Help your consultants become trusted advisors

Matti Parviainen

The first step in the playbook of growing an agency is about helping your consultants become trusted advisors for your clients. It’s about the very essence of what consulting is about. Your consultants helping your clients.

This blog post is inspired by Sampo Hämäläinen and Lauri Eloranta, who have been using the concept to propel multiple agencies to growth tracks. First at Futurice, then as founders of Columbia Road and Vuono Group.

The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs

Client: 'We have a major implementation project on the horizon, and we're really struggling to determine the best combination of competencies to have in the team."

Consultant (out of curiosity): "Sounds interesting. I was in a similar spot in my previous project. Perhaps I could have a look at where you’ve gotten so far?"

Client: "That’d be so kind of you. Let me start by explaining our reasoning…"

Did you notice what just happened? That was a discussion that could probably be worth tens or hundreds of thousands, and it just… happened. Contrary to salespeople, consultants are perceived as experts. If a consultant shares their opinion, they’re often listened to. How did the consultant in question manage to get into this position, and how can you replicate this, because it might be you’ve just witnessed the Midas touch.

The Trusted Advisor

The craft of consulting is not only technical delivery. In fact, many agencies and consultancies focus too little on coaching their people to become great consultants - not just masters in technical delivery.

"Many agencies and consultancies focus too little on coaching their people to really become great consultants - not just masters in technical delivery."

What comes next is consulting 101 advice yet it should not be overlooked. The Trusted Advisor is a book your old-school consulting manager at McKinsey will make you read during onboarding - and for a good reason. It lays out the principles of how consultants can create trust and become their clients' trusted advisors. This sets the stage for a win-win situation, where your client is satisfied with your services, and you can look forward to a long and mutually beneficial future with them.

Summary of the key contents of The Trusted Advisor

Being a trusted advisor is about four components:

  • Credibility
  • Reliability
  • Intimacy
  • Low self-orientation

A consultant should be credible and reliable, and the intimacy of the relationship between them and the client should be high. Additionally, consultants should practice low self-orientation and always put the focus on the client.

Let's start with credibility. This is not about having the most up-to-date technical certificates (although it plays a part), but you should be able to deliver what you promise. Luckily, you can create credibility also by being reliable. Reliability is about being dependable. If you show up every day and contribute, that’s already a lot, but the consistency of the results that you deliver play an important role here.

While consultants must be credible and reliable, the human touch is crucial. Building intimacy with clients involves professionalism, friendliness, genuine laughter, and, most importantly, active listening. Remember the saying: 'You have two ears and only one mouth.' Consulting is not just about technical delivery; it's also about nurturing relationships, managing expectations, and truly grasping the client's needs, including the unspoken ones.

"Consulting is not just about technical delivery; it's also about nurturing relationships, managing expectations, and truly grasping the client's needs."

Lastly, emphasize a low level of self-orientation. Always prioritize the client over yourself. Strive to genuinely understand the client's concerns and objectives – and do it for their benefit, not your own. If you consistently focus on self-promotion and personal gain, you won't be seen as a trusted advisor.

Sometimes, mistakes happen, and that's okay. In fact, enduring client relationships often emerge from challenging situations. How you navigate the relationship during difficulties determines whether it evolves into a successful long-term partnership. Always be honest about errors, take responsibility when necessary, and make the necessary corrections.

Growth happens when the whole company puts the focus on the clients

Helping your consultants become trusted advisors is the foundational first step you need to take in order to build a culture of growth in a consultancy. It’s about making your consultants put their focus on helping your clients and improving in the aspects of consulting that are not taught at school. Initially, it may seem counterintuitive that the first step in this series doesn't directly relate to sales. However, exceptional work leads to more opportunities, creating a virtuous cycle worth optimizing.

This was the first part in the series. Next, we’ll focus on how to consistently discover these big implementation projects at your clients, how to communicate about the opportunities internally, and predict your future workload to lead your consulting operation with more than just gut feeling. The next text focuses on account management.

Matti Parviainen photo

Matti Parviainen is the chief product officer at Operating. He's trained hundreds of consultants on what it means to build trust, earn the right to advise, and how to build relationships.


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