Any advantage you can get over your competitors is usually worth pursuing. In the B2B marketplace, many companies are looking to develop stronger ties with customers in an effort to gain an advantage. If you manage to become a trusted advisor to any of your customers, you will have gained a significant advantage and a plethora of benefits you might not think about ahead of time.
What Is a Trusted Advisor?
Any accounts management or sales department staff can sit down and chat with customers. But, that’s not the same thing as being able to strategize and work together with customers. A trusted advisor is a company or individual that’s given a seat at the customer’s table. Instead of being just another vendor or potential vendor, you’re considered a strategic partner that the customer sees as an asset to reach their goals.
Most vendors play some role in a customer’s success, but trusted advisors get to be involved in more strategic decisions that the customer makes. Rather than being told what the customer wants and where they’re planning to go, a trusted advisor will get to discuss what a customer is doing before the decision has been made, to hear new ideas first, and to help the customer make informed and useful decisions relating to your field.
How Do You Know If You’re a Trusted Advisor?
If should be clear whether or not you’re holding an advisor role to your customers. There are some distinct differences in the relationship of a trusted advisor versus a vendor or supplier. It’s easiest to tell based on when and to what extent your customers ask for your input and advise.
Customers who ask solely about your products or what you’re offering likely don’t consider you a trusted advisor. Advisors are usually asked for input on more general industry or customer-specific issues, not just on the products or services they offer.
Another sign to look for is how early you’re brought into the discussion. Are you brought in when the customer is accepting proposals, or before? Being part of a pre-RFP discussion or decision-making session is a good sign that you’re a trusted advisor because it shows the customer is interested in more than just the goods or services you have to offer.
Lastly, you may be able to tell based on how interconnected your organizations are. If you are only in touch with a singular department, such as the procurement department, that’s not a good sign for your advisory status. But, if you are familiar with and connected to higher officials and multiple departments, including those responsible for some strategic elements of your customer’s business, you are likely considered a trusted advisor.
Why You Should Want to Be a Trusted Advisor: The Benefits
What’s the big deal about playing an advisory role to your customers? There are enormous benefits to be gained, most of which are not likely to happen without this specific growth in the relationship. Here are the main benefits you can expect to see if you do become a trusted advisor to your customers:
Higher Guarantee of Customer Retention
Gaining the trust of your customers gives them more incentive to keep you around longer and to continue dealing with you. Instead of being just another vendor out of the many that customer deals with, you become something more important. This differentiation is a great sign that you will be able to retain that customer as long as you maintain the relationship well.
Get First Wind of New Ideas
If your customers are heading towards a new practices or changes, you will need to know about it to keep up the same level of service and need fulfillment. As a trusted advisor, your customers are likely to run these new ideas by you before they implement them. This is going to allow you to adapt your offer to suit the changing or growing needs of your partnership.
Hear Concerns and Feedback Quickly and Continuously
When issues arise in the partnership, you can only fix them if you know about them early enough. Having status as a trusted partner will help ensure that you know the good and the bad of what’s going on before it becomes a serious problem. You’ll have a better opportunity to deal with problems and a stronger position moving forward.
Create Stronger Company-Level Relationships
Relationships that are based solely on salespeople or account managers (even Key Account Managers) cannot be as strong as those that are company-wide. When both companies are interconnected as partners, the bond is stronger, and the partnership can operate more smoothly in many cases. It also means that personnel shifting, re-structuring, and other organizational moves won’t be the end of the partnership.
Better Data for Forecasting
When your customers partner with you, they are generally more willing to share data they’ve collected and more real-time statistics. This is going to be important for you because it will allow you to forecast your own company progress more easily while also looking into the future of your customer. Understanding your customers’ position in their industry and forecasting for them will help you make more strategic decisions and earn more trust as you go on.
Your Company Has More Control Over the Relationship
As an average vendor, your only job is just to do as your customer wants. They may not put much trust in what you say, and may not be willing to take your advice about buying decisions they should be making. But, a trusted advisor can help steer the partnership in a direction that will benefit both parties in the long-term. You can help advise your customer on how to use your products or services most effectively and potentially upsell or cross-sell if they could benefit more from a different set of products than they currently purchase.
Efficiency in Business Deals
With a higher level of partnership, you can make things happen more efficiently for your customer. You can also make sure you’re in the right loops to get information when it’s needed, instead of having your customer spring a sudden order or need on you that disrupts normal workflow. This efficiency is great for them because they can usually get what they need more quickly and easily. It’s also great for you, because you know what to expect and can count on having less red tape to deal with along the way.
