Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

First comes the trust, then the technology.

The concept of the VAR as a “trusted IT adviser” is one of the main themes solution providers are sounding this week at distributor Ingram Micro’s VentureTech Network conference in Palm Springs, Calif. And according to some attendees, the trusted adviser role is no longer an abstraction.

“The role of the trusted technical adviser has become very real,” said Howard Cohen, president and chief operating officer of LAN Associates Network Solutions, in Central Islip, N.Y., a VentureTech member. “We have a large proportion of our account base that looks to LAN Associates as their IT department.”

Cohen and other VentureTech members attending the conference say the conversation with customers, especially those in the small and medium-size business space, typically revolves around meeting business needs. The technology itself, which in the past was what led the discussion, has become secondary.

“We focus on our clients’ business,” said Cohen. “We become a business adviser.”

To meet business needs as a trusted adviser, the solution provider must become intimate with the end-user customer’s business challenges and goals, making technology recommendations based on accomplishing those goals and overcoming the challenges, as opposed to pushing technology because it is new or updated.

The providers gain the customer’s trust when the technology and business processes they put in place for them produce the desired results.

A major contributing factor that makes the trusted adviser role possible is managed services, through which solution providers remotely take over some or all of their customers’ IT functions.

Connecting Point of Last Vegas, another VentureTech member, is fulfilling the role by providing remote business continuity services. The company has been evangelizing the need for businesses to prepare themselves in the event of natural disasters or emergencies that destroy their data, said Ron Cook, owner of Connecting Point of Las Vegas.

Rather than rely on tape backups, which would be useless if a building is destroyed, Connecting Point is pushing business continuity as managed service. The company backs up client data and applications through the Internet and guarantees it can restore them instantly to its servers after a disaster.

Customers then can log in from their homes or wherever they may get an Internet connection to retrieve the data.

The service, said Mike Semel, Connecting Point’s vice president of business continuity and compliance services, prevents downtime, which can be costly, even fatal when prolonged.

Cook said customers have been receptive to the concept.

“It’s almost like insurance. They’ve got to have it, and they seem to be willing to buy it,” he said.

Technology that gives customers peace of mind plays a fundamental role in transforming solution providers into trusted advisers, according to the providers.

“What’s exciting to our customers is tools that will allow them to stop worrying,” said Cohen.

In LAN Associates’ case, what that means is offering services that help its customer base, which is heavily tilted toward law firms, to stay compliant with federal regulations that require archiving of various types of data, including e-mail and instant messages.

“That’s driving a huge portion of our business,” said Cohen.

Ingram Micro executives say more and more of the solution providers with which they do business are making the transition to the role of trusted adviser. They are focusing more on culling solutions together for their customers than on making a small profit off a quick sale and moving on to the next sale.

The distributor, said Kirk Robinson, Ingram Micro’s vice president of channel marketing, is helping guide this transformation by making sure that when customers buy a piece of equipment, such as a server, they are asking the relevant questions. How will the server be used? Does the customer have a backup solution in place?

Customers seem receptive to the approach because they are interested in using the technology for the right reasons. But Robinson points out that purchases based on price have not gone away because some customers are still looking to get a deal.

“I’ll be honest, in the business world I don’t know if you’re ever going to get away from the price-conscious shopper,” he said.