The Client-centred Blog

Why challenging your clients is great for business

The key difference between an adviser who focuses upon doing purely transactional business and a ‘Trusted adviser’ is how the adviser is positioned in the mind of the client.

A ‘Trusted Adviser’ is someone a client turns to for their advice, opinion, viewpoint, and even coaching on important aspects of their life, their business and key decisions.

One of my clients described being a ‘Trusted Adviser’ as being part of a client’s ‘inner circle’, which I thought was a good description.

A few years ago, I came across some research that is both eye-opening and food for thought about how you interact with your clients.

Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson conducted a study of B2B salesperson productivity with more than 6000 individual salespeople across a broad range of industries. The results were examined and written about in a series of blog posts in the Harvard Business Review.

What they found was that most B2B sales professionals fell into one of five behavioural types:

Relationship builders… those who focus on building strong relationships.

Hard workers… those who show up early, stay late and go the extra mile.

Lone wolves… self-confident rule breakers who do things their way.

Reactive problem solvers… reliable, detail oriented, address issues quickly.

Challengers… deeply understand clients and their businesses, assertive, not afraid to challenge.

Which category do you think has the most star performers?

Since viewing this research, I have asked many advisers which category they think has the most star performers and the answer is almost always the same.

The relationship builders.

Yet the research found that the relationship builder’s category has the least star performers with only 7% in this category. The highest percentage of star performers is the challengers, who represent 40% of this category.

So, what can you make of this?

What can you make of the fact that so many business people are focused on building strong relationships and yet this research reveals that there is another important factor?

Here is one of my thoughts.

When one of the main purposes of what you do is helping your clients clarify, plan for, and achieve their goals it requires you to thoroughly know your client and be able to demonstrate this understanding in everything you do for them.

It is also true that some, if not all, your clients will have beliefs, ideas, or views that, if gone unchallenged, could easily sabotage their success.

Many people are poor with money, they may procrastinate, they may have a history of making bad decisions, and may turn to people who have strong opinions, like their best mate down the pub, but who knows little about a subject (investing being a good example).

How many of us have not made mistakes or errors of judgement at some point?

I once invested in a mining stock on the advice of a friend who apparently was ‘in the know’ and you can guess what happened to that money. Yes, I never saw it again!

While relationships are, of course, important, if you are unwilling to risk creating tension in the relationship it can stop you asking searching questions or allowing the client to feel uncomfortable (by confronting them with the potential consequences of their thinking or behaviour).

A common example that often comes up is when an adviser avoids silence in a conversation and so jumps in to break it.

Yet a silent period will often be a precursor to a genuine breakthrough, epiphany, or insight. The short potential discomfort of being robustly challenged far outweighs the significant discomfort of making a big mistake later on.

One of the reasons that Challengers have the most star performers is that they are not people pleasers. They do not shy away from the hard truth and the fact that they are willing to challenge their clients clearly demonstrates this fact.

Challengers are totally focused upon their clients and helping them get what they want – and isn’t this what it is all about? P.S. If you reflect upon your client relationships, are you exploring potential issues and robustly challenging them? There is a goldmine in doing this, not least in simply being in service to your client.

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