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Why a Customer isn't a Client: The Trusted Advisor Relationship

Embracing the power of trusted advisor relationship

Embracing the Power of Trusted Advisor Relationships


Let’s face it, we all get lazy with our language – we commonly use terms interchangeably despite each having distinct meanings. Consider Revenue vs. Income, Feature vs. Benefit, Leader vs. Manager, etc.


What about Customer vs. Client? While often used interchangeably in our business conversation, their distinctions are profound, and understanding these differences is not just beneficial – it's crucial for businesses aiming to achieve sustainable growth and deep market penetration.


The Transactional Nature of Customers


Imagine a busy downtown street. A customer enters their local Starbucks, money in hand, ready to exchange it for a hot latte, a warm croissant, and a welcome smile. The transaction is swift, the interaction brief and the products and services are great. A real 10 out of 10. Once the exchange is complete, both parties are “fine” – they are completely satisfied, and they move on to their next transaction. 


This is the essence of a Transactional Customer Relationship; even if that exchange happens every day of the year between that buyer and Starbucks, it is still transactional, brief, and focused on the immediate exchange of value. Each party is satisfied with this series of ‘fine’ transactions.


The Relational Depth of Trusted Advisor Clients


Contrast this with visiting your accountant. Here, your accountant knows not just your finances but also your family / life situation, your career goals, your aspirations, your hopes, your fears, etc. Each interaction builds on the last, creating a tapestry of trust and mutual understanding. Value is created at each point, but the accounting for that value is not done at each transaction – we don’t foot the bill and close the cash register at each point, rather the accounting balances itself over the long term, where now and then both you and your accountant look back feel you are ‘winning.’  This is the Trusted Advisor Client Relationship…ongoing, nuanced, personalized.


Why Lean into Client Relationships?


In high-value B2B settings, where stakes are high and the investment of time is significant, leaning into Trusted Advisor client relationships rather than settling for customer transactions can transform the very fabric of your business:

  1. Sustained Engagement: Clients engage over time, providing steady revenue streams and opportunities for upselling and cross-selling. They're invested in the partnership, not just the purchase… their life is better with you in it.

  2. Tailored Solutions: Understanding your client and their businesses allows you to craft solutions that are not just effective, but essential, making your business hard to replace.

  3. Strategic Insights: Ongoing business relationships provide insights into clients' evolving needs, allowing you to anticipate market trends and adapt your offerings effectively. 

  4. Retention and Loyalty: Clients become advocates for your business, driving referrals and reducing the cost and effort of acquiring new leads.


Consider some of the key aspects of a Transactional Customer vs Trusted Advisor Client Relationship and the impact of each.

Aspect

Customer

Client

IMPACT

Engagement

Transactional, short-term

Relational, long-term

Builds lasting business foundations and steady revenue streams.

Communication

Sufficient to complete the sales processes and use the offering

Regular, detailed, and consultative. Inquisitive to deeply understand needs

Fosters trust and strategic partnerships.

Service Customization

Services designed for 1: many, or even mass appeal

Highly personalized services tailored to specific needs of that buyer and their organization

Goes far beyond customer satisfaction and ‘net promotion’ to client engagement, and loyalty.

Business Impact

One-off sales impact

Continuous impact with potential for growth

Drives sustainable growth and deep market penetration.

Feedback Loop

Limited feedback focused on product or service

Rich, ongoing feedback that influences business strategy

Enables innovation and adaptation to market changes.


Time to “Call ‘em As You See ‘em”


To borrow a phrase from baseball – it's time for you and your organization to “call ‘em as you see ‘em.” Do you have Transactional Customers or Trusted Advisor Clients? In high-value B2B settings, every client relationship is an investment in your business's future. While customers can provide quick wins, clients offer a roadmap to long-term success and stability. In the world of B2B, why settle for fleeting interactions when you can build enduring partnerships?


Choosing to focus on client relationships over customer transactions isn’t just a strategic decision—it’s a transformative one. It requires leadership, patience, empathy, and a commitment to excellence, but the rewards are manifold:


Transactional Customer Relationships and Trusted Advisor Client Relationships


In essence, while customers are important, clients are invaluable. Lean into the relationships that matter. Lean into Trusted Advisor client relationships.


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