Don’t bother looking too deeply for the 101, by the way. You can find a lot of opinions about what partnership means from consultants around the globe. The word has become trite, primarily because many product and service providers naively believe that partnership is established solely by a contract in place, thus discounting the essential spirit of the relationship. Real partnership comes from knowing your own company and attentively learning about your potential partner.
If you are thinking “partner, shmartner, I have vendors, not partners,” you might as well stop reading now. If you are thinking that your company is too small or new to consider this approach, please keep reading. Every company needs partners, whether you realize that right now or not.
Any successful sales or account manager, especially those using a consultative sales approach, already understand the Partnering 101 content. Here are the basics:
- Listen to the challenges and opportunities your prospective partner faces.
- Make sure you have a great story to tell and don’t make it a pitch—mostly by providing an honest and transparent account of your success.
- Collaborate with the prospect to identify key areas for fit.
- Have enough confidence and faith to start in a place of trust.
In the last 10+ years, we have had some fantastic client experiences. Some have been successful, “rock my world” experiences, and others have been complete and total failures. Thankfully, more of the former than the latter have allowed us to be better and stronger, but all of those experiences have helped us identify our sweet spot for success. The evaluation of that sweet spot is not based upon the total revenue dollars an account brings us, or even the percent profit we derive, but rather a holistic review of the mutual benefits to our respective organizations. It pays to evaluate the ones that ate your lunch, too, so you understand what NOT to repeat.
The first step in recognizing your optimum partnering environment is to deeply know your organization and the employees who make it up—including yourself as its leader. Be brutally honest with yourself and key resources within your organization. Next, make sure your mission is in alignment and clear to your internal team and the world, succinctly defining your sweet spot and your target audience. Your products and/or services should clearly facilitate that mission. Your mission should be a sieve through which all decisions are made.
Once you have your mission, products/services, and story properly defined, you are ready to market to properly fitting prospective clients and ensure that your operational procedures motivate the appropriate behaviors to meet their needs. Continue to use your mission as a filter through which you test new offerings when changes are required—and they will be.
As an example, although we offer tactical services, we are most successful and efficient when we can first participate at a strategic level. To some readers, this may seem intuitive, but others believe it to be a waste of time and profit, thinking it would be great to be able to just check off the list of how their service meets specific needs, much as a waitperson at your favorite restaurant would take an order. That may be great for their organization, but not for ours.
Occasionally, we have preliminary conversations with a client who wants and needs a waitperson, with no interest in a strategic partner. Depending upon their level of desperation, we may agree to help them temporarily, but are vocal about how we operate and can best be of service. Sometimes, those clients come to understand that they do need more strategic assistance, but other times, they move on to a tactical-specific partner. Some would consider this a loss, but we know that their time with us was temporary and that they were not a true partnering fit for our organization. The beauty is that they can find other providers whose sweet spot is tactical, once their original crisis is remedied, and we are usually facilitators in helping them understand their true need. This difference is what makes the business world go around, but understanding in what sphere your organization works best, and identifying the prospect’s mode of operation is essential for forming a lasting partnership. Sometimes, turning away business is the best decision you can make, even when it seems painful at the time.
Be willing to spend enough time to get to know a prospect and their needs before determining if they are partner material. Discuss what you can and can’t provide for them honestly and transparently, all the while listening for the clues they will provide about what is really important to them. As a technology company, we find very few companies really understand their needs accurately because they simply don’t have a full grasp of what is possible. This lack of understanding is not a judgement on their intellect or abilities—it is just outside of their area of expertise. After we have an understanding of their mission, objectives, and current state, we can help them visualize the way in which technology can bring those goals into focus, and help them develop the appropriate strategy to accomplish stated goals.
Once you have gone through the process enough times, it becomes easier. You will develop more accuracy in approaching target organizations and the decision of whether your prospect is a good partnering fit becomes instinctive.
Why is this approach important? The health of your business—and that of your partner—depends upon it. Fit leads to efficiency, which then leads to profitability and sustainable growth. Fit also makes for a less stressful, drama-free operating environment where the work can be fulfilling and enjoyable.
Don’t become sidetracked by opportunities that may provide short-term revenue growth, but require significant re-tooling or flash hiring. There’s nothing wrong with stretching your comfort zone when it is a logical conclusion, or is within the context of a very limited project, but straying too far can ultimately destroy your business. Instead, remain true to your mission. Seek that sweet spot where you and your partners will enjoy long-term growth and profitability.
If you are part of a small to medium-sized business that needs help finding a web strategy that will rock your world, please contact us!