Photo by Thomas Drouault on Unsplash

With the world getting automated faster every day, business owners are struggling to navigate the complexity. And so, they are seeking advisers.

The role of a financial adviser has evolved from a service provider to a consultant.

You don’t need someone to process payments and investigate checks. You can do that on your own through a seamless banking app. You don’t need someone to pick stocks and engineer returns. Self-serve platforms allow you to mimic returns of big indices such as the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones.

As a Commercial Banking sales leader, I have managed and coached many salespeople. The best? A young upstart called ‘Ryan’, polished, professional, and engaging. The salesperson with the magic wand that effortlessly swayed clients to his will.

And yet, Ryan’s secret was incredibly simple. Bankers are a dime a dozen. Ryan was an educator. He was a consultant.

Becoming an excellent relationship manager is all about human connection.

It’s not about following the sales process. It’s about connecting with people and winning their trust in an authentic way. It’s about not being a cardboard cutout from a sales manual. It’s about being a person with humility who also radiates expertise in a non-confrontational, non-intimidating way.

So what is it that made Ryan special?

He spent time building relationships at the outset by sharing who he was.

This doesn’t mean educational qualifications and work experience. He shared heartwarming tales of his family’s idiosyncrasies. He talked about his hobbies, interests, and vacation mishaps. Like that time he almost went skydiving and chickened out at the last minute, leaving his wife furious. And the worst meal he ever had trekking through the Philippines. And the wine cellar he just built in his basement.

These stories made him human. They created a connection with his customers. They humanized him.

He demonstrated expertise but not in a paternalistic way.

Ryan wasn’t the heavy hand of the Bank. He was a friend giving frank advice. When clients asked for more money than they qualified for, Ryan didn’t offer to go back to our credit group to wrangle an exception. Ryan explained to them why taking on more debt than they could service was a terrible idea. Their business will soak up the cash like a dry rag in a thundershower, whether or not they really needed it.

Ryan spoke from experience. He had seen many clients get into trouble. For a growing business, debt can be a lifeline — but it does need to be paid back.

Instead of railing against the stingy bank and threatening to take their business across the street, clients thanked Ryan. They knew he had their best interests at heart. He had proven that he was on their side. His efforts to build a human connection and then demonstrate expertise meant that when he gave advice, firmly and confidently, his clients listened to him.

He instinctively understood the emotional roller-coaster his clients were on.

And so he walked them through the loan application process, hand-in-hand, demystifying its complex mechanisms. He stood on his clients’ side while opening up the Pandora’s Box of the other, murkier side. In a complex world, business owners are looking for partners that can simplify things for them. In the world of Do-It-Yourself, people want ‘Do-It-For-Me’.

Ryan couldn’t have done it all for his clients. But he sure made them feel that way. Whether working through their projections or mapping out the foundation for their business plans, Ryan never hesitated to get his hands dirty. He didn’t ask for information and then stand on the sidelines waiting for it.

Once the loan was approved, he didn’t shake their hand and congratulate himself for a job well done. He met with them every month to ensure their cash flow was on track and the funds invested in their business were yielding the results they were meant to.

He told his clients the truth.

Clients are looking for someone to trust. They want someone who will not sugar coat things. Someone who will give it to them straight. Someone who’ll be honest and upfront whether the news is good or bad.

Sometimes he took abuse for it. There were clients that did not like the message they were getting. And they let him have it. But Ryan never shied away from delivering a message — and he didn’t wait until the last possible minute to do it either.

Sales training is a growing industry. And there’s a lot of merit to training people to follow the sales cycle, close confidently, and handle objections.

But fundamentally — being an exceptional relationship manager is devastatingly simple.

Be real. Be human.

Treat your client relationships as you would any human connection you’re looking to strengthen. Treat them like you would your most valued friends. Your partner. Someone you’re looking to impress on a date.

Because at the end of the day, we’re all people. In a rapidly advancing world of technological change, it’s the human connections that cannot be automated.

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