The best consultants work hard to build trusted relationships but to build a trusted relationship a consultant needs to be seen as credible. The challenge is how does a consultant show a potential client that they are credible if they don’t already have credibility with them?
Credibility is a quality given by a client and not bestowed to a consultant overnight. Not only does it take time to be deemed credible, a consultant needs to continually work on enhancing and retaining credibility. It is also easy to assume you have credibility with a client when you don’t. This means as a consultant, you need to continually evaluate if there is trust between you and another person.
Credibility is fickle. It disappears faster than it is achieved. One wrong move can destroy your credibility for years, or a life-time. Think of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscar Awards or President Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal or Prince Andrew and his association with notorious sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The credibility of each individual was shattered in all three scenarios. Nixon never regained his credibility; time will tell for Will Smith and Prince Andrew.
While working at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), I was taught that there were three basic ways to achieve credibility: reputation, transferred, and earned. Most of us only contemplate the third way of gaining credibility, earned. However, consultants should not overlook the other two ways and their impact on building relationships.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II gained credibility by reputation, by transfer, and by earning it.
In October of 1940 when at the age of 14, Princess Elizabeth gave her first public radio address to the children of the Commonwealth. Listeners deemed her credible by reputation because of her membership in the royal family.
Princess Elizabeth gained credibility by transfer when she ascended to the throne in February 1952 upon the death of her father, King George VI.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II earned credibility by keeping until her death a promise made to the public on her 21st birthday:
"I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong."
Credibility by reputation is achieved by association. If Princess Elizabeth had not been associated with the royal family, her speech to the children of the Commonwealth would not have had the same impact. When I walked out the door on my last day with PwC, my credibility by association disappeared. I quickly discovered the impact of not having the backing of the “association.” Credibility by reputation for many people is temporary, coming and going based on with whom we are associated.
Credibility by transfer is achieved by assignment. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was next in line for the throne after her father died. Although gaining credibility can be positional, a common way to gain credibility is by receiving an introduction from someone you trust to someone they trust. When a satisfied customer recommends you to a colleague of theirs, the customer transfers their understanding of your credibility, their trust of you, to their colleague. As a consultant, your referral strategy is instrumental in helping you gain credibility.
The best way, even though it is perhaps the most difficult, is to gain credibility by earning it yourself. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II never faltered when it came to her life of service promise. When there was a misstep, she embraced the misstep and worked to regain trust.
Earning credibility is between you and the other person. It is doing what you say you are going to do, delivering on your promise, and showing you are genuine and reliable. Missteps happen that make credibility fickle. It is how you deal with the missteps that impact your credibility either positively or negatively.
If you have been following my articles or videos, you’ve heard me refer to 10 Consultant Credibility Essentials or Elements. The essentials are tactical in nature highlighting your experience, expertise, and intellectual property as well as your professional presence.
• Can you explain your Point of View?
• What do others say about your expertise?
• Are you able to be found if someone performs an internet search?
These essentials help display credibility and help support you, but they do not replace your actions, words, or how you make people feel. They don’t help you earn credibility. They help support your credibility once it is earned. If you don’t do what you say you will do, delivering on your promise, the 10 Credibility Essentials provide limited, and sometimes, no value. (If you are interested in 10 Ways to Display Credibility, here is a link.)
Are you being seen as credible?
There are three basic ways to gain credibility: reputation, transferred, and earned. The best way is to earn it yourself by building a trusted relationship with a person. This requires you to be cognitive of your actions, words, and how you make people feel as you not only deliver on your promises, but, when possible, exceed expectations.
A consultant never stops working on gaining and retaining their credibility. It takes time to build credibility and if not careful, credibility can disappear overnight and that is something no consultant wants to happen.
My question to you – What actions are you going to take to ensure you are seen as credible?
Laura Burford partners with solo-consultants and boutique consulting businesses helping them clarify their CORE (focus, ideal client, point of view and services), build relationships, and get clients. She is the founder of Laura’s Consulting Guide and offers a free weekly Consulting Insights focused on providing tips, techniques, and thought pieces for consultants at all stages of their business.