Does your client view you as a trusted advisor?

Are you pondering whether or not you are a trusted advisor to your client?  If so – then STOP pondering, the answer is likely “no”.  If you are viewed by your client as a trusted advisor, it's obvious and you don’t have to think about it.  It’s odd to me that in my 16 years in executive search (on both the agency side as well as on the inside within corporate America), I can count on one hand the number of clients that authentically view me as their search trusted advisor.  


For quite some time I have asked myself: “Why doesn’t every client view me as a trusted advisor, why don’t they get it?”  I’m not sure I have a solid answer yet.  I have realized though that it’s mostly not about me.  If you do great work; you do it quickly with little to no drama and everyone wins… right?  Seems simple and intuitive.  It’s not tricky, just put yourself in their shoes.


So what is it?  Has the client been burned in the past?  Is that why they won’t let you in?  Isn’t
this similar to someone that has been dumped or burned by an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend?  Walled of, won’t let anyone in or close for fear of being burned again.  Is this jilted lover phenomenon the cause of the tenuous client/recruiter relationships?  So when is it time to let go of the bad stuff that happened and begin to trust again?  This is the classic relationship story with the partner that got dumped or cheated on and swears off ever letting anyone in.


I’m not questioning the obvious benefits our clients enjoy when they retain us on a search and things run smooth and fast and everyone is happy.  It is as if you’re one of them, in their company, working for the same mission. I’m sure many of you have had this experience and know how great it feels.  I’m wondering why I can’t have all of my client relationships be like those few coveted client partnerships that flourish.  I have a few ideas though…


So why do some clients not allow you to be their trusted advisor?  Have we not done enough work together yet to prove our worth and value to the client?  Is it a lack of control thing?  Is it a sense of defeat that they have to call a recruiter to fill a need? 


The list is likely long and I welcome your thoughts as to why you think clients don't give you that trusted advisor moniker.  Listen, I can appreciate that many clients have been burned and believe me; I have heard thousands of horror stories that blow my mind, so I really get it. Remember, I’ve been on the inside. 


Think about what it is like to be around your very best friend.  It’s easy right?  It’s comfortable.  There is mutual respect.  You make each other laugh.  You help each other through tough times.  You’ll do anything for each other.  You trust each other.  Are you starting to see the correlation here?


So is it too much to ask that my client be my best friend and I my client’s best friend?  You trust your doctor with your life and you give full disclosure to your attorney.  Maybe there is something to learn about those relationships?


I think this is a big conversation and would love your thoughts.


Views: 377

Comment by Paul S. Gumbinner on August 27, 2012 at 8:25am

Many clients simply don't know how to use recruiters.  I have one client who is president of her company.  Over the last twelve years, I have placed five of seven department heads.  But I am not a trusted adviser.  I am, however, a "go to" person.  I  will take that.  Now, ironically, I am a trusted adviser to her head of human resources.  Go figure. I am not sure this president trusts anyone.  Just the nature of the relationship.

Trusted advisers are like dating - you meet many people but only really connect with a very few.  That is just the way it is in this business.

Comment by Cindy Cremona, CPC on August 27, 2012 at 11:15am

I agree with Paul. I cherish the clients who cherish me. These are the first tier clients - they get 150% of what I've got, top to bottom. The second tier clients are still held to the standards I need to do my job well, but our relationship isn't at the same depth. They are good clients, value my results, but prefer to keep their own council. Fine by me, as long as they respect the process, my time and the candidates.


I don't think it has anything to do with being 'burned' before, etc. in most cases. It's an operating style in some, a respect issue in others and often an indicator of how they regard all other business relationships. Though I do just as good of a job for the tier two clients, I don't expect or give what they can't/won't offer. Part of our role as experienced recruiters is to assess the situation at hand, poke around the edges and determine the best method of communication, recruiting, closing, etc.


As for the the third tier companies - the ones who are disrespectful, users and underhanded - well, they generally turn into source companies.

Comment by Bill Schultz on August 27, 2012 at 1:56pm

Not sure what you mean by trusted advisor.  Is that really the role we want?  Paul's description of "go to" is much more desirable to me.  I've had instances where CEO's have asked me for salary studies and brought me in to have talks with people.  That's an HR function and I'm not HR.  If it serves my final purpose such as training interviewers how to "sell" a candidate, I'm all for that.  Mainly I want to be the person they call to fill a key role.  

Comment by Dan Peoples on August 29, 2012 at 10:27am

Paul and Cindy - great replies.  I agree Cindy, you are either a "buyer" or a "supplier".

