The Trusted Advisor: 5 Keys to Earning the Title in a SaaS World

Whether you work for a Fortune 500 firm or a small, local company you most likely outsource some aspect of your business processes to another company. Your CRM system (client relationship management), CMS (content management system), accounting, HR, branding, advertising and/or hiring is very likely placed in the hands of an external firm. You’ll hear a lot of talk these days about SaaS business models – software as a service – where you can “do it all yourself”. Update your website, browse potential hires, blast an email to all of your clients – many business operations can be done right online without ever picking up the phone. But as we find out on the dusty trail, the whole model can come crashing down with poor customer service and frustration in finding someone who can answer your questions. Most SaaS businesses have a person, or people, behind the scenes that we use as the major criteria of judging how good the service really is.

Alison Bernstein and Chuck @ The Knot offices in NY

Alison Bernstein, VP for TheKnot, and Chuck Ebbets @ The Knot offices in NY

As a company builds, launches and manages a SaaS platform, a few things quickly become apparent. First, attrition becomes a concern. Two steps forwards and three steps backwards doesn’t make for a good bottom line. Second, client satisfaction is typically a key indicator of attrition, regardless of whether its being monitored or measured. If your clients are happy, they’ll typically stick around. If they’re not, they won’t. Even when there are challenges or problems, clients are more likely to cut you some slack if they trust you, and will often not hesitate to spend more money with you on new projects or services.

Phil Burgess, Editorial Director at NHRA, and Chuck Ebbets @ the NRHA Championship races in Pomona, CA

So how can SaaS-driven companies such as Salesforce.com, CareerBuilder.com, GoDaddy.com and Autotrader.com keep their attrition rates down and their client satisfaction up? I believe the key is in the “Trusted Advsisor”- a person you can call with tough business questions. Integral to any SaaS platform that I have used, built or helped launch is change – something is going to come along (typically several simulataneous things) that will really shake things up. If the iPhone and iPad won’t run Flash-based video or website pages, what should you do if you have Flash video or a really cool, completely Flash-build website? How will the new health care regulations affect your hiring practices (or how should they)? Are there ways to find and keep clients using social media? Much like an attorney or a doctor, the Trusted Advisor can help guide you through new challenges and business hurdles that are key to your success. On the flip side, if you can become the trusted advisor to your clients and colleagues you will be in a better position to get referrals, keep attrition rates low, and perhaps even have clients follow you from firm to firm.

Here are 5 Keys to becoming a trusted advisor, specifically for folks in a SaaS-driven business.

1. Set regular touch points. Whether its an email or a phone call once a month, lunch once a quarter or a sit down services review once a year make sure you plan and execute on a well-thought-out strategy for regular touch points. Never wait for a client to call you with a problem to hear that client’s voice. You’ll be surprised at the input you’ll hear from an unsolicited follow up/checking in call – both good and bad. Welcome any input – consider both criticism or praise as constructive and useful. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is key to success. Set aside a specific time each day, week or month to reach out and touch your clients.

2. Read trade publications in your industry. Search out articles about changes that may affect a large percentage of your clients – if it has merit then share it, Whether via email, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or your CRM get it in the hands of your clients. And a word to the wise: Don’t just read the headline and assume the information is valid and relevant – read the article. Avoid the “cry wolf” syndrome of spamming folks with useless information – make sure you’ve got some meat when you reach out.

3. Share success stories. If a project goes really well, and a client is willing to share their success story through social media, email or your website – by all means write it up and share it. Not only will you give other clients something to chew on, but you may even find a new client that hears the story through a friend or social media. Regardess, people will look at you as an expert if they are aware of your successes.

4. Get published. Whether you have your own blog, or know someone who works at a trade publication in your industry, pick a topic that is important to your clients and write about it. Ever find yourself explaining the same thing over and over? Why not put your thoughts down on paper (or MS Word or Notepad) and share the link? One great thing about having your own blog is that you can edit your work once its published. If you leave something out, want to change a typo, or feel you’d be better off omitting a sentence or paragraph – its easy enough to make changes. Not only is it easy to share ideas and receive feedback when you publish an article, it can lend credibility to the author if the piece is well written.

5. Find and follow Industry Thought Leaders. Search out thought leaders in your industry, and read their works / listen to their interviews and speeches. As they say, “lead, keep up or get out of the way”, so goes business. If you want to be a leader, and want to be seen as a trusted advisor, you’ll want to stay on top of coming trends, technologies and regulations that could have an impact on you and your clients. Collaborate – dedicate time to reading and watching the thought leaders and trusted advisors you respect, and collaborate if you have the opportunity. More than likely most of them are being published on a regular basis, and you can typically ad comments or leave input on most blogs.

These days we depend more and more on the ability to self-serve – and with it the need to get good help quickly. If you invest the time into becoming a Trusted Advisor, and not just an account rep or customer service rep, the payoff will be a having a career and not just a job. You’ll create relationships with your clients that will be rewarding and lucrative throughout your career. As Zig Ziglar is famous for saying, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”

Posted by Chuck Ebbets   @   26 November 2012

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