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In all my years on the supplier side and now as a consultant, I have learned three recurring drivers of creating successful relationships with colleagues who are either co-workers or clients.  These universally apply to external relationships, like a research supplier working with a client, or internal relationships, like a client service team working with operations or an insights manager working with marketing.

The three universal truths of strong business relationships are:

  1. Help your colleague add value to who signs their paycheck
  2. Add to a colleague’s prospects for career growth
  3. Colleagues want to enjoy the ride (OK, this is my favorite!)

Let’s unpack these a bit and fully understand what they really mean.

Help your colleague add value to who signs their paycheck

People are being paid to do a job.  It is their responsibility to deliver value to the organization. You become a central figure in a chapter of this book.  For you to be helpful, you need to understand how your work-products will ultimate affect the organization’s decisions and resulting performance. For research suppliers, the “what” is the data; the “so what” is the analysis; and the “now what” is the organizational decision impact. It is important that you focus your work on delivering recommendations regarding the “now what” by getting inside your client’s issues and daily pressures.  Make it easy for your client to have an impact that adds value to the enterprise that pays their salary and by so doing, you will have added tremendous value to your client.

Add to a colleague’s prospects for career growth

Everyone wants their career to advance, to get great performance reviews, salary increases, and to be groomed for bigger and better things. An amazing engagement can do this for your client. I remember working with Kraft, or maybe it was General Foods at the time, and hearing about “the beverage model”.  When I inquired, the model was actually a road-mapped series of projects that included marketing mix modeling that had a huge impact on their beverage businesses (probably Capri Sun, Crystal Light, etc.) and became a template for how to improve marketing spend decisions for greater ROI.  Anyone associated with creating this model certainly got a career boost, including Henry Rak, who became a very successful consultant and whose business was eventually bought by McKinsey.  Be the supplier or consultant who delivers this kind of value to someone’s career and you will have a client relationship for life.

Colleagues want to enjoy the ride

This is perhaps most important of all.  My first lesson on this was when I was running a leading competitor to BASES, called ESP (Estimating Sales Potential).  One client we shared had just awarded a study to BASES instead of us and I asked him “why”.  His response was, “Joel, we prefer ESP as a model but BASES is just much easier to work with.”

Takeaway: it is more important for you as a service provider to make it as easy as possible for your clients to work with you vs. more highly valuing your own efficiency and organization structure.

Another example:  I was at a large supplier who was doing a big shopper insights project for a leading CPG marketer.  I was brought it as an adviser by the client service team who was having a tough time keeping the client happy.  As I dug into the issues, the client said, “Look, we’re getting what we’re paying for but I’m just not enjoying the ride.”  As a consultant, I try to be highly and immediately responsive as a delayed phone call back or a missed deliverables deadline can be fatal to a relationship.

Takeaway: people want to enjoy the ride.

Other ways you can help your client to enjoy the ride: be pleasant, personable and considerate, completely open and honest to reinforce that they placed their trust in the right person, and show them you are listening and valuing their input and opinions.

Think of this principle in the context of client service working with operations. Often the tension arises from client service feeling they are not getting what they need fast enough or that it is not correct.  Operations then says that the specs were unclear and led to re-work.  Each team becomes adversarial, thinking their job is harder, they are better at it, and they work longer hours because they are more committed. Clearly, in such internal tensions, no one is enjoying the ride.

Ultimately, both parties to a business relationship want it to be successful.  You are on the same team!  Keep these universal truths top of mind and success will be the outcome.

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2 Responses to “Three universal truths to creating strong business relationships”

  1. hey joel — completely agree with you, especially on the last point — it’s so important to remember clients are people too! — denise lee yohn