I remember very vividly when I first began the consulting business…and was not doing that well. I’d been pitching a relatively large prospect on the benefits of my background, processes and systems of what we today would call “lean manufacturing”. Working my way through the maze of Purchasing, Quality and Manufacturing Managers, I finally engineered a meeting with the CEO for the final pitch. Although I never did receive an order for manufacturing process improvement, he and I hit it off during that meeting such that we went on to develop a multi year relationship building the business and finally selling it very successfully to 3Com. I had became his coach, and he had became a very valuable partner.
My manufacturing process career ended abruptly that day with a wave of his hand and the words, “The guys in the back can make that decision, but if you have a few more minutes, I’d like to tell you what’s really keeping me up at night.” Something occurred during that initial meeting that allowed him to trust my background, ability to listen and experience such that he could open up and ask for my thoughts and recommendations.
It was literally with that meeting, that the focus of my business shifted from one of selling quality and manufacturing systems to one of coaching senior management in the processes of rapidly growing their businesses-which in most businesses typically comes down to working with them to (1) strategize their direction and (2) optimize their sales and marketing functions. The two most critical factors to achieving success.
A Trusted Partnership is the top rung of the ladder that begins with “Approved Vendor” (You’re on the list) and moves up through “Preferred Supplier” (You get more than the other guys) to “Solutions Consultant” (You are selling consultative services) to “Strategic Contributor” (You are sitting at the table working on longer term business issues) and finally “Trusted Partner”. (Senior management is asking your advice as a sounding board)
Becoming a Trusted Partner means that one of the best calls of the week from a customer is unexpected and begins with the words, “Do you have a minute? I’d like to bounce something off you and get your reaction.” It’s when a customer invites you to the office or dinner and wants to get your reaction to a new growth strategy. It’s an example like I heard from Jane last week when I was at Lake Sunapee Bank, a superbly run institution in the New Hampshire and Vermont market.
I was working with all of the LSB business development team beginnning to unfold this strategy of trusted partnerships and looked to the 35 people in the room for examples. Jane provided us with how she had, over a period of two years, moved an account from a single auto loan (Approved Vendor) to handling all of their business and personal loans (Solutions Consultant) to today’s Trusted Partner relationship where the CEO of the company actually hands out Jane’s business cards and relies on her advice for a myriad of involvements. That’s a Trusted Partnership!
The questions that I might recommend that we all should be working on at this time of year are questions such as…
Just what is a trusted partner in my specific account base?
How many accounts can I develop a trusted partner relationship with? (20-25% sounds right to me).
What are the Trusted Partner account planning analtyics and process steps that I need to work through such that I can be assured that at the end of this cycle I’m rapidly climbing the rungs in the ladder?
All good questions, and I thought that I would provide a few tested ideas in the next couple of posts to give you some insight and tactics that have worked for me.
In the meantime, “Good Selling” ! Q2, for me, is always the most critical of the year since it sets up the velocity for the second half.