Up the client-relationship pyramid – Part 2

16 February 2022 Myra Knoesen

Jack Kwicien, Co-Founder of Daymark Advisors LLC asks, “What role do you play with your clients? Yes, you are their adviser, but are you also their trusted adviser?”

The client-relationship pyramid

The most basic client relationship is that of vendor, says Kwicien. “It defines where a product or service provider falls in the customer’s supply chain. A vendor responds to requests for proposals, provides quotes, accepts service requests and take orders.”

“Clients, however, expect great service from their vendors, and the vendor must offer it just to “get in the game,” while over time, the products and services the vendor provides become viewed as commodities. A vendor relationship is reactive and tactical; not strategic. As a vendor, you are not on the “inside” as different options are evaluated, and the decisions get made. Having a solid vendor relationship with a client is nothing to sneer at but is this the type of relationship to which an adviser should aspire?” Questions Kwicien.

Moving up the pyramid, Kwicien says a more desirable relationship to have with a client is that of a credible or authoritative source. “Advisers who achieve this type of relationship have already proven themselves to be very reliable vendors whom the client can count on to be responsive. They are proven commodities whom the client may involve in certain tactical decisions. They may be asked to assist in evaluating new products or service offerings and help determine which carriers or vendors receive the client’s business. An adviser is likely to receive referrals from this type of relationship, and many top-flight benefits advisers find themselves in this position.”

Further up the client-relationship pyramid, Kwicien says an adviser may assume the role of problem solver or counsellor. “This represents a deeper and more permanent relationship with the client, and the adviser is likely to participate in some of the client’s strategic planning. Presumably, the adviser has pertinent knowledge about the client’s business issues and the current industry and human capital management challenges it faces. The adviser is pro-active in presenting the client with new strategies to support their business operations, has direct ties to multiple parties within the client’s organization and access to the “C” suite. Given this close-knit relationship, the client is liable to call on the adviser to assist with drafting a request for proposal and vetting the respondents and their proposals. The adviser may also be brought in to assist with the negotiations, and the client generally views the adviser as a valuable business asset.”

Life at the top

“At the top of the client-relationship pyramid is the role of trusted adviser. When an adviser achieves this status, the client’s senior officers will take the adviser into their confidence, openly discussing their business issues as they seek the adviser’s counsel,” states Kwicien.

“The adviser helps the client assess the state of its business and proactively offers solutions to potential problems—in some cases before the client even knows that the problem exists. This is a privileged position that often insulates the adviser from direct competition, since no-one else can match the adviser’s standing and inside knowledge of the client. For the adviser, these relationships tend to be enduring and highly profitable,” continues Kwicien.

Climbing up the ladder

So, Kwicien asks, what kind of client relationships do you want? What actions will you take to move up the relationship pyramid?

“Advisers really need to give this serious thought, since the type of client relationships they cultivate will shape the nature of their business,” says Kwicien.

“To climb the relationship pyramid, first focus on understanding your client’s business issues, and the appropriate benefits solutions will logically follow. Work to make your interactions with the client as consultative as possible and concentrate your energies on becoming a trusted adviser,” concludes Kwicien.


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