How to become a trusted advisor to clients and drive faster decision making

Opinions of contributing entrepreneurs are their own.

Attention span isn’t what it used to be ranging from 20 minutes to just two seconds — which was just enough time to read that sentence. Add in the paradox of choice, and it’s no wonder there’s so much indecision going on. One of my favorite studies on this subject is the Jam experiment. Shoppers were presented with 24 different jams, which seemed like a great way to satisfy everyone’s taste buds. But when customers were presented with just six options, they were ten times more likely to buy jam. The plethora of options attracted attention, but stifled decision-making.

That’s not to say companies should eliminate choice. That can also be a problem, as customers often do research before making a decision. They know there are other options, so if they quickly remove that many options, they may question your recommendations. In general, the companies that win are those with teams that play a more advisory role in the relationship – the relationship is not about driving a sale, but about enabling decision-making.

As a client, I certainly prefer to engage in conversations about my challenges and goals, but I also want someone to advise me, not sell me a product or service. Whether B2B or B2C, customers want companies to inform them about which direction to consider and how to get there. This can only happen if you have built trust based on humility, empathy and kindness. It’s about becoming a clear expert at what you do.

Of course there is a learning curve. You must first become a student of your own industry – or at least advise from an informed position. By allowing yourself to be a sponge while exposed to all things industry, you are better able to share your developed opinion. Customers are looking for advisors and the following can help you make better decisions:

Related: 3 Easy Ways to Use Trust and Transparency to Foster Long-Term Success for Your Business

1. Choose to believe you are an expert

Most people have more expertise than they give themselves credit for, regardless of their role. Suppose you are a project manager. That role has exposed you to different projects for different departments and stakeholders for different companies or industries. That experience offers customers a unique perspective.

If you need reassurance, write down what you’ve been working on over the years (tasks, projects, clients, and so on). Think about the hours you’ve spent working on proposals, talking to clients, scheduling executions, and managing projects. Seeing what you know increases your confidence to advise and believe in what you have to offer. And that confidence will improve you performance at work general. In fact 98% of the employees researched by Indeed said they performed better when they felt confident. While customers may have the last word, that doesn’t diminish your expertise. Start recognizing – and taking pride in – what you bring to the table.

2. Become a real, active listener

If you want to do more advising role, you must understand the customer’s situation before making recommendations. That calls for active listening. Take the example of when I started running and went to the store to buy a pair of running shoes. The choices felt endless. The sales associate could read the uncertainty on my face, so he approached me with one question: “New to running?” I nodded and he asked a series of additional questions, some of which would never have occurred to me. He even asked me to jog to see how my foot hit the ground. All that information helped him narrow down my selection to three running shoes.

What he did applies to interactions you might have with a customer. Not only do you listen to the customer’s answers, but you also watch how they respond to what you ask. Research has shown that communication is 55% non-verbal, 38% vocal and only 7% words. So, asking questions, look at the customer’s responses, listen to their answers, and follow up with more questions. Then, when you make a recommendation, the customer knows it’s based on a good understanding of their situation.

Related: The Art of Active Listening Requires You to Leave Your Ego Behind

3. Don’t be afraid to make recommendations

Making recommendations to customers is one thing. Telling them what to do is another, because it can force them into a decision. This is not to say that your background does not provide insight into what best suits their needs. But as a consultant you want to keep customers in the driver’s seat. So offer multiple options to choose from. you can do this in the form of a question, such as “What about X?” or affirmative, such as “Maybe we can try Y.”

If they ask for your opinion, don’t be afraid to give it. That shows there how well you have established yourself as a consultant. Tell them what you would do if you were in their position. If necessary, steer them in the best direction by suggesting it as a suggestion and giving your opinion on the value of that option. Make sure the final decision is in their hands.

Related: Use These 5 Hacks To Instantly Connect With Your Customers

4. Sketch a plan

While signing a contract may be the last step in the process for you, it is the first step for your client. I’m a big fan of high-level timelines because it gives some shape and objectivity to critical steps. But don’t make the mistake of putting a signed contract at the end of the timeline. Share some key steps that take place after project approval so the client knows that these steps can’t happen until an agreement or proposal is approved.

A timeline like this takes the pressure off you to “close the deal” and puts more responsibility on the customer to get approval, so you can move forward with the initiative and the customer can begin to see value.

Taking on a consultative role puts the customer first where they should be. It comes down to remembering your role in the relationship. Use your background to provide options and let your recommendations set the direction for making better – and faster – decisions.