In recent years, we’ve all heard a lot of references to “earning a seat at the table” (see my article: “If You’re Not at the Table, You’re on the Menu!”). I would submit that where you’re sitting at the table also matters a great deal on your ability to build, nurture and sustain strategic relationships. Working with several global sales organizations recently, it seems that beyond getting your foot in the door to find the room with the table, earning the right to stay there, being invited back, and elevating your position at the table continue to be a challenge for many.
If you aspire to sit next to an economic buyer – a role often reserved for partners and advisors – vs. across from one as a typical vendor, you’ll need a different mindset, toolset, and roadmap.
Here are five best practices most of my senior executive clients consistently look for when they filter the transactional vendors from the transformational partners and advisors:
1. Passion must be your fuel. It’s been said that eyes are the portal to the soul. You must have passion for your organization, products, services, and most importantly, the outcome (read: business results) you create for your clients. You must be passionate about yourself, your abilities, your organization’s capabilities, and how you bridge relationship creation to relationship capitalization – see next article on The Path to Strategic Relationships.
2. Advocacy must be your flag. “We won’t let our organization, let you down,” is a memorable phrase one executive recalls in his conversation with a vendor. You must change your lens to consistently evaluate the 3 constants: change, principles, and choices for your clients. You must become their advocate, carry their banner in your organization, and ensure that the rate of change external remains consistent with the rate of change internally – otherwise, the end will be near for you and your client. You must also become an advocate for your organization in the key insights you bring back from the edge of where business happens. Think of yourself as a signal scout for the organization.
3. Alignment must be your arrow. Due diligence must become the foundation upon which you build strategic relationships. Do your homework. If you can find the answers in advance, don’t ask the questions. Change the framework to design the conversation and align it with your offering. Prove your strategic relationship-worthiness with equal business stature. Demonstrate how other economic buyers are better off because they work with you. Identify trends and align disruptions for your economic buyers and help identify, create, and anticipate needs – see “iTunification” of Your Capabilities chapter in my new book: Return on Impact – Leadership Strategies for the Age of Connected Relationships (ASAE, 2012).
4. Execution must be your resolve. Land the plane, dock the boat, create the will in the organization to make the impossible, possible. Strategic relationships talk through obstacles to execution and find ways to go over, under, or through them – together. Beyond innovative strategies, pave a path to get there through creative implementation. Earn the respect and support of champions within and external to your organization. Fight for resources. Fight for the strategic relationships you deeply believe in.
5. Most importantly and the fundamental underlying necessity is that you must believe! There is a crisis of belief in our business community today. You must believe – at a cellular level – that you can help clients; that you bring a unique solution, that you can make a difference, and that they will be dramatically better off because of you. Strategic relationships want to believe you today, and believe in you as you perform, execute, and deliver results. Never forget that performance trumps all.
How will you earn the seat next to and not just the one across from your strategic relationship aspirations?