The great benefit of bringing two parties together to work to achieve a common goal is that they will each bring their own different perspectives, experiences and techniques as well as any products and services. When these different and initially separate ‘approaches’ are effectively blended into a new way of achieving the objective this can be an exciting and fulfilling way to solve the defined challenge or problem.
This all sounds like common sense but in practice partnerships can often run into difficulties especially if one of the parties is unwilling or unable to let go of their way of working. It’s a natural human condition to ‘be in control’ as it helps us to feel more secure but this inflexibility will be a problem if you want to work in a partnership with a customer or supplier to find new solutions. There are several ways to avoid this problem and the first is to clearly define the common goal and how the partners will work together (specific roles, timescales etc.). In addition I would suggest that there needs to be an agreement about the way of working together which ideally would include a culture of openness, a willingness to challenge and be challenged and regular communications between the parties (face-to-face, phone etc.).
If these ground rules are established up front and both parties buy into the goal and benefits from it then they have a very good chance of making their collaboration a successful one. This will help us to avoid the negative outcomes from an ineffective partnership where the parties may create something that doesn’t work, where they fall out completely, or when one partner becomes dominant and just controls the situation to do it their way thus negating most of the value that could have been gained.
In short you have to let go of some control and the comforts of the way you normally work to gain the benefits of an effective partnership, so why not spend a few moments to reflect on your experience of collaborating with others and whether you could benefit from letting go of ‘being in control’?
How can a company repair the relationship and business with an important business customer that it has let down due to problems such as product availability or falling product sales through lack of support? I suppose that some organisations may take the view that these things just happen and the customer will have to accept it but more enlightened, customer-focused managers seek to turn these situations around by understanding how they can repair the damage that has been caused to both the business and the relationship with these customers.
I am very lucky to have a number of clients who trust me to ‘help out’ in these types of situations and there is a simple approach that has proven very effective when the customer is open to at least look at the options. The first step is to understand in a meeting with the supplier’s management the overall key account strategy, current marketing initiatives and the ideal outcome. I then work with the key account manager responsible for the customer to get their ‘on the ground’ perspective of the key account, its business and people and then we decide as a small project team what type of intervention could best work to increase sales for the customer and supplier. The next step is for me to contact the customer, typically by phone to understand their views on the business and their needs and ideas for business development and we then plan an event which could be a combination of a workshop with a tailored supplier/retailer promotion or a practical action such as a review of the retailer’s merchandising etc. The event is then delivered by myself (and usually attended by the key account manager) where my role is the objective outsider who is facilitating and practically helping both parties to gain from the project.
After this initial step the key account manager can usually take back the reins and start to work on implementing the tangible plans and actions that have emerged from the event whilst I as part of the project team may be able to help spread the learnings from this work within the retailer’s business or around the supplier’s organisation.
Research has shown that if you can solve a customer’s problem for them they are often more satisfied than if the problem had never occured. It’s definitely worth looking therefore at business building initiatives that can both solve problems and renew damaged relationships.
I don’t know about you but I find all this talk of austerity quite depressing, especially during the Christmas season and when looking forward to next year. I’m not advocating getting into debt by ‘spending your way’ out of any stagnation in sales, what I am suggesting is that if things are not working as they should be we need to look for other ways of growing the business. This is where the Sigmoid curve diagram as shown above can help us to see change as a positive choice that can lead to a better future with renewed growth in sales. The simple premise is that if we continue to do the same things that were successful in the past but we are now entering a maturity phase, due to internal or external factors, then it’s time to think again before we hit the downward curve to decline.
A recent article in The Economist entitled ‘Gold hunting in a frugal age’ highlighted 4 potential options for businesses to prosper when their customers are feeling the pinch: firstly to look at emerging markets, secondly to adjust corporate policies to the situation of stagnant wages and growing inequality by targeting frugal products to low income markets, thirdly to provide poor people with innovative services, and lastly to harness the power of new technology. However, these 4 options may not to be the easiest route to find growth as there are likely to be unmet needs within your current customer base which could be a more profitable opportunity to consider before investing in a totally new strategy.
Whatever path you choose to help grow your sales and business our experience is that it’s best to maintain an attitude of looking for growth rather than opting for austerity and hoping that things will change. All the best for 2013!
The best job that I had as a sales manager in Procter & Gamble was working with major retailers as a category management specialist. This work was great because you could make a big difference to the business of the retailer as well as your own company by using insights and practical strategies which could be implemented in hundreds of stores. I remember very well the launch of Pampers boy and girl nappies and how we develped a simple category plan to fit twice as many lines on the shelf at Sainsburys and justifying it with enhanced sales and profit figures from test market stores. This approach to building the overall (nappy) category cake made the difference between success or failure for the launch of a new product and the growth of the retailer’s business. This experience gave me the incentive to become a consultant focused on business development working with customers and suppliers. How can you grow your ‘category’ cake together?
Over the years I’ve worked with veterinary professionals and companies who sell their products and services into a very traditional market – agriculture. When meeting with both the vets and the people working for businesses selling in to this sector it was great to hear that they were all focused on building long term relationships with their customers but they were also open to help in changing a few of the old practices that they had in recommending current services, promotions or the biggest revenue earner to their customers. A similar approach to improve commercial practices emerged from our work with the vets and businesses which was for them to contact customers before the start of the next season in order to both anticipate their needs and get in before the competition by offering an added-value service or product package (service/product, delivery, price, timing). This approach can work in many other markets so take a look at your products and services and think how you could anticipate your customers’ needs by providing a product or service package that delivers added-value before they buy it from your competitor. Season’s greetings!