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Guest

Seven Simple Steps to Become a Trusted Advisor

By: Guest | March 22, 2012 | 
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Today’s guest post is written by Bill Dorman.

You work in an industry which fits your personality like a glove; the work is fun and rewarding.

You truly help your customers become better businesses.

But your ‘industry’ has a perception problem and, at times, it can be less than flattering.

The ‘misconceptions’ certainly don’t apply to you because you have risen above it but, unfortunately, you are getting painted with the same broad brush.

My particular industry is insurance, but it could just as well be any other service industry such as public relations, marketing, or advertising.

We are selling our intellectual property. We paint pictures. We tell stories. What we don’t have is a tangible product you can touch and feel.

Do you see the potential difficulties in quantifying your value?

The public typically views us in general terms. If you are in PR, how many times do you have to explain the difference between public relations and advertising? And once you get past this, how do you explain what you do, how you bring value; what does your 30-second commercial sound like? Why would someone want to hire you?

And no, I’m not State Farm, Progressive, or Geico, but that is the general perception of insurance; every business or municipality you see will buy insurance and over 98 percent will not buy it from the 3 companies I just mentioned. Can you really be invisible within your own industry?

If the general public (and media) paints your industry with the same brush, what are you doing to stand out? How are you delivering your personal message?

You don’t want to be perceived as one of many, so what steps can you take to differentiate yourself?

Seven Simple Steps to Become a Trusted Advisor

  1. Make sure your message is clear, concise, and credible. Don’t ever assume people know what you do.
  2. Establish credibility in your profession and be ‘visible.’ Never stop growing or learning and always be relevant.
  3. Have the courage to walk away if you know it’s not a good fit, regardless how much money is involved. It will be much better for you in the long run.
  4. Be able to quantify your efforts. If you can show tangible results how your services affected the bottom line you will stand above many.
  5. Do what you say you will do and do it on time … always.
  6. Establish a service schedule based on the client’s expectations and monitor it frequently. This will be your report card at the end of the year.
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions, even if you fear a ‘no’ answer. This will ensure you always know where you stand and what, if any, work still needs to be done.

But my competition has a lower price

Sometimes you can do absolutely everything you said you would do, produce the desired results, and still get fired because someone could do it cheaper. This can be very frustrating, especially when you have taken the time to establish your value proposition.

It is always going to be competitive, but regardless of the industry you are in, ‘know’ your ideal customer. This is where your time and talent should be devoted. Just remember, your competition has this customer on their radar as well. Therefore, make sure you take care of the little things very, very well and this alone will set you apart from many.

If your pay structure is fee based, make sure you allocate the appropriate time and money into your agreement. If you go in on the cheap to ‘buy’ the business you will eventually resent the fact you are being underpaid. That is why it is important to align yourself with customers who appreciate you and what you do.

Always be an advocate

Be proud of your profession, you truly are bringing value. Always do what’s right and never be afraid to speak up on the industry’s behalf.

Bill Dorman is an insurance broker, principal/owner LanierUpshaw, Inc. He is an FSU grad, an Auburn dad, interested in people and relationships, and (according to him, not Spin Sucks) who you want to be when you grow up. Find him on Twitter @bdorman264

77 comments
Late_Bloomers
Late_Bloomers

Cool to see you over at Gini's place and sorry to be a little bit late to the party, but you know the reason, Bill!

 

Like your post and can completely relate to your 7 Simple Steps, no. 3 and 7 would probably be the hardest for me to live up to. 

 

Took some flak as well I have gathered from the comments but this would apply to no 3 again, would it not? Great to have such friends. Hi, Jack, how are you doing?

 

Long term relationships, bei it personal or professional, are built on trust and confidence, I would vote for you any time, Bill!

AdrienneSmith
AdrienneSmith

I use to hear that same thing Bill, we can get it for less.  And they would and they''d get the service they paid for too which is why they would eventually come back around.  Insurance isn't something you mess around with whether it's in the private or corporate sector.

 

All I know from you Bill is that you're personable, down to earth, witty, charming and you know insurance.   I mean come on, you've been doing this for 29 years and you're part owner of the company. You da man Bill!

