Getting Partnering Right - It's ALL About Relationships

Justin HonamanDo you value relationships? How do you position your services, tools or business solutions with prospective customers? How do you leverage relationships to drive new business? Have you considered your sales approach vs. "what works" for the buyer?

In my career, each of my roles has involved managing relationships with consulting partners, software vendors, strategic integrators, hardware providers and system support organizations. I find it interesting that some customers / buyers feel it is their privilege or "right" to treat service and solution providers like second-class citizens vs. true business or technology partners. I just don't get it - it's not professional nor appropriate for a winning culture. Here are a few of my lessons learned from experience and observation in the space of relationship selling.

Relationship First, Business Second. I was recently at lunch with two members of a small consulting organization and within 15 minutes of sitting down at the table, one of the individuals stated, "we just want you to get us in on the next deal." He knew nothing about me. My organization. My team. Our strategies or objectives. My personal goals or interests in moving the organization forward. He clearly only cared about "the deal." Relationships are absolutely the key to success in selling. You can work for the absolute best technology organization in the country and still lose a deal because you fail to invest in "knowing" the buyer, his/her team, his/her organization and the culture for successful partnership. Relationship first, business second.

Sales Are NOT Made Via Email Spam. When I register for industry events, I fully expect the "onslaught" of spam from unknown solution providers (who have paid for the list and are often sponsors of the event) looking to make a quick sale. I receive an email that many times has my name and/or organization incorrect stating that they expect me to tell them when I can meet with them for 30 minutes in the next week so that they can solve all of my worldly problems. What a waste. These emails go straight to the Microsoft Outlook Trash folder. No investment in the relationship or at least educating the buyer in your solutions, no meeting.

Consultants, Contractors, Vendors Are Partners...Not Slaves. Consulting teams, contract technology staff, support personnel, HR leadership development consultants and other partners are on-site to help the business grow, change, and evolve. They are being paid to get done what the organization can not do with existing staff and/or internal resources. So, why do some "customers" insist on treating vendors with vitriol, suspicion, dislike and contempt? I have no idea. I have been on both sides of this coin coming out of consulting, working with software and solution organizations prior to moving into the CPG industry. I don't understand how it benefits anyone to treat partners poorly - it comes down to trust. I completely understand that partners/vendors charge rates that are often not cheap and appropriately, should be held accountable to deliver results. One thing to keep in mind is that the world is small and the golden rule does apply at work as well as outside of work - treat others the way you would like to be treated. If more business executives would learn this concept, I do believe productivity and growth would increase in a wholesale fashion.

Networks Open Doors, Trust Wins Deals. Networking is a great way to "get in" to new accounts. Trust between the sales person and delivery team and the client / customer is the key to winning deals, selling add-on work and establishing a long-term, recurring revenue stream while adding value within the client organization. You don't just win a deal because you know John who knows Suzy who knows Dan (the CMO). Relationships absolutely help Dan feel more comfortable about meeting with you but you must extend trust to Dan to win trust from Dan. Networks open doors for "meetings" and trust wins deals.

Do Your Homework / Research. "Can you tell us about your strategic priorities for the next twelve months or any planned projects you have on the docket?" No. This is recipe for a short meeting for most business people. There is no purpose in meeting if you (the solution provider) are on a fishing expedition. Do your homework. Leverage your network to determine key investments planned for the organization, hot topics, business priorities, technology plans, etc. One of the traits I value most in great business development executives is when they have done their homework on the organization, related solutions (or industry solutions) and even know something about my background. Bring something to the table without the rod and reel.

Before the meeting, take time to research and find out about the individuals with whom you are meeting. Go into the meeting knowing something about the meeting participants. Where did they go to school? What are their activities / interests? What is their work history? The Internet is a powerful tool for this type of prep work. To win, you've got to do things that others are not doing.

Be Willing to Invest. Consider what you are willing to invest to get your foot in the door. If you have not ever done work for a large corporation, it can be difficult to get your foot in the door in a strategic partnership role. Consider offering resources, time or solutions to "prove" your value to buyers within the organization. I even have several colleagues that "invest" by connecting individuals within their network. This helps build others' networks and is a great way to "give back". Be willing to invest.

First Impressions, Actions and Behaviors Have Consequences. Industry events, conferences and tradeshows are a great opportunity to meet and interact with business stakeholders. These are not necessarily open opportunities for "let-it-loose" activity. Recognize that many people do not want to get drunk, go out on the town, hit the clubs, and, and, and... This actually can be perceived as offensive and arrogant. It is important to recognize that actions and behaviors have intended and unintended consequences.

Be Prepared. I learned this concept when I was a Boy Scout. Not one Scout meeting went by without having to repeat this slogan over, and over...! Being prepared means having an agenda, distributing it prior to the meeting, ensuring that attendee lists are communicated ahead of the meeting (names, titles, roles), action items and key points are documented during the meeting and notes are distributed after the meeting. Own it.