May 14th 2012
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By Brian Gilboy
In any business, it's extremely difficult to sustain growth through a series of transactional sales activities. Building strong, lasting relationships is crucial to the long-term success of your business.
Most professionals in a revenue generating or client-facing role agree that business relationships begin slowly as trust is earned over time, hopefully ending with an opportunity. However, if your goal is to form a long-term partnership, getting the first shot is only half the battle. Significant opportunities to grow customer share is largely unrealized because of the inability of the salesperson to graduate from vendor status to that of partner or trusted advisor.
Vendors fill orders and generally meet expectations originally specified during initial meetings. Partners consistently add value by providing solutions that ultimately contribute to the client's success. Partnerships offer higher margins, new business opportunities, consistent revenue, and more interesting work. Mistaking where you stand in the relationship is a critical error that can be avoided. Proper evaluation will help you make key decisions, modify your tactics, or brace yourself for the fall. Do the following situations apply to you and your client?
1. Discussions with clients focus mostly about price and reducing your quote. Pricing is a superficial characteristic that may help you get in the door, but it rarely keeps the client interested long term. There is always someone willing to offer a lower price or a better deal.
2. There's always competition for current/new projects. Initially, you can't expect exclusivity, but if, over time, the client is still working with the competition, there's something you can be doing different or better.
3. You haven't been introduced to colleagues or referred to other business contacts. Your client may lack confidence in your approach or what you and your business offer.
4. They don't seek advice to challenges that impact their overall business. Don't be satisfied with order taking. Every business has areas where it can improve, and if you're paying attention, you can add real value.
5. Conversations are all reactive in nature and not forward looking or long term. We all must concentrate on the project in front of us. However, if you're not discussing the firm's strategy and what role you play in it, then you're ultimately replaceable.
6. Client constantly cancels or reschedules appointments. Your client feels the need to establish a hierarchy in your relationship, which demonstrates she/he doesn't view you as a partner, value your time, or believe you can significantly improve her/his business.
7. Unnecessary pressure/demands are routinely placed on you (deadlines, pricing, or process). Partners understand each other's business capacity and internal processes. Asking for a favor is one thing, constantly holding your feet to the fire and using you as the scapegoat is another.
8. Reluctance to discuss challenges outside your particular field of expertise. Aversion to sharing challenges outside of the usual scope of business indicates a lack of trust or perception you lack the skills and knowledge to help.
9. Client is uninterested in learning what he/she could do to improve the relationship. Strong partnerships are evident when both parties have a stake in the other's success. We all want to work with people we like, trust, and respect.
10. They don't pick up a tab . . . ever. Just because you have an expense account doesn't mean you should be expected to pay for every coffee, meal, or greens fee. Picking up an occasional tab indicates a client appreciates you and your efforts.
If after careful examination these signs are too familiar, consider ways you can elevate your standing. Enlist the advice of a colleague, mentor, or friend to brainstorm how to add value to your clients' operations and, secondly, how to avoid these types of relationships in the future. You may even consider sitting down with your client over lunch and addressing the issue head-on. Hopefully, the client will keep the meeting and maybe even pick up the check.
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About the author
Brian Gilboy is a director with Engineered Tax Services, a leader in specialty tax solutions. Brian has over twenty years of experience in professional development, management, and sales. If you would like to contact Brian or share your comments, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.