SocialMediaDDS
SocialMediaDDS

 @bdorman264 SO happy to see you over at @ginidietrich 's place!  And what a great post! You really know how and when to mix it up...you can be "professional entrepreneurial Bill" and impress us with the likes of this post and you can be "funny, wacky Bill" and make us laugh until our sides ache.  Talented.  And, nice choice, Gini!

My favorite step that I always try to do not only in my professional life but in life in general is #5..."do what you say you will do and do it on time...always."  Following this little piece of advise will make the others in the list fall into place...it will help to facilitate a clear and concise message and it will help to establish credibility.  Whenever I am feeling particularly overwhelmed or unsure of my decisions, I remind myself that I just need to keep on doing what I do well, and the rest will fall into place. 

Glad I got over here to visit!  Always nice to see you @bdorman264  and Gini, you done did good....great choice for a guest blogger!!

Claudia

reastman
reastman

Bill:

 

You are kidding, right?  This is pretty funny.

 

Going onto a website line "SpinSucks", and pleading innocence and/or ignorance, and talking about 'Becoming a Trusted Advisor' while slipping in an almost-subliminal bashing of three competitive brands with a wholly unsupported statement is, of course, one of the epitomes of Spin (and pretty smarmy.)  

 

Since being a trusted advisor requires providing client-directed insight and guidance, the self-serving angle of this, without even much pretense of trying to disguise it very well, makes this either a fantastically ignorant piece or a self-parody that just misses the mark. 

Juliannevahc0
Juliannevahc0

@globallover2 wow this is great @walmartmarket

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@bdorman264 You just took up my whole column!

bdorman264
bdorman264

I still have to laugh how many commenting points I have; it's about the only thing socially I measure well on. I'm just surprised you got me to hang around this long without ever feeding me....... just sayin'.........:)

WordsDoneWrite
WordsDoneWrite

This is great advice, Bill. Truly. Some of these lessons I've learned the hard way, and others I just inherently knew and have always practiced.

 

Every day, we have the opportunity to brand ourselves, promote our industries, and do good. Too many folks get caught up in just cranking stuff out, without taking a moment to remember the big picture. These are good reminders that should help keep people on track.

Ruth Zive
Ruth Zive

Amazing Bill!  Love this!  Finally, I get to see you with your insurance hat on.

Al Smith
Al Smith

Great list Bill.  Glad u snuck in the back door.  "Never stop growing and learning"  always need to remember that.  Remain teachable.  Sounds like things are good.  Thanks.

 

Hi Gini

 

Al

wendykeneipp
wendykeneipp

Hi Bill -

 

Great advice! Selling the intangible, complex, and long-term solution takes a more sophisticated approach in working with clients than simply selling a one-time product. This isn't a business where you make some quick gains and get out, which is good for the client. The people who are really good at this are going to be around to help them for a long time.

 

I really liked your point of being invisible in your own industry. People get to see and know what the media feeds us, and most of the carriers, and even agencies, often run very low key, being focused on the client relationship rather than the advertising. Again - it's good for the client.

 

Glad Gini left the door unlocked!

EricaAllison
EricaAllison

Hi Bill!

I love your list and find that #3 and #6 are my hardest ones to manage. I recently walked away from my biggest account because we just weren't a fit. I wish I had walked away in the negotiation stage, or as I like to call it, the courting phase. It would have been easier. However, I always look for lessons learned and definitely learned many a lesson with that account.  Re: schedule based on client expectations, that's a tough one when the expectations are so often like a bouncing ball or unrealistic. But then again, that goes along with Managing Expectations!! 

 

Good to see you at Spin Sucks, Bill and nice to read your business side.

rdopping
rdopping

Bill, not much left to say about this topic. I think McBreen said it all..;-).

 

The thing that resonates with me about this topic is that most clients think they can get the same thing from every consultant thereby whitewashing the industry  (mine is design & architecture) so you really need to be clear with your clients about YOUR services and model.

 

Competing on the same level is crucial. Competing against guys that are way smaller just put you in the position of being underpaid. Love that comment about "buying" services. It happens so often in my business and it's sooooo wrong on so many levels.

