The Trusted Advisor

The Trusted Advisor

If you have worked in or around a sales team or consulting organization for any period of time then you will almost certainly have heard people referring to themselves as a Trusted Advisor.  Many people see themselves as having built a special bond between themselves and their customer that allows them a certain level of freedom and openness with the customer because they have built ‘trust’ with the customer.  

I am often very skeptical of people that claim trusted advisor status, especially if I am interviewing someone and they make that statement.  If I ask them to justify what marks them as being a trusted advisor then they usually struggle to clearly articulate what they mean and how they achieved that status.

However, I believe that being a trusted advisor is critical to the success of any presales consultant or SE. So let’s dig into what is a Trusted Advisor.


Let’s take the second word first : Advisor.  Working in presales as an SE is primarily an advisory role.  As SEs we gather lots of information about the challenges that our customers face and then design a solution to help resolve the problem.  We take them through the advantages of our solution and then run some form of proof phase to demonstrate our solutions capabilities.  There are lots of other things that we do, so I don’t think that there is a lot of dispute about the ‘advisor’ element of the SE role.

What is Trust?

We use the word trust in our daily lives all of the time.  Our friends, partners, children, parents, colleagues, banks and even governments – at least some of the time anyway. We hear a lot in the cyber security world about zero-trust architectures.  But what do we mean by trust ?  Is there a way that we can easily define it ?  

There are a number of dictionary definitions of trust.  For example “A firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something; confidence or faith in a person or thing, or in an attribute of a person”.   But is there a way that we can make that more tangible and understandable in our professional world  ?  Well – it turns out that Charles H. Green came up with a great way of defining trust using the Trust Equation.  He says that Trust is credibility plus reliability plus intimacy over self orientation.  So what do each of the elements mean ?

Credibility, Reliability and Intimacy

Credibility is about who we are, our background and experience.  It shows through the words we say and is demonstrated when we say something like, “I can trust what she says about this topic; she is very credible on the subject.”.  We associate credibility with expertise.

Reliability is all about how we act as individuals.  Do we do what we say we will do ?  If you say that you will send a document to someone tomorrow, does it get sent tomorrow or is it a few days later.  Reliability and dependability are closely related.

Intimacy is a really interesting element.  This is really about your relationship with the person and how much they will share with you.  If they feel safe in sharing something in confidence then you are building intimacy.  They recognise that you will not abuse the information that they are sharing that might put the individual at some form of risk.  Intimacy is very easy to destroy – and we will discuss that shortly.

Self Orientation

Finally we need to talk about self-orientation.  This element details the driver behind what we are doing.  Are we doing something for ourselves, for the customer or for mutual benefit ?  You may hear a customer say something like “I cannot trust him on this deal―I do not think he cares enough about me, he is just focused on what he gets out of it.”.  That is a bad place to be if you are trying to build trust.  In presales we are often seen as having the right self-orientation as we actively want to help the customer solve their challenges.

So if we can pull together the elements of the trust equation, and ensure that we have the right self-orientation, and then tie that together with an advisory role – does that make me a trusted advisor ?  Well – maybe.  Let’s look at what it takes to become a trusted advisor in presales.

To become a trusted Advisor we need to start by looking at how we build trust.  That means focussing on credibility, reliability and intimacy.

Building Credibility

We build credibility through learning and by building our experience in the market that we work in.  If you think about the people that you view as being credible you will probably see them as having been through some form of training and then having spent time working their trade, building their skills and experience.  This is not just about technology, but artists, carpenters, athletes as well as professionals.

That training could be a degree-level qualification, it could be ongoing certifications, both professional as well as for specific technologies.  The technology markets move at pace and so a great SE is always learning and expanding their knowledge.

Experience is something that takes time to build.  There is a reason that Account Execs and customers will often ask for the most experienced SE – it is because they have such a wide range of experience of solving customer problems.  They have credibility.  And as we see SEs specialize in specific topics within the business then their credibility rises even further.

To build your credibility you need to get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to do some things differently. You need to focus on learning and make it a habit. Use the tools available to you to learn about technologies and markets – especially some of the new AI tools that can provide concise learning experiences.  And take the time to broaden your experience.

