MSP Industry Panel: Should We Retire The Term 'Trusted Adviser?'

As the managed service provider model continues to evolve, should MSPs still market and present themselves as "trusted advisers" or use a new term going forward?

That's the question a panel of executives strove to answer as part of a discussion in front of more than 800 attendees of Autotask Community Live in Hollywood, Fla., Monday.

The problem with branding yourself as the "trusted adviser," said GFI MAX Director of Partner Community Dave Sobel, is that it draws attention to the trustworthy aspect, which is something that is innate in the MSP business model. Sobel said he didn't like drawing attention to the aspect simply for marketing purposes.

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"I don’t think 'trusted adviser' is going away, I think it’s a step to that ultimate goal," Sobel said.

Continuum CEO Michael George said that it is a good marketing approach because the MSP business model is about mitigating risk for clients. However, he said customers aren't necessarily buying it under that banner --they might be buying security or compliance, which might be more meaningful than the concept of risk and trust. Even though they are ultimately very similar, bringing in technology around security and compliance is more concrete and valuable to the client and inherently builds trust as the relationship progresses.

"Trust is something you earn, not something you sell," George said.

With the Internet, there is all sorts of misguided information, Peter Labes, U.S. SMB Strategy Lead at Microsoft, said. The beauty of the partner ecosystem, he said, is that partners are able to have a lot of impact on customers because of their local touch and the relationships they've formed. As mobility and cloud continue to change the marketplace, it is even riskier for clients, he said. That changing marketplace broadens the opportunity for MSPs to take a larger role in the relationship as a risk manager.

"At the end of the day ... I like the term 'trusted advisor,' Labes said. "It connects you and the customer with the importance of relationship information."

Len DiCostanzo, senior vice president of community and business development at Autotask, said he prefers the term "technology manager." The MSP's ultimate job is to make sure that it is the technology person who understands the business and the client base and keeps solving problems.

"I don’t think you're ever not going to be the trusted adviser," DiCostanzo said.

Being the adviser doesn't mean MSPs have to do it all themselves, either, DiCostanzo said. If another MSP, vendor or distributor can pick up some of the tasks that are taking up too much valuable time or simply can do it better, then it might be best for the MSP to outsource that task, DiCostanzo said. That doesn't mean that the MSP is a less of a trusted adviser, he said, but it does mean it can say "yes" to more problem-solving needs for their clients.

Kim Weinberger, director of operations at Independence, Ohio-based Computer Troubleshooters, said after the panel presentation that she agreed that the term "trusted adviser" didn't do much to differentiate her business.

"It's so overused," Weinberger said.

She said that she preferred the term "risk manager" because ultimately that's what the client is looking for. That includes data recovery, backup and security. In the end, she said the client's trust is based more on what businesses such as hers can do.

Ultimately, it's not so much the word that's important, but the relationship itself, Continuum's George said.

"There's going to be a lot of winners and a lot of losers in this next wave. Even the smaller companies will survive and succeed because they will do something very special for their customer. The idea of the trusted adviser is perhaps an overdone word in the market, but what the customer wants is someone to care about them," he said.