As the CEO of a digital branding agency, I get the extraordinary opportunity to often meet with many executive managers in Corporate America’s boardrooms. My favorite part is identifying perception gaps that exist between internal and external forces (such as customer vs employees), so I get to interview many key managers that lead operations, delivery and development within both product and service organizations with the goal of identifying their current brand value and name equity for new business, existing business, or when they seek to expand. I work hard to be a trusted partner. What does this mean?
The one question, that seems to consistently impact a company’s brand equity and valuation, is whether the company is thought of as a Vendor or a Trusted Partner?
What my experience has shown me time and time again is, that often, if you want to know if your company will be your client’s partner next year, simply deconstruct the above question and ask, ‘Are we our clients’ vendor/supplier or are we their trusted partner?’ And to be honest, most of us think of ourselves as trusted partners. But are we really? Consider this.
Many of us, in the professional business community, tend to think myopically about our narrow field of service within the giant conglomeration of a service contract or the delivery of a system or products. We count on quality assurance reports, customer satisfaction surveys, and follow-up calls and questionnaires that are supposed to tell us whether the mission set has been accomplished.
I find that often those KPIs are inherently disconnected from what truly matters to buyers when they categorize you between Vendor and Partner. But if you really want to probe and find out, ask yourself or your management team to answer these five self-probing questions. It might hurt a little, but the ultimate gain will be great.
1. Is your company indispensable to your customer?
Many IT companies assume that because they have a legacy system in place that requires a fork-lift, the cost of removal makes them indispensable. Just imagine how many of them went out of business because of Cloud migration and Software as Service providers, which simply disconnected one cable and migrated entire databases to the cloud. Indispensable means that when your customer is thinking of a change, material or cosmetic, they call you to consult. If they don’t, you’re a vendor.
2. Is your company product-agnostic or product-centric?
Especially in the services industry, many companies tend to rely on one relationship with a major credible supplier such as Staples, Amazon, or Xerox (just examples). But if you are unable to offer your clients the choice of other platforms, solutions, software, and ideas that fit their requirements, chances are that you are a vendor. Yes, maybe the margins are higher in the short term, but long term any disruptive technology, process or system will displace you overnight. Just look at how CRM transformed sales to the embedded base and customer satisfaction again and again, and how Amazon went from selling books to selling data centers, invading the space of large data companies that don’t sell books! In my opinion, if you are a trusted partner, choosing which platform you use is secondary to what your client objectives are. It also shows and presents you as a renaissance and evolved thinker that truly looks out for their client’s interests.
3. Does your company provide its clients with customized education or canned teleprompter demos about ‘what’s next’?
Not everyone can afford producing their own training, but imagine what your client or customers feel like when they receive a canned presentation with a slap-on logo for your company. The CEO is thinking, “You’re a vendor…. you didn’t customize it to my needs.” Or, maybe she’s thinking, “65% isn’t relevant to me.” A trusted partner takes the time to at least edit that product video or PowerPoint presentation and show how relevant it is to the target audience in mind.
4. Does your company truly appreciate its customers or does it hold food-rich customer appreciation days?
Let me be clear – taking a client to lunch or inviting them to an open house where free beer flows, beef burgundy, and Mexican guacamole are plentiful does not equate to providing meaningful value. Yet, in many user conferences, it appears that the food is more valuable than the presentations. A true partner invests in making their customer the subject matter expert by being their shadowed mentor.
5. Does Your Company Say, “YES”, before truly analyzing and understanding the client requirements?
I have interviewed many buyers of products and services that tell me that they test their vendors for a measure of trust by often throwing an impossible-to-fill scenario their way, just to see how they approach their answer. I am not talking about a fake requirement but a real-life simulation of something they really need. A vendor jumps in and responds with, “No problem, how many do you need”; but a partner thinks first and asks why, how, and when they need it and most importantly, does it really make sense given who they are as a customer? There is a lot that a true partner considers before giving a well thought-out response. It can be the budget, it can be the technology, it can be anything. Just don’t say, “YES” and “How many do you need?” because then you lose your license to be their true partner.
The bottom line: Every executive in the role of production, customer satisfaction, or sales and marketing struggles to balance the monthly goals against investing additional time to develop a trusted partnership with their client. It may be a longer-cycle marketing process, but in my experience of surveying and working with hundreds of successful companies, that extra time invested will lead you in the right direction to become your client’s true partner… instead of just their vendor.
About the Author: Mr. Gal Borenstein is a recognized expert and strategist in digital branding, marketing, social media, advertising, online reputation management and public relations matters. He is the founder and CEO of the Borenstein Group, a top digital marketing communications firm in the Washington DC metropolitan area that serves clients locally and globally. He is the author of new business leadership book, ACTIVATE! How to Power Up Your Brand to Dominate Your Market, Crush Your Competition & Win in the Digital Age, available in premiere bookstores and on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles and Apple’s iBooks. Gal has published his first business leadership book What Really Counts for CEOs in 2009. Since then, Borenstein has been featured as a guest commentator on CNN and Fox Business News on strategic marketing and branding issues, as well as, been one of the top digital content contributors to influential business leadership social media networks such as LinkedIn, PR Week’s The Hub, Advertising Age’s BtoB magazine, HR.Com, Smart CEO Magazine, DuctTapeMarketing.com and others. He can be reached at 703-385-8178×28 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @galborenstein on Twitter.