Your Client Wants an Insider – Not a PartnerArticle by Colleen Francis, September 25, 2018
There isn’t a buzzword out there today that’s more dated than the notion of you being in “partnership” with your customer. The fact that it’s still used so irritatingly often in business today should give you serious pause.
Words only have power when they are backed with sincerity and appropriate meaning. Look around you: a true partnership is a mutual choice and a deeply personal one. Without both those factors at play, all you have is an empty word. That’s why it means nothing to your clients and prompts little else than polite eyerolling when people hear it used in business and in sales. So why say things that people openly dislike?
The lack of sincerity behind partnership talk is plenty harmful to your reputation, but that’s only half of the problem with it. A partnership is, in fact, a terrible way to frame your ongoing work with a customer. It’s built on assumptions that are completely out of alignment with what both sides want out from a business relationship.
Be an insider instead. Here’s why…
Insiders are everywhere: partners are not. Customers like it when they see you building multiple relationships within their organization. That’s what being an insider is all about. It means you’re not gambling the success of your hard-earned work on a single point of contact in an organization. Instead, you’re creating a matrix of touchpoints with you at the center. Partners don’t do that: they have a one-on-one rapport with someone. And have to rebuild it all over again when that contact moves on.
Here’s an example to show you the difference. Recently, one of my VP-level clients approached me and asked me if I would provide feedback on an important upcoming presentation they were delivering. A partnership mindset would have meant I’d simply have read it over and provided feedback. But instead, I reviewed it against several presentations planned by others within his organization at that same event. Others had made similar requests, so I was able to provide in-depth comment to that VP and to others, and help all of them better position a wide range of messages company-wide. In other words: when you’re able to solve many problems at once, that’s an insider’s mindset hard at work.
Insiders have skin in the game. You are not fully vested in your customer’s success unless you are earning a place as their trusted advisor. That only happens if your words match your actions: that you have a tangible, demonstrated stake in your advice being effective and successful in solving a problem that your customer has. A partner might listen, but only an informed insider diagnoses and troubleshoots with a healthy dose of hard truths and earned insights.
I have a client in the agriculture business who—when they have a trusted partner—invites them to walk the fields with them personally to talk about planting choices for next growing season. Think about that for a moment: they involve them on a first-name basis in one of the most important decisions they’re going to make for the next year. That only happens when a customer knows that a supplier has something meaningful riding on providing advice that is both objective and informed.
Insiders are information hubs that deliver value constantly. Organizations today pick fewer and fewer suppliers to do business with. That’s been a consistent trend for the last decade. And one of the consequences is there are fewer people now who can embed themselves as an information hub at the center their customer’s business. And that’s a huge opportunity—especially in larger organizations. Once you’re in, you have fewer competitors. You can deliver a massive amount of add-on value. That can only happen if you have an insider’s mindset, because you’re getting a force-multiplier to work for you: all those contacts you’ve put together compound your ability to crunch information and report meaningful insights. Much like a human CRM!
One client of mine who sells to multiple branches of a large organization recently found themselves in a situation where they became uniquely positioned to give advice to the IT department based on insights they were hearing from the Sales department. As a result, product improvements were made in a fraction of time that otherwise would have been required. That only happens when you’re working as an insider in multiple parts of an organization: listening carefully and crunching data relentlessly.
As you can see, being a devoted insider is the opposite of flimsy partnership rhetoric. You have to earn it, you have to practice it constantly and you have to deliver value before you can sell the idea to your customer. They’re sold on results: not on promises. Not only is this a smarter, more sincere way of selling, it adds extra polish to your daily business habits, too.