 

It takes some time to become a Trusted Advisor doesn't it? I have an account that I have been working on for 3 years now and we are finally, through consistency of service, becoming just that; trusted and understood (hmmmm, maybe we just slow....yikes, never thought of that). 

 

Educating your client is key on my list and I love that you said managing expectations (#6) because I have found that doing just that goes a long way to becoming trusted. You don't have to over-deliver. You just need to deliver, EVERY DAMN TIME. That's what gets you there in my book.

 

Awesome post. Insurance sounds like sooooo much fun.

Faryna
Faryna

Looking good, Billy. You even make insurance look good.

aliciamjay
aliciamjay

Oh my gosh, Bill! I loved this post! You really blew me away. Number seven (asking the hard questions) is really resonating with me. You have to ask but then be really willing to listen and hear what they're telling you.

SamanthaJVilleg
SamanthaJVilleg

@ginidietrich and @bdorman264 Good stuff here, on being trusted advisor. Thank you for sharing!

Evolve_Digital
Evolve_Digital

@bdorman264 anytime! @thewic (my wife) is in the same industry I think she'll appreciate your approach & opinion.

KDillabough
KDillabough

"Never stop growing and learning". Ditto that @bdorman264 Great post, especially the message: always do what's right. Right! Cheers! Kaarina

BetsyKCross
BetsyKCross

All I have to say is, try working with, for, and behalf of dead people! Try making that one look pretty and fun! LOL!

Latest blog post: Thanks For Your Patience!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@bdorman264 RT @VanitaCyril: awesome post! I love that one of the tips is to be visible and never stop growing + learning

adamtoporek
adamtoporek

@bdorman264 @ginidietrich I only have one step. It's called "Be The Dorman" Works every time!

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

Hi Bill,

 

Great stuff!

 

Some clients think branding and design is just about making stuff look nice. They also think Ad guys and Design guys are the same. I have to convince clients that projects involve way more than designing something that looks cool. In fact, most of my projects are copy-driven and the initial branding steps involve a lot of back and forth and fleshing out purpose with copy. Creating a solid positioning statement is a good start. Now the mix is design and branding, online marketing, and that little thing we call social.

 

Regarding insurance:

Thanks to pervasive advertising, Flo (Progressive) is firmly embedded in my skull and I'm not sure I like it. The Geico cavemen are cool, but I've had enough of the Gecko, haven't you? Allstate, … oh the guy with the REALLY deep voice.

 

No wonder you have to fight that perception, the advertising is so pervasive (Cars, beer, mobile and … Insurance) Every football game has it's share of all.

 

I like your seven steps:

1. Always working on it.

2. Workin' AND learning' always.

3. When I learned to walk away I was a much happier camper

4. This is in my pitch.

5. Yep :)

6. I send my clients so many updates, I think they get sick of me.

7. Very good point, Sir!

 

Bravo, Florida.

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @Late_Bloomers Yay, I need all the votes I can get......

 

3 can be hard, especially if you are desperate for money. Usually my challenge is thinking you can 'change' their way of thinking but you can't and they still treat you like crap. Usually the lesson is learned 'after the fact'. 

 

I caught a little flak; it surprised me as I thought this was a very benign, this is my opinion type post, but I've got my big boy pants on these days. I'm mean, if I'm going to be hanging with the big dogs I need to act like one, huh?

 

One of my better accounts is with one of my closest personal friends; it took over 6 years to make it happen. Just because you know somebody doesn't always mean you will do business together. What is showed my friend was I valued his friendship more than the business. Yes, you still have to put food on the table at the end of the day but it typically takes awhile developing the commercial accounts anyway. 

 

So good to see you, regardless of the time you showed up. I hope you have been well. 

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @AdrienneSmith I had to make sure the coast was clear before I stuck my head back in. Speaking of coast, my home phone number must be close to the same as the Coast Guard. I accidentally picked up the phone one time after my wife did and some guy was asking her if the coast was clear; I was thinking 'what a coincidence'..........doh........

 

I guess it depends on what you are selling and even though insurance is 'regulated' and rates have to be filed and approved, you never seem to know what is the insurance company's true 'lowest' number. Especially on accounts that pay well into the 6 figures where there is a lot of room to play with. It's a challenge.....

