Building credibility with your clients

By Lauren McNitt

Trust Project


Michael Lovas and Pam Holloway, psychological marketing consultants and co-founders of About People, give an in-depth explanation of how credibility impacts the client-advisor relationship.

What factors influence the credibility of an advisor most?

Credibility itself is the result of a complex process. So, let’s look at the process of credibility from a practical perspective:
    1. First, a client must feel safe enough to take the next step;
    2. Then interested enough to want to take the next step.
    3. If I connect with you (through familiarity, similarity, empathy),
    4. And you have likeable behavior (positive attitude, non-judgmental, empathetic),
    5. And you can prove to me that you're relevant,
    6. I will pay attention long enough to determine competence and believability,
    7. Which equals credibility.
Now, just the simple-language steps:
    1. Safety. This is based on the subconscious first impression.

    2. Attractiveness. The unconscious assessment of whether this person possesses the same (or similar) qualities to people who took care of us as infants.

    3. Likeability. How we project and presume positive or negative qualities to this person.

    4. Relevance. How we bridge from the personal connection to the business connection.

    5. Believability. This is how we consciously verify that first impression in the business context.

    6. Trust. The commitment step. We make the decision to accept.

    7. Communication. We tell other people about our experience, thus spreading word of mouth advertising and generating referrals.
Here is a chart explaining the process:

How are credibility and trust related? Can trust be established without credibility?

They are intertwined, but trust comes prior to the establishment of credibility. More importantly, very few people can define either one. That said, the only definition that is of any importance is the one the prospect holds.

So, in this question, we’re really dealing with two abstract concepts that are defined mainly by other abstract concepts. For example, here is what we’ve found to be the conceptual definition of credibility.

Credibility is a cluster concept – a combination of these concepts (not necessarily in this order):
    Expertise
    Integrity
    Honesty
    Relevance
    Trust
    Character
    Competence
    Composure
    Extroversion
    Leadership
    Reputation
    Forward thinking
    Commitment
    Articulation
    Sociability
    Goodwill
How can an advisor establish credibility with a client or prospective client in the first meeting?

It’s a three-step process: 1) establish safety; 2) show yourself as being likeable; 3) demonstrate your relevance.

How can an advisor continue to establish credibility throughout the relationship?

An advisor can continue to establish credibility by continually serving as a relevant resource and helping the client understand the advisor’s value.

What are the most common things advisors do to diminish their credibility?
  • They sell when they should have an adult conversation.

  • They give way too many details.

  • They fail to listen.
If an advisor loses credibility, can they regain it? If yes, then how?

Yes, but it is extremely difficult and time consuming. Regaining credibility means starting over by establishing new relationships and doing it right. The following graphic shows many of the initiatives the advisor must launch and succeed at:



How can advisors build a credible brand? How important are elements such as a logo, website, social media pages and blogs to establishing a credible brand for an advisor in comparison to reputation and referrals?

We tell our advisor clients that their credibility is meaningless until they effectively communicate it. It’s the sound of one voice praising in a forest.

I don’t believe advisors can build a brand. Advisors don’t have the millions of dollars required to build a brand. It’s a misconception. Pepsi can build a brand. Advisors can build an identity, and a reputation.

The Edelman Trust Barometer for 2011 found that Americans are very distrustful of corporations. The insurance industry was the least trusted industry, faring worse than even the federal government. What are your thoughts on the current credibility of the industry?

I cite Edelman 2011 Trust Barometer all the time. It shows that the financial industry is reviled in the eyes of the American consumer. I don’t see it being that bad, but I also don’t see advisors doing anything about it.

Pity, because the advisors who take the Edelman research to heart have a tremendous opportunity to catapult themselves beyond their competition.

Why are Americans so distrustful of financial services and insurance companies?

In the human mind, people generalize. We do that to keep from going insane with massive data overload. Thus, in the consumer’s mind, everyone in the financial industry is in the same category. Meaning, every Wall Street firm, bank, insurance agent and financial planner are lumped into the same bucket.

Now, think of how popular the Wall Street firms are. That taints the neighborhood advisor. It’s a combination of poor and selfish behavior, lack of empathy and simple psychology.

What are the most common issues standing in the way of a trusting relationship between advisors and their clients?

At the simplest level, clear communication. At a more complex level, advisors are not taking the time to understand the prospects and clients.

They are failing to learn about people, and they are failing to learn how to build safety and show relevance.

If you have questions for Lovas, please visit his ProducersWEB profile to send him a message.