Reaching Customers via Trusted Advisors

Reaching Customers via Trusted Advisors

Many startups pitching LionBird have plans to market software to small businesses via their service providers. But how hard is it to create “affiliates” out of influencer groups such as accountants, lawyers, financial advisors and website builders who are trusted by end clients but who don’t traditionally cross-sell on those relationships?

The Influencer Framework

The book “The Influencer” provides a great framework on how to motivate and enable others to adopt a desired behavior. The premise is that the more aligned your strategy is with a person’s personal, social, and structural motivation and abilities, the more likely it is that you can impact their behavior.

Discussing each quadrant is beyond the scope of a blog post, but here are a few examples of how the framework can be applied to selling software through trusted advisors.

Personal Motivation and Ability

To get someone to recommend your service, you need to align the desired behavior with their internal moral compass (motivation) and to provide them with the skills and confidence (ability) needed to take action.

Xero, a company that has had success distributing their accounting software via accountants, has mastered these concepts. Looking at their partnership program structure, they start out on the lowest tier by offering their product for free to book keepers. Only after this group has had a positive experience using the product themselves does Xero incentivizes them to recommend it to others, incentivizing them with up to 30% discount. This provides potential partners with enough margin to offer a discount to clients vs retail prices while still making a profit.

Even if book keepers love Xero’s product and have a discount to provide to their end clients, they still may lack the confidence to sell software. This is why Xero goes a step further, providing highly developed education programs, including a “My Xero” section with partner program resources, 24/7 email support, account managers and “enablement specialists” for conversion and technical queries. These resources boost their partners’ ability to sign up clients to Xero.

Social Ability and Motivation

This quadrant is about empowering partners that are successful with your referral program to enable and encourage others to also be via community building.

Because the “trusted advisor channel” strategy usually works best for companies selling low cost self-serve products, the life time value of each referrer is likely not large enough for one-on-one steak dinners. Therefore, companies need to be creative in combining scalable online community building (via knowledge bases, forums, webinars and virtual summits) with offline, larger Partner success events and smaller but more frequent user group meetings/roadshows where they incentivize advocates to lead meetings.

Structural Ability and Motivation

The goal here is to design the environment in a way in which clients of partners start out automatically opted-in to your service, and are required to make an effort to opt-out. Companies achieve this by getting included in current workflows and interactions with the referral mechanism baked in.

This quadrant also refers to the opportunity cost associated with selling your product. Metrics to look at include whether the sales people make more on their other product offerings, whether the other offerings are easier to sell, and whether your offering cannibalizes current revenue.


This “trusted advisor channel” strategy works best for companies selling to software/services to small businesses who need to scale user acquisition. Examples* of companies that have reached some success in selling through trusted advisors include:

Financial Advisors: Vestorly, Motif Advisor, Crystal Partners

Marketing agencies: LoadFaster, BuildFire, PageOnePower, 99Social, WhiteShark

Web design agencies: GoDaddy, HostGator, Weebly

Accountants: Xero

This list is by no means exhaustive, so if you can suggest additions in the comments would love to add them to this list.

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Reaching Customers via Trusted Advisors was originally published in VCPOV on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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