A client recently asked me, “How do you build trust with your clients?”

There are a lot of useful resources out there for building trust. One of our favorites is the classic, The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, or of course, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. If you haven’t read these, you need to.

But right now, we will speak from our experience by sharing three critical components to building trust with your clients.

1. Tell clients what they need to hear, not only what they want to hear.

Early in my consulting career, I had a client pull me into his office. He shared with me that he highly valued the work I was delivering for the team. He told me I was good at taking orders from him and getting things done. However, he had an issue. He wanted more from me than delivering above and beyond. He wanted me to use my experience and opinions to advise him. To share with him how I think he should do things. He trusted me because I was delivering but was getting frustrated because I wasn’t willing to put myself out there. The truth was, I was afraid to tell him what he needed to hear. I was concerned that I would jeopardize my relationship and, therefore, my contract. In fact, the opposite was happening! My approach backfired. The truth was, he was paying way too much for me to just do what he told me. He needed a partner.

When you are working on building trust, you will only get so far if you don’t put yourself out there and share with your client what they need to hear, not only what they want to hear. Of course, you can take this to the other extreme and continuously be pointing out to everyone everything they are doing wrong and how they should do it. Find the right balance.

2. Be genuine.

When you give canned answers and don’t empathize, you won’t be able to build trust. While there are many objective factors in developing trust, trust-building is very relational. There is a subjective component to it. Being real with, and being able to relate to, your client is a must. Without this ability, it won’t matter how honest you are or how well you execute your communication strategies. People don’t trust what they don’t know. Let your client get to know you, and take the time to get to know them. Learn how to relate to them on a human level. You don’t need to become their friend. You simply want to remove barriers that prevent you from building trust.

I have found that most people are either very good at being genuine at the expense of telling the client what they need to hear. Or the opposite is true. If you develop the ability to do both well, you will be on your way to being trusted by your clients. 

3. Be honest.

The need to be honest when building trust is so obvious I almost didn’t put it in this post. But as I thought about this, it occurred to me how much of an issue truth (or lack of) is in our business relationships. This issue can manifest itself in several forms. It could be you are just flat out lying (cheating on timesheets, giving excuses for not delivering on time, etc.). Or advising them one way and then providing different advice to others. It could be you saying something about your client behind their back. One of my managers became notorious for being on conference calls saying one thing and simultaneously private messaging people on the call and saying something totally different. It was pure manipulation. That approach worked great for many years, until one day, it didn’t.

If you want to build trust with your client, you are going to need to remain honest. Honesty could harm your business in the short-term (i.e., less profits) but pay dividends in the long-term. For example, you may need to tell your client that they would be better off with one of your competitors. Or, you will need to come back to admit fault. Other times, the issue may be on the client-side. Honesty goes both ways.

-Ryan Fischer, Founder of Hill City Global


About Hill City Global:  Our mission is to see our client’s vision come to life through the implementation of their strategic initiatives by working alongside them as a trusted partner. We do this by providing project implementation and related consulting services through our easy to work with team that knows how to communicate and fits your culture. We are proud to call Sofia, Bulgaria home. Learn more at www.hillcityglobal.com

Company Leadership: Ryan Fischer, CEO and Founder 

Board of Advisors: Chris Daum, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors at FMI Corporation; Joseph Swarengin, Vice President and US CFO of Krispy Kreme; Adrian Donato, Ed.D, University of Southern California (USC) Lecturer and Founder of InterEd Strategic.