Why your company should consider a new operating mode within sales and client services.
I have the incredible job of leading a sales and marketing organization for a fast growth technology company based in Chicago. The magic of this role is that I have the privilege to talk with thousands of small and medium business leaders, in technology and operations, from a wide range of different industries. Spanning from healthcare, financial services, and media, to cartoonists and game development, to say that I have learned a lot would be an understatement.
Sure, my job is awesome, but that’s not the point. It’s about what I’ve learned and how I’m applying it to the way my company, SingleHop, operates. If you have a short attention span, like me, and only make it this far, here’s the main takeaway:
Your clients want a Partner, not a vendor. This is serious shit.
If the space you work in is competitive, crowded, or seen as a commodity, it’s even more important. Look around and count how many options your customers have. It’s probably a lot. And I’d venture to say that most of them are taking a similar approach to how they interact with their clients. Sell stuff, react to issues, sell more stuff. There’s nothing wrong with this model, per se, but if you want to truly build loyalty and relationships that will weather the ups and downs and changes in your business and theirs over the long haul, you have to do something differently.
At our annual sales kickoff this year we invited a few of our wonderful clients to join us and share some insights with our team. Although they were from very different industries, they echoed some similar sentiments when it came to what they wanted from the companies they purchased from. They wanted a Partner, not a vendor.
When I refer to ‘Partner’, I’m not saying it in the bullshit way most companies do. You can’t just say you view your clients as Partners but then default to the Sell stuff, react to issues, sell more stuff model. That’s a cop-out. So if you genuinely want to be a Partner to your client’s, here’s how to do it.
Teach them new stuff
We all want to be the best version of ourselves, and we buy products and services to help accelerate that process. But we aren’t always sure if we’re getting the most from the things we’re buying. A vendor won’t care much about that, but a Partner will. A Partner will make sure you’re equipped to maximize the value of the service. They will help make sure your team is trained and educated on new features. A Partner will tell you when you’re messing up (in a nice way, of course). They will teach them about services other than their own, that will help their client do more with less. They will share knowledge even when it doesn’t make them more money. The only motivation is to help their client be a better version of themselves.
Take Ownership, no matter what
Stuff goes wrong, always. If that’s not the case in your business, I’m convinced you work on another planet and I’d like to join you. In every business, stuff will go wrong and you have to deal with it. I’m a client/customer for a number of companies and all too often I find this philosophy of ownership simply doesn’t exist. It’s all about finger pointing and lame answers to problems. Phone trees that seem to bounce from country to country. Hollow apologies read from poorly written scripts. It all sucks. Ownership is about really getting shit done for your clients when they need you most. If you mess up, own it. Tell them you messed up, tell them how you’re going to fix it, and actually fix it. Fix it with a sense of urgency and fix it for good. Then, after it’s been fixed, check back in periodically to make sure it’s fixed and that you didn’t miss something and that the client is thoroughly happy with the way it was fixed. Own it. It’s not hard, but takes work and effort. No one said this was easy.
Understand their mission, and contribute
You want your client to see you as a true partner? Understand their mission and do what you can to contribute to it. There are many ways to do this, and I’d be kidding myself to try and cover them all, so I’ll generalize a bit here. At a bare minimum, educate yourself on what they do and what their mission is. Share their story with your friends and colleagues when you can. When it makes sense, refer your clients to each other when they’re in need for each other’s services. Get involved with the things that are important to them. Be interested and add value. If you’re only ‘checking in’ when you want to sell more stuff, you’re doing it wrong.
Businesses that see themselves only as a vendor will be displaced by those who want to be, and are, a Partner. I promise you this.
If you want to hear more about how we do things at SingleHop, I’d love to chat.