 

I also know when you actually 'need' the insurance is when you can't have enough of it. After an accident, I'm usually the only one bringing money. And I have seen claims settle for over $2 mil; that's when you can't have enough insurance.

 

Thanks for your kind words; much appreciated and it is always a pleasure to see you. I hope your day is going well. 

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @SocialMediaDDS  @ginidietrich Thank you ma'am; at least you were nice to me on a Monday. Did you see me getting attacked below? Really? Don' t they know who I am...........:). I guess that's prone to happen when you run with the big dogs, huh?

 

So good to see you and thanks so much for taking time to comment. As you know, I'm a work in progress right now but I will survive.

 

I hope you had a great weekend. 

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @reastman Dude, you have already gone way too deep for me. The only point I was trying to get across was how to elevate yourself to a trusted advisor instead of being a price whore vendor that is easily interchangeable in any of the service industries.

 

All I know is it works for me and I have done quite well over the last 29 years so I guess you could say the proof is in the pudding, huh? 

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @WordsDoneWrite Hello Amber, what a treat; I am so glad you were able to stop by. 

 

Sometimes the hard learned lessons are the best ones but it doesn't make it feel any better while you are experiencing it, huh?

 

Socially I am more apt to take a middle of the road position because I do feel I have to be sensitive to what my 'brand' is. Just like politics and religion, there are some things that are just not worth publicly taking a stand on. I would rather blend in than be controversial at this point, but it can be challenging because I sit on some boards that have to take a position and it's not always the popular position. 

 

Remembering the big picture is good because it is so easy to get down in the weeds and forget your purpose.

 

Thanks for the kind words; hope you have been well and have a great weekend. 

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @Ruth Zive You don't get to see it often, because that means I have to take off my social guru Burger King crown off and knowing how tenuous social can be, I want to ride that wave as long as I can......:). 

 

So good to see you Ruth; I appreciate you taking the time to stop by as it is always a pleasure to see you. Hope you have been well. 

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @Al Smith Oh, I'm still growing alright; except now it is wider instead of taller.....

 

Good to see you dude; I know you have your hands full and I see you pop up from time to time so hopefully you have some forward momentum.

 

For an old dog I like to think I'm still teachable; sometimes it's hard to get it through the thick skull but I will at least give it a try.

 

Thanks for taking the time to stop by; always good to see you. 

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @wendykeneipp And especially in our industry because sometimes the 'fixes' take a commitment from management and enough time to see the results. If you don't have true buy-in from management your success will really just depend on luck. 

 

We don't advertise per se. We don't seek call-ins because those are the price-shoppers and customers who are being run-off from somewhere else. We brand ourselves by being out and about in the community and testimonies and referrals from our successes. This business model works much better for us when we identify and pursue our 'target' audience. We also don't chase, wasting valuable resources so we can use those for the ones who are our target audience. You know the drill....

 

So good to see you; I know we haven't caught up in awhile, all is good here. Had some early successes so far this year and some low hanging fruit that will be picked in the next couple of months.

 

Gini has been somewhat trusting lately; it's probably because she has been running in so many directions she hasn't had time to really pay attention........:). 

 

Talk to you soon. 

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @ginidietrich I figured you would have some disclaimers in there; I'm just glad I talked Lisa out of trying to post this on Saturday............

 

Thanks so much to the both of you for having me; it is very much appreciated. 

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @EricaAllison Scary stuff, huh? I actually have a business side....sometimes I even surprise myself......:). 

 

Some of the lessons we learn are hard lessons and only learned after the fact. Even when it's obviously not going to be a good fit, I can be hard-headed enough to think I can change their way of thinking. It usually doesn't happen however and you lose control and end up always reacting instead of being proactive. That's not operating from a position of strength.

 

So good to see you ma'am; I guess the Seminoles won the battle but the Heels won the war, hopefully they can represent the ACC well. 

 

I hope you have been well; take care. 

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @rdopping Insurance is a good fit for me, there are a lot of fringe benefits that fit very well into my makeup.

