I am the author of the SMB Consulting Best Practices book and each day I like to post up a passage as a virtual book reading. I try to do this every single day! Today is the all important TRUST conversation. It is essential to gain it – it is exceedingly hard to earn it back after you have lost it!
Harry Brelsford, CEO at smb nation www.smbnation.com
Microsoft Small Business Specialist SBSC, MBA, MCSE, MCT, MCP, CNE, CLSE, CNP
PS – did u know I host a technology conference in the New York City area each spring? Save the date for March 6-8, 2009 and watch “voice meet data” in the SMB space!
PPS – my SBS 2008 book will be out in mid-November 2008!
PPPS – my Microsoft Response Point Primer book is here NOW!
When you get right down to it, what we really sell as SMB consultants is trust. New SBS versions are released with incremental improvements. Software feature sets come and go. Technologies shift with the introduction of new products. Technological change can occur rapidly, sometimes in a matter of months. Because we live in the super fast-forward world of small and medium technology, appropriately called “Internet time,” you can’t hope to master more than a small fraction of the actual technology being introduced and used. If you think otherwise, you aren’t being honest with yourself.
Given you’re only one product release away from obsolescence and because there’s no sure way to know what features will be included in future technology products one or two releases down the road, I recommend you stake your SMB consulting claim on trust, not technology.
If your efforts are properly directed toward gaining and retaining the trust of your clients, you’ll have the political capital necessary to survive technical mistakes you’re bound to make and weather the learning curve inherent in new product introductions. In a strong trusting client relationship, I’ve even found that I can bill for much of my research time with a client as I learn how to deploy new product releases. And no, I’m not duping the client; these people trust my judgment and agree some time spent on learning is fair in the delivery of my professional services.
With trust as the basis for your client relationships, you’ll find yourself thriving even during tough economic times. Why? Because gaining trust as a practice in business survives the ups and downs of economic cycles.
BEST PRACTICE: Go easy on yourself in the trust department. It takes time. I’ve worked for years to build up trust with my clients. It’s an ongoing function; trust must be earned over the long haul, sometimes time and time again. It’s one of the reasons that I’ll emphasize long-term relationships many times in this book. So, if you’re not quite there yet with your clients, don’t be discouraged. Be patient and keep at it. You’ll get there.
Let’s do a 180-degree shift and consider a relationship where trust is absent. Here you are, truly only one SBS reboot away from being fired by the client. (And in the SBS 4.x era, we all had one too many reboots!) If the client doesn’t fully trust you, every move you perform is questioned. SMB consulting relationships lacking in trust tend to have high consultant turnover, as measured by the consultants who parade through these “Class C” client sites-”Class C” clients being least desirable and “Class A” most desirable. And I’m definitely not referring to IP address classes!
So, to sum up the trust discussion: You won’t make it as an SMB consultant if you can’t get trust, and you can’t help but be successful if you’ve got trust. Admittedly, “trust” is difficult to measure, but it is definitely recognizable. The best explanation I can give to describe trust comes from the US Supreme Court on one of its landmark rulings: “You know it when you see it.”
So just how do SMB consultants consistently gain the trust of their clients? Some SMB consultants gain client trust because of safe, conservative technology and sound business decision-making that keeps the client site up
and running while minimizing downtime. (This last point has become much easier with SBS 2000 compared to prior versions.) Other SMB consultants earn trust as pompous guru know-it-alls who are ascribed credibility simply because of their vast knowledge. This is a risky strategy that assumes you can keep current with and master a wide range of constantly changing technologies.
One of the easiest ways I’ve observed for SMB consultants to gain client trust is by being on time to appointments, returning telephone calls, billing in a timely manner, and communicating clearly and consistently. SMB consultants who use better business practices consistently inspire client trust. You can take a bow and affirm you’ve made it in the “trust” department as an SMB consultant when the client would trade a family member before getting rid of you. Dramatic, yes—but you get the point.