I’ve asked hundreds of consultants, accountants and lawyers over the years how they establish their credibility, build rapport and trusted relationships with clients and colleagues. My thesis is that these skills are the foundations of building a sustainable practice.
Four Ways to Establish Credibility
Right from the word go, others will form a sense as to how credible you are. Have you been there, done it and got the tee-shirt? Are you worth whatever you’re charging? Do you engender a feeling of confidence in the client? They might change their mind, but they’ll start to see you either through rosy glasses or grey ones!
This is how professionals best establish their credibility:
- They look the part. I suppose this is a fairly obvious point. A client expects their professional advisor to have a certain look. It gets a bit trickier when you’re working in certain sectors though. How do senior executives at Microsoft expect their lawyers to look? What about Shell, Disney, Coca Cola? The trick is to be professional but in rapport with your client (see below).
- They are well prepared – so you know what you’re talking about in meetings or on conference calls. Though, I’m often surprised how often associates go into meetings unbriefed in terms of who is attending and the purpose of the meeting.
- They talk about their experience in a relevant way (not a show-off way!) – again an obvious way to establish credibility. Though there are dangers if you talk about your experience too much, it can have the opposite effect. A more subtle approach is to use your experience to ask insightful questions.
- They look confident, but not too much. Some professionals underestimate how important this one is. A good starting point:
- Holding good eye contact
- Speaking with a strong voice and not too fast
- Avoiding nervous ticks
- Having a good posture when standing or sitting
Credibility is obviously an important element. Though it’s not sufficient on its own to win you the work. You need to be able to get on with people. You need rapport skills.
Four Ways to Build Rapport
Clients (or partners in the firm) will typically have a choice of people who could do the work. It’s rare that you’re the only person with the technical legal skills. We tend to select based more on rapport than credibility. Who do we think is on our wavelength? Who respects our values? Who will be easier and possibly more fun to work with?
This is how professionals build rapport well:
- They get to know their clients. They are interested in their clients as people. They might open up a little bit about themselves to encourage an open relationship. They ask appropriate questions, not just about work stuff.
- They demonstrate to their clients that they listen. Being a good listener is key, but it’s more important to demonstrate that you’re a good listener by reflecting back what the client has said, by saying something like this: “So what you’re saying is that X,Y and Z are all important to you”. They might go further and probe to find out more. Something like: “Can you say a bit more about why that’s important to you?”
- They acknowledge what their clients say and empathise. Not only do they hear the words, but those good at rapport pick up the emotions and reflect these back. It is important to do this genuinely and not to be condescending. Something like “I can see that must have been a frustrating situation for you….” can work well.
- They have an approach which is respectful. There will be times whenwe might be tempted to feel aggrieved (eg having to work over the weekend, repeat work, do boring repetitive work etc). Those who are successful at building rapport tend to park any feelings of disappointment or frustration and get on with it in a positive manner!
Credibility and rapport are key to winning work in the short term. But something else is needed for long term success. You need to be able to build trusted relationships….
Four Ways to Develop Trust
If credibility can be established pretty quickly and rapport can start to be established in early meetings, trust takes much longer. You can lose trust pretty quickly but it’s hard to earn it.
This is how professionals can develop trusted relationships over time:
- They deliver what and when they said they would deliver. It is very difficult to be trusted if you promise one thing and deliver another. In today’s more competitive markets, the temptation is there to over promise. To be trusted we need to deliver, not just once, but time and again.
- They work at the highest levels of integrity and honesty. There is a consistency between what they say and what they do and they are consistent with their messages to different groups of people. They might point out if they have little experience in one aspect of a transaction or if something hasn’t gone smoothly on a transaction. The Japanese have a saying which translates as ‘A Defect is a Treasure’. It can be that the way you deal with problems can influence the extent that you are trusted.
- They respect confidentiality. It is hard to be trusted if we reveal what was said or done by others when what was said might have been communicated in confidence. This is harder than it sounds, because we might not always be aware of what is sensitive information.
- They put their client’s interests level with their own. Many clients feel that their professional advisors are trying to maximise their chargeable hours. This is hardly going to engender a spirit of trust. If as an advisor you can be looking to give your clients the best possible value, perhaps sometimes to your detriment, a greater feeling a trust will develop.
An interesting series of questions to ask yourself:
- Are you generally better at establishing credibility, building rapport or trusted relationships?
- If you’re weaker at one, what could you do to develop your skills?
For more on credibility and rapport and the art of selling see https://tonyreiss.com/2014/04/18/which-is-more-important-for-successful-selling-credibility-or-rapport/