 

You make a good point, just taking care of the little things right means so much more than trying to 'wow' them with every encounter. As a salesperson I have to be very, very careful of not over-promising and making sure the customer establishes the expectations so we can respond accordingly. 

 

It does take time to becomes a trusted advisor and that is why it is important to align with like minded businesses as much as possible. Another key is always keep the lines of communication open so you aren't the last one getting the call when something is changing. 

 

I have purposely pulled myself out of the mix before when they were just throwing us in w/ 2 other brokers and all we were competing on was price; there was no opportunity to differentiate ourselves, they thought we were one and the same. And this was an account that paid over $300,000 in revenues....sometimes not easy, but I would rather allocate my finite resources for the customers I do have instead of chasing rabbits.

 

Good to see you sir and thanks for weighing in; I hope you are planning to have a great weekend. 

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @Faryna I do, don't I?................:). Actually, I think it makes me look good because I actually have a credible job to the surprise of many; but at least I'm smart enough to roll with it, huh?

 

Good to see you sir, I'm glad you took the time to stop by. 

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @aliciamjay Don't ask the question if you are not prepared for the answer, but by doing so it sure will clear up any misunderstandings. Even a 'no' can create opportunities. Some of the best dialogue I have is when it looks like you are not getting anywhere and I drop into low risk practicing and ask a question or two that has nothing to do with the task at hand. 

 

Listening is key too and since I'm a talker sometimes I have to make sure I shut up.

 

Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by; always a pleasure to see you. 

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @KDillabough If I stop growing and learning then I become old and who in the heck wants to do that. I know my wife wishes I would grow up, but I'm pretty sure I didn't see that anywhere in the wedding vows......I looked.....

 

I try to do what's right; I'm not perfect by any means, but think I do more good than not.

 

So good to see you ma'am; hope the Nike AirSnowshoes are packed away and it's smooth running from here, take care. 

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @BetsyKCross Dead people are cool; I love genealogy and the stories you can glean from history, especially when it's your own family.

 

Good to see you Betsy, thanks for dropping by.  

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @Craig McBreen Social is like insurance advertising to a certain degree; they are trying to appeal to the masses but once you get in you see how diverse and unique it can be. Before I decided Risk Management/Insurance would be my degree path, I didn't have a clue.

 

The thing I like the most about what I do are the long term relationships; that is what really fits me like a glove. And whereas I'm always looking for new customers, my current book of business is sustainable income so I'm not starting from scratch every year. That too is very appealing to me.

 

Sorry so late getting back, but between my paying gig and volunteerism I'm stretched thin right now; but I will bend and not break...........:).

 

Good to see you Starbucks, hope you have a great weekend. 

reastman
reastman

 @bdorman264 And I respect your intent.  I come from quite a different perspective - as a Technology Analyst.  From our perspective, we tend to live and breath the principles in the book, The Trusted Advisor (http://www.amazon.com/The-Trusted-Advisor-David-Maister/dp/0743212347).

 

In our idea of a Trusted Advisor, it would be unthinkable (even if not on a website called SpinSucks!)  to ruin a perfectly good piece with a wholly-unsupported statement like, "every business or municipality you see will buy insurance and over 98 percent will not buy it from the 3 companies I just mentioned."

 

In "our" industry (technology), saying something like this without supporting research is just not forbidden; it is considered digital suicide. So to see this committed not just on a place called SpinSucks, but in a piece on being a Trusted Advisor amounts, to "us", as 2 counts of attempted suicide.  :)

 

But hey, that's just us, if I may use the royal "us". 

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @reastman I respect your opinion as well and yes that 'stat' was wholly-unsupported. However, having been on the commercial side of this business for 30 years I would be willing to say that 99% is probably closer to the truth; as the 3 companies mentioned do not play in the commercial arena. That's why you see them 'appealing' to the masses. A totally different business model than the trusted advisor approach. 

 

Lesson learned on knowing the facts before assuming anything, but I do know 'things' and don't think you could prove me wrong on this one. Maybe next time I will just put a disclaimer that it's my 'opinion' only, huh? 

bdorman264
bdorman264

 @Craig McBreen 'Let' might be a stretch.....the back door really was unlocked so I just took that as an implied invitation.....:)