Obstacles to Obtaining Trusted Advisory Status
What might be standing in the way of you becoming a trusted advisor for your customer? Not all customers are the same, so your obstacles may not be predictable based on other experience. However, many customers are looking for similar qualities in an advisory, which makes these obstacles common in many circumstances:
Focusing more on your own goals and needs than your customers’
This is the top mistake companies make when they want to secure a strategic partnership with customers. Many companies are excellent at keeping their own goals in sight and only making moves that benefit themselves. But, if you want to become a trusted advisor you need to adjust your focus to what’s most important to your customers.
Remember that by helping your customers reach their goals and becoming a trusted advisor in the process, you are also going to work towards your own goals. While you can’t neglect what’s beneficial to your own company, you will need to reach for mutual benefit instead of concentrating too heavily on what’s good for your company, regardless of if it benefits your customer or not.
Not investing enough time and other resources into the relationship
You will never get to be an advisor for your customers if you aren’t willing to be continuously engaged with them. Customers are not interested in a relative stranger coming and giving advice on how they should proceed. Instead, you will need to invest time and resources into building trust in the relationship. Customers who see their suppliers putting in abnormal amounts of effort to help accomplish the customer’s goals are more likely to pay attention to that supplier in the future.
Conversely, not investing enough into the relationship makes it difficult to ever grow into a strategic partnership. You must be willing to risk some of your time and resources.
Emphasizing sale over service
Sales are not the only end goal in a strategic partnership. It’s not a traditional sales technique, therefore it needs a more delicate balance of sales strategy and Key Account Management. You can’t expect to gain any ground in creating a strategic partnership if all you’re doing is trying to show the customer how much they need your products and services. Emphasizing sales is often a counter-productive strategy that won’t have good long-term results for your business.
Failing to demonstrate your industry expertise
Customers don’t want to seek advice from amateurs. You must be able to demonstrate your expertise in your industry if you want to become an advisory for your customers. It’s important to show that you have a grasp on strategy, not just mastery of technical elements for products.
The Path to Becoming a Trusted Advisor
How do you become a trusted advisor for your customers? There’s no guaranteed method that will work for everyone, but some strategies work better than others. It’s important to think of this as a long-term strategy, as you likely won’t become a trusted advisor overnight or even within a few months. It can take years in some cases and many months in other cases.
The most effective way to work towards a role as trusted advisor is to build trust through strategies like Continuous Relationship Management (CRM). Long-term approaches like this that prioritize the customer over the sale generally yield better results than other strategies.
Continuous Relationship Management as a Trust-Building Approach
Why does Continuous Relationship Management work well for becoming a trusted advisor? The strategy is meant for this exact purpose, bringing customers into a long-term and more specialized partnership that benefits both companies. You lend your expertise and certain operational benefits to the customer and they provide you with better contracts, up-sells, cross-sells, recommendations, and retention.
This is not a strategy that can be done half-heartedly. If you expect good results, you need to put an appropriate level of resources and input into your own team and your customer’s company to get things done right. Half-hearted efforts will be rewarded with failure in reaching the status of trusted advisory more often than not.
To succeed with Continuous Relationship Management, you need to bring more to the table than an average vendor. Focus on the Key Accounts you really want to succeed and treat them as high-touch accounts with a certain priority status. Put extra team members in charge of that account to make sure you are communicating and networking with the customer as often as possible. Focus on what needs to be done to create a strong partnership between your company and your customer, then start doing those things immediately.
Most importantly of all, Continuous Relationship Management requires a focus on customer goals. This does not mean you need to solve all your customer’s problems. Rather, you need to make sure your company is helping your customers to reach their goals through the use of your products and services. Sometimes this may mean helping your customer learn how to use your products or services properly for their needs, or it may mean giving them some form of priority treatment necessary for their success.
You will need to communicate properly with your customers in order to determine what their goals are. Instead of looking at goals that surround only what you’re offering, find out what their goals are on an organizational level, both short-term and long-term if possible. This will give you a much better position to offer advice and service that will promote a healthy strategic partnership.
The effort it takes to become a trusted advisory can often scare people and organizations away from trying. But, the benefits are enormous if you succeed. By implementing Continuous Relationship Management, you have a good chance of being able to become a trusted advisor to many of your customers over time.