Raise your hand if you’ve heard the term “trusted advisor” thrown around in an MSP marketing discussion.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever used the term to describe yourself or your company.
Now do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around…
(That’s NOT what this post is about.)
Anyway, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the whole “trusted advisor” thing. It’s a really common sales and marketing play in the IT Channel, either as a mindset or as a word-for-word tagline on an MSP’s website.
You know what’s also extremely common?
MSPs advertising themselves as “trusted advisors” without earning it. That’s a huge brand identity FAIL.
You can’t half-ass the “trusted advisor” play. It just doesn’t work. Let me explain…
Why It Takes Work to Be a Trusted IT Advisor
Let’s take a look at the idea of the trusted advisor in the context of Anthony Iannarino’s book Eat Their Lunch. (There’s a good chance you’ve read it, so consider this a refresher.)
He explains the trusted advisor role as the highest level in the four levels of value creation:
- Level 1: You create value through your product and its features.
- Level 2: You create value through service and support.
- Level 3: You create value through business-oriented results.
- Level 4: You create value through strategic advantage as a trusted advisor.
Levels 3 and 4 are very B2B oriented so you should be at least a little familiar with them. I imagine you’ve been marketing and selling at Level 3 at least, offering your prospects measurable results (improvements) within their business.
But what if you’re selling and marketing at Level 4? Or what if you’d like to sell at that level?
Good. You should be aspiring to that if you want your MSP to thrive. But if you want it to have any meaning — if you really want to market and sell at Level 4 — you need to earn it.
Remember, these are the four levels of value creation, not the four levels of “crap we say we do but really we’re just trying to sell you stuff”. To sell at Level 4, you must create value for your prospects and clients by delivering real strategic advantage.
You absolutely cannot say “I’m positioning myself as a trusted advisor,” add the phrase to your website, and call it a day. That’s bogus. It’s actually an outright lie if you’re not backing it up with some Level 4 effort
So what do you have to do to earn the title? First of all, realize that being a trusted advisor is a very personal role. Your company can’t be an advisor. We’re looking for personal connections, trust and relationship building. Human faces.
I’ll use myself as an example. I consider myself worthy of being called a trusted advisor — per the Level 4 requirement — for a few reasons:
- I make it a point to stay well ahead of consumer trends. This involves levels of research that most MSPs don’t have time for.
- I innovate in my field. I’ve personally created two marketing auditing systems, a proprietary lead scoring calculus, and a cutting-edge brand archetyping system that makes the traditional Jungian system obsolete — among other things. The point is that I don’t just regurgitate, I create. And when I create, my clients get a real advantage because they’re the first people with access to something new and valuable.
- I constantly seek to synergize outside technologies and concepts. Again, I’m experimenting and testing methods that no one else is trying. In cases where I find something out in the world that I think is worth using, I optimize it and make it fit my clients’ needs.
- I personally research and write content that advances my field. I write a TON of content, and most of it is disruptive because I’m not a huge fan of proliferating bad advice or parroting other people. My goal is to bring new techniques and perspectives to my readers. Things that will give them an edge… or at least a better understanding.
That’s just a few examples, and that doesn’t even include my experience or education. What I’m focusing on here is outright advantage. These are things that I know for a fact are exclusive to working with me. You cannot go to another marketer and benefit from these systems, period. And the technologies we’ve created at YSE? Those too are strategic advantages that you only get from us.
You combine those hard benefits with our team’s extensive knowledge of the IT Channel and that’s Level 4 all the way.
Now think about your company. Who among you can fill the same kind of role? (It doesn’t need to be one person — we have several!)
What do you have to offer your clients and prospects along those lines? Is your MSP bringing innovations to market? Are you looking for and deploying the next big technology before everyone else has it? Are you guiding clients at an executive level? Are you creating technology trends rather than just following them?
I will tell you with zero hesitation that every one of the most successful MSPs we’ve worked with could answer yes to these questions. They were always thinking ahead, trying to beat everyone else to the next big thing. They were eager to get in front of a crowd and demonstrate their knowledge and expertise. They were competitive.
I’m going to leave you with a final mythbusting thought:
There is no direct connection between content marketing and the role of trusted advisor
First and foremost, the role of trusted advisor is 100% relational, not transactional. It really takes some kind of direct contact to create that Level 4 value. Anything that you can throw out to the public in a blog post or an ebook isn’t really offering the “advantage” value — and it’s transactional. At best, it’s compelling enough to get an appointment — at which point you need to be ready to slam that Level 4 value down on the table. The onus is yours to prove that you can deliver.
Syndicated blog posts or puff pieces that offer no value to your target audience will not make you a trusted advisor. Most of them are so terribly written or off-topic that I wouldn’t even say they make you look like a subject matter expert. If you’re paying for such things, stop now. Invest that money somewhere useful. Even if you’re only paying less than $100 a month for syndicated blog feeds or template content, that money would be MUCH better spent on something like a prospecting tool (LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a cheap but useful one that comes to mind).