Moving Up the Relationship Hierarchy
You often hear marketing and sales pros talk about how to turn vendor interactions into meaningful relationships. I find it rewarding to work with our clients to implement strategies that move these relationships from being considered a vendor at one end, to a partner at the other. In some instances, the relationship will spend some time in the consultant and trusted advisor modes as the intermediate steps. And while this hierarchy model is generally thought to refer to services organizations, it can also apply to product companies – especially if there is a service component involved.
The following chart shows various relationship attributes and how they apply when you are at different levels of the Value Hierarchy. As you can see, the further up the food chain you go, the greater the rewards. In fact, a trusted advisor or partner can often command 5-10 times the compensation of a vendor.
Mladen Kresic, CEO of K&R Negotiations (and noted sales negotiation expert), has a great perspective on the hierarchy as it applies to sales in his recent blog post, Breaking the Master/Servant Sales Relationship. Kresic stated, “Moving from the master/servant paradigm isn’t about gaining the upper hand in a brute power scenario, but rather about moving to a peer-to-peer relationship where mutual benefit flows from mutual respect and acknowledgment of exchanged value. From our experience, the master/servant trap is an easy one to fall into, even with some of the world’s top-tier service organizations.” The “servants” Mr. Kresic is referring to are definitely stuck at the vendor end of the spectrum.
So what can you do to get to the top of the food chain and stay there? Here are a few suggestions:
- Never take your place in the hierarchy for granted. Whether it is your spouse, your marketing peers, your business partner, or your client, you need to continue to earn their trust.
- Under promise and over deliver. We have a tendency when dealing with a new customer/client to say things to please them. I got in trouble a couple of times earlier in my career by telling the CEO or VP of Sales, “I’m sure we can deliver all the leads you want.” Yes I knew that hitting the lead target would be difficult, but I wanted to please and score a few points.
- Be impeccable about deadlines. Having hired many vendors and consultants in my career as a marketing executive – a few of whom became trusted advisors or partners – the one thing that separated the latter from the former was the way they either met, or did not meet, their deadlines. No one likes to chase you to do what you already promised to do.
- Go the extra mile. Yes, this is another cliché, but your willingness to do the unexpected and unasked for, can be a huge contributor to the strength of the relationship.
- Listen. Yes, your relationship is based on some type of commerce. But your customer/client is also a human, with all the goodness and baggage that entails. If he or she considers you a trusted advisor or partner, they may share both negative and positive parts of their work or personal life that have little to do with your existing contract. You may be tempted to brush this off to get back to the business at hand, but resist the temptation, open your ears and close your mouth (unless asked to do otherwise). It will be an investment that pays off for you and your client.
- Stay in touch. Regardless of how your relationship ends, stay in touch with your ex-clients/customers. Send them useful articles; make yourself available for quick calls, comment on their social media posts, and whatever else you can do to be of assistance. Some of our best clients have been with us while with multiple companies. They have become friends and I believe they consider my team and me to be trusted advisors and partners.
If I had to sum up these six strategies in a single overriding concept it would be: Always make the relationship as important, or more so, than the transaction.