fundamentally, this is about the advisor ensuring that the client understands (in detail: the good and the bad) what's involved in getting to the vision and demonstrates willingness to do it. Where that understanding or willingness is insufficient, taking the engagement back to the framing mode: what assumptions did we miss?

What Heart-Felt Commitment Looks Like

  • There are two typical motivators:
    1. pain — energized aversion ("make the pain stop!")
      • easy come / easy go; this is the most accessible stage of commitment;
      • not about committing to the vision, just away from how things are, now;
    2. vision — directed inspiration ("This is fresh/new/appealing. I see where this can lead, I want to try, I think we can do it!"
      • earned — hardened by surviving counter-arguments
      • faith-based — in the most intense cases, there's a rationalized belief in the direction.
  • Be empathetic about the challenges they face. It is their world we're talking about, they need to drum up the courage, they will be living with the consequences.
    • Look to call-out the dots for them (allowing them to connect 'em), instead of focusing on convincing (looks like preaching).
    • What they give is what you get, in terms of commitment. This is a cultivation, not a pulling.

Getting There

  • Manage Expectations — work together to get very clear/concrete about what:
    • you (together) will and won't do; and
    • what is and isn't part of the plan.
  • In doing so:
    • Show your enthusiasm
    • Always tell the truth about you can and can't do. It's never worth it to pretend to be more capable.
    • Ask questions about what's troubling you sonner than later.
  • If you can't secure genuine commitment there are likely three causes:
    1. there's a lack of clarity about the problem or the vision
      • there's a deeper misunderstanding;
      • likely there needs to be more framing or visioning required.
    2. fear
    3. complacency
      • a signal to spend some trust capital to heighten the tension to get them "over the hump".
  • Make it a joint commitment
    • Act as a peer in planning to deliver
    • Here's a time to apply your awareness of the client's agenda by influencing the shape of the plan to align with that agenda
    • Be willing to help keep them to their true commitments — they are often swimming in detail; do your best to help keep what's important front-and-center.
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