Bill Shultz - To each his/her own I suppose.  If you prefer to not be a trusted advisor I think you lend yourself to just being another commodity.  I'm sure you'll agree that there are many other "go to's" out there ready, willing and able to move in to your client.  What I am referring to as a "trusted advisor" is more than just a "go-to" guy or gal.  Those types are a dime a dozen and I;m not saying that to minimize the work you or Paul do, I'm sure it's stellar work.  My point here is that deepening a client relationship to the point where you trust them like a best friend and vise verse only makes your job to execute on a search that much easier.  Would you rather have a bunch of iffy/sketchy friends in your inner circle or a group of great friends that you trust?

You say that a CEO asked you for salary studies and to have talks with people.  Did you actually do that or did you say "no"?

Comment by Sandra McCartt on August 29, 2012 at 10:42am
My question here is, trusted advisor about what?

Salary ranges?
Who is the best fit for their company?
Which is the best candidate?

I don't care if I am considered a "trusted advisor" or not. My expectation from a client is that they simply respect my expertise to do the job they hire me to do.
Comment by Cindy Cremona, CPC on August 29, 2012 at 11:03am

Sandra - all of the above, but I think the more 'trusted advisor' aspect kicks in when working on senior level searches. Does one really have to be an advisor when placing clerical positions? For those roles, all you really have to do is produce results. But if you want to elevate to more senior level searches and demand big fees, you have to offer more than surfaced resumes.

I work primarily with VP/CEO and CFO clients. We work strategically and they rely on my expertise in all areas of the process as I rely on theirs. It's a 'trust patnership', valued equally by both parties. Also, I work a specific region. My relationships and results with companies here result in more business and continuous referrals.

That doesn't mean every client relationship is the same - again, as an experienced recruiter you must discern the level of the relationship. If a new client, you are constantly assessing this relationship through the process - as they are assessing you.

Sorry - just had to respond again. It's a great topic, though the phrase-ology seems to be open to misinterpretation. Every recruiter works differently - if your 'style' is successful for you and your clients, than you're doing something right. I always look to see how I can improve or do it better or even compare myself to other senior level recruiters. I prefer the humble approach to one upmanship - this business has a way of biting you in the a$$ to keep it real.

Comment by Dan Peoples on August 29, 2012 at 11:11am

Sandra - you have been in "search" since 1975.  Don't you have any stellar clients that you thoroughly enjoy working with?  A client that you would enjoy spending time with at a ball game or a nice dinner?  A client contact that you consider a "friend".  One that you talk to about things other than the search process.  If yes, then I ask you, why would you not want every client like that?  I bet that those great clients are MUCH easier to work with and like Cindy Cremona said, you give them more than you would a client that is difficult.  Trusted advisor clients don't get in the way, they may share confidential information about the company, the process, other employees as a way to expedite a retained search project.  They just "don't know" what we know about an industry, a candidate, the search process, etc. and they can admit that!  This is what I mean when I use the words; "Trusted Advisor".

Let's not get caught up in the minutia, look at this post in the BIG macro picture of your client relationships or your business as a whole.  I don't think you can argue that a client relationship that tips closer to the "friendship" side of the scale if better that one that does not. Correct?

Comment by Dan Peoples on August 29, 2012 at 11:22am

Amen Cindy!  Well said.  Sandra - you are clearly doing good work to sustain 37 years in search.  Good on you!

I think there is a designation here based on level of search projects.  My firm, Leadership Capital Group is a retained executive search firm.  Albeit we are a boutique, all of us here come from the big box firms and understand those shortcomings.  I, like Cindy, work on "C" level retained search projects and enjoy the ability to also execute on VP level projects too.  Being a nimble boutique retained search firm provides me the opportunity to execute on any project that a clients feels is mission critical enough to consider retaining us.  If it is important enough for a client to consider retaining LCG on a search then it is important enough for LCG to consider it!

Comment by Paul S. Gumbinner on August 29, 2012 at 11:38am

Dan: We all want our clients to become our friends.  But in almost 28 years of recruiting I have learned that clients come and go. When they change, sometimes we can hold the corporate relationship, sometimes not.  I want to be trusted as a recruiter.  If I can also give advice, so much the better.  But, honestly, one thing I have learned during all this time is that I am only a recruiter, nothing more, nothing less.  Mostly, even when working on C level jobs, my clients don't want advice except in the context of the job I am working on.  Clients want results.  If, as Sandra says, my clients respect what I do and rely on me, that is all I want.

Comment by Bill Schultz on August 29, 2012 at 12:11pm

Those types are a dime a dozen and I;m not saying that to minimize the work you or Paul do,

LOL, how is that not minimizing? 

Anyway, I don't feel my clients view me as a "commodity" or "a dime a dozen".  Some of them have been to my house and drank my wine.  But, I choose to concentrate on my chosen work.  And no, Dan Peoples I did not do the salary study nor talk to his people.  And he still drinks my wine.  (and my kool aid)


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