Understanding Your Partner
How to build mutually beneficial client relationships
By Yvonne McAteer
Last year, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion with the chief diversity oﬃcer of a global fast food franchise known for its great burgers. Someone in the audience asked “What advice would you give those of us who are interested in doing business with your organization?” The answer was “You need to understand our business.” Of course we understand your business, I thought, the majority of the world’s population knows what your company does. They sell really good hamburgers and fries; what else is there to understand?
Much. What she was trying to convey is that understanding why a company does something is more important than understanding what they do. She was talking about the need to be a true partner to your clients. And that requires having a clear understanding of their business initiatives — their goals. In a true partnership, both parties understand each others’ objectives and work together to achieve their desired results.
But how do you get to that point? Building a successful partnership, whether it is personal or professional, requires a certain amount of emotional intelligence, self awareness and understanding of others. Each individual comes to the table with their own set of expectations and desired outcomes. This is especially true as salespeople. We typically have very speciﬁc, challenging goals; a certain dollar amount in revenue, sales growth of 10 percent, an expansion of a managed services program. The end results drive our focus every day. My experience has been that sales goals are reached when I help my customers reach their goals; the result is a true partnership.
Here are a few steps to ensure prospective clients come away knowing you’re “the one.”
Ask questions. It’s a common error. You want to impress your prospects by sharing all of your wonderful traits. This often results in talking too much, though, which can come across as overbearing, and inhibit you from learning about them. Instead, ask thoughtful, purposeful questions to garner understanding and demonstrate your genuine interest in getting to know them. Asking these types of questions also enables new customers to share important details that will become the foundation for your partnership. Focus your initial questions on their roles, their challenges, and how those challenges are impacting their ability to reach their business objectives.
Earn credibility. Your new customer is going to rely on you as a critical resource to the organization. Early on, there is a simple way to begin to establish credibility with them. Do what you say you are going to do. For your new customer, keep every commitment you make. Provide information on market trends or industry advances that will help them in their roles. Present case studies that demonstrate your ability to improve business outcomes with organizations that share similar challenges both in and out of their industry. Prove that you can be relied on, and are an expert in your ﬁeld.
Learn their culture and values. Every organization is diﬀerent — even those that are in the same industry. Lack of cultural ﬁt is a common reason why MSP/VMS solutions fail. When designing the service delivery component of your MSP, it’s important to understand the current level of hiring manager involvement. Moving to a complete elimination of supplier/ manager communication can have a negative impact. Do your research on the company’s values, mission statement, ﬁnancial drivers, and organizational structure. Pay special attention to their internal dynamics. This will ensure that the service you provide aligns with their business strategies.
My partnerships with customers are based on my clear understanding of their goals, and ensuring the workforce solutions we provide for them facilitate their reaching those goals. From the C-level strategist who needs a contingent labor solution to the business unit manager who has a job opening, my job is to understand the business outcomes they are working toward, and provide them with the resources they need to attain those results.
Yvonne McAteer is vice president, sales at Superior Staff Resources. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.