Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why I don’t like the term Trusted Advisor

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In a previous review of SMB Nation 2014 I alluded to the fact that I believe many people are struggling with the concept of MSP (Managed service Provider) and how it operates in the new cloud world. I also stated that I don’t believe the MSP mantra being pushed by so many vendors makes sense any more. It has allowed too to become locked into doing things the old way and that is a huge risk in todays technology world.

One of the most common terms you hear in the technology world, especially in the SMB space is ‘trusted advisor’. The claim is that you need to be a ‘trusted advisor’ for your customers and so on. I disagree.

The reason I disagree is that, to me at least, being a ‘trusted advisor’ means being reactive. It means waiting for your customer to come to you and ask about this or that. You know what? By then they have probably almost made up their minds as to whatever they are considering. They are simply running it past you to either see if there are any major oversights they have made or looking for you to do it cheaper. In todays world, being reactive is not something you want to be.

A more appropriate model for an SMB reseller today is the concept of a ‘virtual Chief Information Officer (CIO)’. This means that you you proactively search out solutions for clients, work out what fits and then present it to them, hopefully before they even realise they need it.

Let me give an example. Many resellers come to me and say they are confused by the plethora of Office 365 plans that are available. There are simply too many options to consider. My argument is that for nearly every customer I know of, the Enterprise E3 suite is the best option. Sure, it isn’t the cheapest but it has the most features, most flexibility and how many customers never have need for change over time? Agility is far more important in technology than price.

When I offer this in regards to the E3 plan being superior the next response from the reseller is that it is too expensive and customers will never go for that. Here is the crux of my argument around being a ‘virtual CIO’. You as a reseller need to DEMONSTRATE the value of the E3 plans to the business. You as a reseller need to KNOW what it includes, what options it has the business can use today and what options they will need in the FUTURE. If the customer then elects to go cheaper that is their decision not yours. I would be hard pressed to find someone whom I have shown the value of E3 who wouldn’t consider it. However, for that to be successful means I have to act far more like part of their business by understanding their needs now an into the future.

As a ‘virtual CIO’ you are looking ahead. As a ‘virtual CIO’ you are PART of their business not standing off on the side simply providing comment. It is kind of the difference between being a coach standing on the sidelines and the captain on the field making the plays. Luckily, being a ‘virtual CIO’ allows you to be a captain/coach in my books, while a trusted advisor is simply a coach and we all know that what happens on the field is very different from what seems to happen from the side lines.

I would also suggest that if you have customers then you are already ‘trusted’ for if your weren’t they wouldn’t have hired you. So if you follow the traditional ‘trusted advisor’ model all you are doing is providing advice which really doesn’t add a huge amount of value. Today’s reseller needs to be more involved in the customers business. They need to bring their skills and expertise to bear in a manner that allow them anticipate what the business needs.

I would therefore suggest to you that when you hear the term ‘trusted advisor’ being bandied around by anyone, that they are in fact living in the past. See if what they offer can be translated to being a ‘virtual CIO’. If it can’t, then I’d be suggesting that it doesn’t provide a whole lot of value for your reseller business in the new world of technology.

Returning to my SMB Nation 2014 review, I think that to be successful you need to look for new business models that challenge contemporary ones like being an MSP. If the old models work in the new world, great, but don’t be afraid to challenge them and see if they really do. Those that are not willing to accept what others say ‘works’ and find their own path through education will prosper, the rest will be lead like lambs to the slaughter in my books.

Image courtesy of Janak Dharmasena at FreeDigitalPhotos.net