Get Joey's free weekly beBetter Leadership blog:

beBetter Blog

What If I Really Am a Trusted Advisor?

By Joey Havens

Share this post:

This blog is the third in the series, The Things We Think and Do Not Say: The Future of Our Business—My Very Own Jerry Maguire Blog

Last week, we defined what it means to be a true trusted advisor and the gap that currently exists between our client service level and that of a true trusted advisor. But why even confront trusted advisor? This “trusted advisor” phenomenon slammed me in the face like running in the dark head first into a 2×4. But I saw the light as I struggled to pick myself up. This same type of awakening happened in our own firm as we began to define what we really wanted our client experience and level of service to be.  As we studied the hard trends and challenges facing our profession, our partners embraced the wisdom of understanding and facing the brutal reality of where our present client experience and service was compared to where we assumed or aspired to be.  

We started with the pinnacle of “trusted advisor” but knew we must redefine it so that we could communicate the expectations and promise of client experience that should be associated with being in a client’s inner circle. The need to understand and communicate what being a trusted advisor really means was evident as we realized that all of us were clearly under the assumption that we are trusted advisors. 

And since we were all trusted advisors (no 80/20 rule for us), we needed a litmus test to help understand our present reality around client relationships, experience and level of service. So here’s the test we used to help fuel our energy and resolve to #beEvenBetter. 

  1. List your top five clients that you serve as their trusted advisor across the top of five separate pages. Almost everyone was able to do this in record time. No pain yet.
  2. For each client, write down their strategic goals. This is where our most astute trusted advisors filled in “Be Profitable” or “Grow Their Business.” Even for the ones who were brave enough to list a goal, let’s just say, confidence was not overflowing on some of these insights. Many client pages simply remained blank. This first question got our attention as we realized that truthfully, for 80 to 90% of our TOP clients, we were not presently part of that conversation. We had not proactively collaborated with these clients to understand this important aspect of being a trusted advisor. You may be experiencing some pain now, as it didn’t take long for us either.   
  3. What does your client see as their biggest challenge or risk? At this point in the test, we really began to look at each other with blank stares. Sure, we had a few obvious ones on family business and succession, but for the most part, we had not been part of those conversations. You may see a common trend here.   
  4. Write down the date when you proactively contacted and scheduled a meeting with this client and collaborated on either of these key issues or a possible opportunity we identified as the primary reason for the meeting. Let’s just say at this point, we had plenty of blank space on our client pages and we were all feeling the full impact of that 2×4. It was stunning because we were running full blast in the dark singing, “We are CPAs, we are trusted advisors, we are busy, life is good…” Does this song sound familiar?     

I would suggest that we are not unlike most of our profession. We have been good first responders, answering the calls for help. Our clients trust us for technical competency, confidentiality, compliance and to respond timely to their requested needs. However, as a firm, we are not consistently serving and delivering on the trusted advisors promise.

Being a trusted advisor should be a collaborative relationship where we proactively provide anticipatory insights, collaborate on opportunities and challenges, create significant value beyond our fees and courageously earn being part of a client’s inner circle.   

I love our partner group and would not trade them for another group of partners anywhere. They have continued to show the uncommon discipline to pursue being a great firm and the courage to challenge the status quo. We have abandoned labeling ourselves as trusted advisors and embraced a growth mindset focused on anticipatory insights and collaboration to elevate our client experiences.  It’s the courage of our partner group that allows me to share so transparently with our profession so together we can enjoy the abundance of opportunity that comes with being relevant.

Should your firm or you as an individual pass this litmus test with flying colors, I already know that you are having significant growth every year, clients do not leave for service issues or high fees and they actually promote you as a trusted advisor by being raving fans. This is a level of client advocacy that goes far beyond a typical obligation to be a referral for our firms (usually upon request) or answering an inquiry about our services that confirms we are competent and dependable.  This level of client experience takes us back to where we started in this series—if you are a true trusted advisor there is no need to paste it on your website, your clients will tell the world and it’s easy for them to do so today.   

What Do We Do Now?

Together, let’s immediately generate more urgency to challenge our prolific “assumptions” and beliefs about our present client service and business model.  Research, including this recent white paper by the Rain Group, confirms that clients have plenty of information, they want us to be more proactive with anticipatory insights and to collaborate with them on opportunities and challenges. 

Let’s drop the “trusted advisor” label and start serving clients with anticipatory and collaborative insights that make our firms and our profession relevant! It’s time to look each other in the eye and hold ourselves accountable to an even better client experience and a higher level of anticipatory service. 

My sincere hope is that this “Jerry Maguire” blog starts hard conversations in our profession and within your firm. I also hope I don’t have to start over like Jerry! Thanks for taking the time.