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The Role of The Trusted Advisor is Key in Hard Times

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  1. What is meant by the term ‘Trusted Advisor?
  2. Why is it important and what are the benefits of being a Trusted Advisor?
  3. The steps to becoming a Trusted Advisor.

Why do so many companies pay lip service to building relationships based on trust? They rather get in, get the deal and get out. This, despite Pareto’s law, which clearly shows that 80% of a company’s profits come from only 20% of its clients.

This is soundly supported by a study published by Ipsos Markinor in 2007. It indicates that the second most important priority for a business is customer acquisition and retention. The first priority, by the way, is profitability. Clearly, these two are closely intertwined. The latter is very largely dependent on the first!

Any truly lasting relationship be it personal or in the field of business to business marketing and sales has to be based on trust. Trust is key in both new business development and the ongoing relationship with a client so as to create a meaningful, sustainable, long term, profitable, competitive advantage for your business. However trust is a two-way relationship, between client and vendor. In this instance your client must participate and reciprocate. Hence you may need to choose carefully, those with whom you may wish to build a relationship based on trust. It has been shown time and time again that relationships built on trust far outweigh price and product features as competitive differentiators.

In these tough times, those organisations that have achieved trusted advisor status with their clients will reap the benefits now. Why? Your clients are also having difficult times and will turn to their trusted advisors, especially now, for assistance, advice and input. In short, they’ll want to leverage the relationship to assist them in coming through these difficult times intact and possibly in a stronger position, so as to be ready for the upturn, when it arrives.

Building Trust into the Sales Process

Given that trust is the key to building relationships, how is this done? What are the steps in ensuring that your sales executives and account managers receive recognition as a truly ‘Trusted Advisor’ by your clients.

This model, from the book, The Trusted Advisor by David Maister is a simple four step process to guide you and your teams in to attaining the marketing ‘holy grail’ of Trusted Advisor status.


Step 1

No one starts a relationship based on trust in business to business marketing or sales. The first stage, service offering based, is very much vendor orientated, offering a specific service or product on a ‘once off’ basis. This step is driven totally by the client, in that they know what they want and where to get it. They just have to order it. In many instances, straight off the internet or deploying vendor auctions.

Step 2

At the next level, needs based, a client may ask for input in addressing a specific problem or need, given that they can outline their problem and the vendor is now in a position to add some value beyond a simple product sale. Some thinking and ‘solutioning’ is required to gain respect at this level.

Step 3

At this level, trust is becoming apparent. It is at this level that your client will seek your intellectual input and advice in addressing strategic issues related to your specific area of expertise. You are no longer seen to have just technical expertise or problem solving ability. Rather you are seen as a person who will offer advice proactively and collaborate in the interests of the client company.

Step 4

This, the highest level, is that of an advisor based on trust. All issues, both business and private are open to discussion. You are a trusted advisor when your client seeks you out on issues when they first arise. You are a major support and carry significant influence in assisting your client through a difficult stage or process. At this level interpersonal skills come to the fore. These very often, but not always, are the start of a business acquaintance moving to friendship.

Trust as depicted in the diagram is a function of both ‘breadth of business issues and depth of personal relationships’. Breadth of business issues means the range of business issues in which the advisor is allowed to get involved. Depth of personal relationship refers to the extent that the client permits the advisor to address their personal relationship to the issues at hand.

Arriving at a trusted advisor status takes both time and a lot of thought. Trust must be earned and deserved, it is not given easily. Once attained it must be nurtured just as much as gaining it in the first place. Added to this, trust will vary with each client and within each client company, with each person one works with.

It is perfectly possible to have different levels of trust with different individuals in the same client company. Critical, is that trust is built with key decision makers, influencers and recommenders. Trust takes time to build but can be very quickly broken when deliveries don’t arrive as stated, products don’t deliver on commitments made and solutions don’t attain the ROI stated.

Andrew Clare is Managing Partner of reLiance, a business to business, relationship marketing advisory practice. We focus on improving client profitability through developing, implementing and measuring sustainable, collaborative business to business relationships.

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , www.rassa.co.za


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