SMB Nation Blog

SMB Nation has been serving the Bainbridge Island area since 2001, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

Building Your Reputation as a Trusted Advisor

By: Pete Engler

The reasons a customer chooses to do business with a value added reseller (VAR) often extend beyond the menu of available product and service offerings. The decision can also be influenced by the brands (or vendors) that the VAR represents, and the geographic region served. Reputation of the VAR also comes into play – and can be one of the most influential deciding factors, especially when there are competing VARs vying for a customer’s business. As a VAR, your position in the marketplace and the reputation you’ve earned could make the most significant difference in closing a sale with a new customer.

As a VAR in the technology space, it’s not uncommon to offer a multitude of different products in order to better position yourself to help solve a customer’s business need. Although, an expanded selection can cloud the customer’s decision or leave him confused and unsure of the best route to take. Helping your customer make the best decision and helping ensure your revenue continues growing really depends on your ability as a VAR to position your business and service expertise over the product(s).

What exactly does it mean to position your VAR business and services over products? First, a VAR needs to be an industry and business expert. That means having the capability to properly evaluate a business and its needs efficiently and determine the best solution path to implement. This seems obvious but it can be tricky due to the changes in the buying process. Consider that prospective buyers in business-to-business settings have typically completed 57 percent of their due diligence work before they engage a sales representative, according to a Harvard Business Review survey. Today’s buyers are more prepared and further down the sales funnel before engaging sales support due in large part to the infinite resources and peer reviews available online. This means customers are also further down the decision path before seeking out a VAR’s service and experience during the sales, installation and support process. If a prospect has already set his mind on a particular solution, but it’s really not the best fit, it makes your position as an advisor more challenging. Your expertise can certainly help prevent the customer from making a costly decision, but you first have to convince him that there’s a better alternative.

Being a trusted advisor for your prospects and current customers does require industry and solutions knowledge, but it’s more than rattling off product specs. The customer probably already has that information as part of the early funnel due-diligence. As mentioned previously, your role is to conduct a careful evaluation of the business's needs, so any problems can be identified and addressed, all within budget constraints.

Business owners are masters of their core business functions, but when it comes to choosing the right technology, they can overlook key solution integration details, pricing and feature gotchas, and other lesser-known deployment and maintenance considerations. That’s why they depend on you. Your expertise as a trusted VAR is critical to recommend and implement the technologies that keep their business running on a daily basis, and help the business avoid having to go through a trial-and-error selection process.

Once the sale is complete, your role as trusted advisor moves to the installation, maintenance and troubleshooting phases. This is where you and your team’s capabilities are tested most and where the greatest opportunity exists for damage to your reputation. If the install does not go smoothly, confidence is weakened. After the solution is installed and should an issue arise, you must move to resolve them quickly. Training of your customer support teams on the products and solutions installed is also imperative. Nothing erodes confidence more than an uninformed support staff that is unable to adequately resolve issues.

In the end, it’s your ability to manage any unexpected system hiccups and minimize headaches in the long-term that will solidify your reputation as an expert that can be depended upon by your customers. Building a reputation as a trusted advisor isn’t a tough thing to accomplish; but it is dependent upon your ability to consistently match the right solutions with each prospective customer, deliver expertise through competent and trained employees to install and maintain the solution, and provide top-notch customer service. The benefits of having a solid reputation as a trusted advisor are many; and it’s conceivable that you could grow your VAR organization exclusively on referral business.

Pete Engler is the channel marketing manager at Digium, a business communications company based in Huntsville, Ala., that delivers enterprise-class Unified Communications.

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6 ways startups can *think different* with customer service

Story by Leyla Seka, - 

Startups are known for creative thinking, trying new things, doing things differently. Yet they often fall prey to a fundamental mistake: forgetting to serve the customer. It’s not easy to launch a product, manage everything from IT to accounting, fend off the competition, and grow a customer base — all at the same time — so it’s hardly surprising that half of small businesses fail within the first five years. At, we work with many fast-growing startups, so we’ve learned a lot about the journey. Here are six ways some of those amazing companies are using customer support to ‘think different’ and beat the competition.happy customer 1

1. Make every employee an agent
Startups have no time for specialized roles. Every employee — from the CEO to the receptionist — must be part of your support team. When everyone spends time on the frontlines, it’s easier to stay aligned around customers and maintain service levels when things get busy. (And nothing helps you understand the ins-and-outs of a product like answering service calls.) Just look at Charitybuzz, which brings together celebrities and top brands for auctions supporting nonprofits. “Every interaction that we have with celebrities, charities, bidders, and auction winners needs to be amazing,” says Dwayne David, a Charitybuzz Customer Service Manager. So while the company has an official concierge team of three, everyone jumps in to help during the busy times.

2. Offer wicked-fast response times
Customer service has come a long way since the old days, when you had to call a company between 9-5 Eastern Standard Time to get help. Most companies today offer a knowledge base or basic self-service so customers can find answers 24/7, but of course, sometimes customers still need to reach a living, breathing person. Get a customer service solution that’s easy to use and optimized for mobile so you have consistently fast response times. HotelTonight offers last-minute hotel reservations for busy travelers who crave efficiency; a response time of < 10 minutes (incredible!) has been a key driver of the company’s explosive growth.

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