Derek Seo is a financial planner with Ameriprise Financial, with an office in Sacramento. As a financial planner, he knows he needs to be acutely sensitive to the concerns his customers share with him. They are, after all, entrusting their financial future to him. Indeed his customers place a great deal of faith in him. It’s not the kind of relationship most people enter into lightly.
At a recent networking meeting at his office, Derek told me that before people become clients of his, they generally want him to address three questions. They may not articulate these questions in so many words, but whether they agree to work with him depends on how well he answers them, directly or indirectly. In fact, it’s probably true that most prospective clients are not really aware that they’re thinking about the questions. But they are.
Here are the three questions every customer wants Derek to answer:
- How do I know I can trust you?
- How do I know you have the expertise to do the job?
- How do I know you have my best interests at heart?
It turns out, of course, that these are the questions every customer asks of every business that provides a service. Every consultant (like me) should be as aware as Derek is that clients are thinking about these questions. And this is precisely why he had my full attention when he explained this idea to me.
How do I know I can trust you? The answer to this question often comes from referrals and testimonials. That’s how Derek gets most of his business, and a referral is an implicit affirmation that he’s trustworthy. Clients wouldn’t recommend him if they weren’t happy with the service he provided.
A website can help in this area too. If a prospective client comes to the Bullet Consulting website, they can see other businesses we’ve worked with, and that helps foster trust.
How do I know you have the expertise to do the job? The answer to this question is experience. A customer wants to know you’ve done the work they’re looking for. For example, a prospect might want to know whether Bullet Consulting has developed marketing strategies, built websites on WordPress, or worked in financial services. That information is available in a portfolio of projects on our website.
How do I know you have my best interests at heart? To me, this is the most interesting question of the three. Derek says he can answer the first two questions over the phone, but to answer this question he says he needs to look his customer in the eye. Or rather, the customer needs to look him in the eye. Empathy and honesty are conveyed better through gestures, tone, expression, and body language, than through words on a page.
For me, this is particularly insightful. What it tells me is that the first two questions get us in the door, but the how well we answer the third question determines whether Bullet Consulting earns the customer’s business.
I am trying to take this lesson to heart and have thought about it a lot since my conversation with Derek Seo. If you’re in the consulting business — or indeed, in any service business — you may find the lesson as valuable as I have.