Building Reliability

Reliability is a personal habit.  Be on time for whatever event is arranged – a meeting or a call, or anything that shows that you are in control of your time.  When I am traveling to a meeting I always add a 60 minute buffer for travel delays.  If the travel is on time then I now have time to catch up on email and tasks.  When there are delays then I still get to the meeting on time.

If you say that you will do something then DO IT !  Do not overcommit if you know that you don’t have time.  There will be a separate video on the Fine Art of Saying No, but, until then, make sure that you build time into any commitment to guarantee that you can deliver as promised.  A wise person once said “under promise and over deliver”.  

Building Intimacy

As I mentioned earlier, intimacy is a really interesting element of the equation.  There are measures that can be put in place for credibility and reliability, but how do you measure intimacy?  This is where we have to recognise that we all have ‘feelings’ or a sixth-sense, a view that is based on what our heart tells us about someone or something rather than our brain.  Do we have confidence that if we share something in confidence that the person will treat that information with the care that it deserves.  This is a key element in really understanding what is happening in an opportunity – the ability to get the ‘inside track’.  Remember that sometimes there are levels of politics between groups that we are working with inside a company.  How do you treat information that is shared confidentially ?

Building Self-Orientation

But the real kicker is Self Orientation.  When I first moved into an SE role, the sales manager that I was working for explained that when we walk into a meeting with a customer, they will look at him and think that he is there to steal their money.  They will look at me and see someone that is there to help solve their problems.  We have the same credibility, reliability and intimacy, but the customer view of self-orientation for the two of us is very different.  And that is why the levels of trust for each of us are different.

Becoming an Advisor

The final piece around becoming a Trusted Advisor is the Advisor element.  I already discussed this in part when talking about credibility, but we need to delve into building experience, which enables the ability to be an advisor, in a little more detail.

Everyone has to start somewhere – we have all started from zero on the journeys that we are on.  You need to be active in building your work experience.  It does not matter what level you are at right now.  Set a goal of being the best SE at whatever grade you are.  Ask to work on different types of accounts and opportunities.  Go and watch the best SEs in your team and see how they prepare and deliver their work. Ask a more senior SE in your company to mentor you.  

Oh – and don’t forget that you can come to The Presales Coach for specific Presales training as well.

Destroying Trust

It can take weeks, months and years to build trust with someone, but it takes just seconds to destroy it.  Credibility and reliability tend not to be the areas where you will destroy trust quickly – unless you lied about your skills and experience or just don’t do what you committed to.  They are measurable and quantifiable.  However, intimacy and self-orientation can change your situation in the blink of an eye.

How many times have you heard that in a sales cycle people buy from the heart and then justify it in the mind ?  You need to win both heart and mind.  A failure in intimacy or self-orientation can mean a change of heart very quickly.

It Happens

Think about those opportunities that you have worked on that seemed to be progressing really well.  You and the AE are doing all of the right things – or so you thought.  But now the customer has gone silent and they are not responding to your calls, emails and messages.  What happened?

And then you hear that someone in the team shared a piece of confidential information with a different group in the customer company that embarrassed our champion.  The intimacy with our Champion is damaged and trust just got destroyed.

Or maybe the AE is short against their target this quarter and they really need this deal to come in.  They start applying too much pressure on our champion and they realize that the AE is not really in this together with the champion at all.  The self-orientation is impacted and trust just got destroyed again.

Breach of trust kills opportunities and it takes a huge amount of effort to try to recover them.  It often leads to the question “What were you thinking”.  My opinion is that often the cause is that people just were not thinking enough.  The way to avoid it is to have a plan and execute on it effectively.  Communicate with the team working on the opportunity so that everyone knows the situation, and clearly identify confidential information.


In conclusion, being a real trusted advisor is an amazing position to be in.  It brings a lot of benefits as you work with customers and establish long term relationships, but it also creates risks if you abuse the trust that you are given.  The next time you hear someone say that they are a Trusted Advisor, run through the trust equation in your mind and make a call as to whether you believe them or not.

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