Understanding the principles of partnership is essential to building lasting business relationships with customers.
You can think of these five principles as the bedrock for the foundation of your future working partnership. Unlike the Leaning Tower of Piza, which has been standing for over 800 years, a relationship built on shaky ground will not last.
For this reason, every partnership must have a core understanding at its center. Unfortunately, many businesses fail to realize this. They treat business deals like a competition or a hunt, instead of seeing each deal for what it really is – an opportunity to build a long-term partnership that is mutually beneficial for both parties.
A successful partnership is built on five key components. Those are:
- Shared knowledge
- Shared Goals
Let’s dive into each of these key areas in more detail, and begin to unearth what it means to really be a trusted partner to your buyers.
Why the principles of partnership matter
We don’t seek to build a trusting partnership with buyers simply because it’s the right thing to do. Rather, it’s vital to the success of each and every deal we make. We don’t want our deals to start leaning the way the Tower of Piza did after just 10 meters into the project. There’s a real, profitable value in understanding our partners, and building that solid relationship and foundation.
What we found in discussing account planning and the value of relationships with sellers in our recent book, Not Just Another Vendor, is that building successful relationships offers real, tangible business benefits like:
- Understanding key motivations to tailor unique solutions.
- Becoming a trusted advisor and getting the first call to new projects.
- Defending existing revenue and growing net new opportunities.
These benefits (and many more) are only possible when relationships with customers are built on the five key principles of partnership.
The funny thing is, many sellers don’t realize they haven’t achieved that lofty trusted advisor status yet with their most strategic customers.
When it came to piloting a new, more holistic approach to his accounts, Sales legend, Todd Adair – MHCL | GE Healthcare – wanted to know how to step things up. Todd didn’t necessarily think there was anything that needed to be fixed. Though his team may not have won all of the opportunities they competed for within it, they certainly won their “unfair share.”
“…I felt like I was doing a good job” Todd says. By all objective measures, he was doing well. The account reliably brought in between $40–50 million every year. “They were accustomed to buying from us,” says Todd. “Obviously, there was competition out there, but I was showing up on a frequent basis, and they were saying, “Yes.” From my perspective, I figured, well, they’re buying from me, right? They’re giving me their business. So they must be getting the value they need.”
The reality, however, was different. Despite having what appeared to be success in his existing partnership, he did not have his customer’s trust. He had not done the extra work of seeking deep understanding of their account. He did not understand their business as well as they did. And that turns out to be the minimum that you need to really grow revenue in accounts, and stand out amidst an economic backdrop that is more competitive than ever.
Todd would go on to change the way his sales team approached accounts, and would go on to great success in building trust.
As trust is built within an account, sellers can execute on five core areas to build the foundations of a strong working partnership. These are:
- Provide unbiased, honest advice
- Deliver on your commitments
- Take the lead
- Bring in business opportunities
- Make quick decisions
#2: Shared knowledge
This is another area that Todd learned during his journey to becoming a trusted advisor – shared knowledge is key principle of partnership. Although account planning software and insight mapping technology can help your team uncover things hidden within an account, that information must be verified with the customer themselves.
Through this verification, sellers can find potential blind spots in their understanding of an account.
By bringing a literal document and sharing with customers, Todd was able to uncover problem areas otherwise unknown by him.
Similarly, shared knowledge is particularly important, whether it’s good news or bad news. Sharing knowledge with your partner means:
- Providing not just information, but also insight
- Focusing on business advantages
- Two-way sharing
- Building trust
#3: Shared goals
Once Todd realized that he was not where he needed to be from a trusted advisor standpoint, he began to ask better questions to better understand his customer’s goals.
“I stopped approaching our conversations from a vendor-client perspective,” says Todd. “Instead, I came with a curiosity mindset. I told them, help me understand your business better. You may not be using my technology Today, but I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about you.”
Just as knowledge needs to be shared to build a successful relationship, goals also need to be shared. What is beneficial for you is beneficial for your partner, and vice versa. Simply put, exceptional sales organizations make their customers’ goals the number one priority. These teams never ask “What can I sell?” Rather, they wonder, “What do our customers need to achieve and how can we help them get there?”
When we hear innovation, we often think of technical innovation – advancements in generative AI for sales, for example, or the latest iPhone. However, in the context of business, innovation is also necessary.
Non-technological innovation in the business sense has to do with strategy and leadership, but also organizational evolution as a whole.
Consistently seeking out newer and better ways to do things also helps build a strong relationship. Just as Todd Adair’s relentless pursuit of perfection led him to looking beyond surface-level markers for success, all sales leaders should aim to seek our innovative ways to serve customers, enhance sales process and methodology, and establish what great looks like in sales.
At the same time, innovations in technology can assist with this. As already mentioned, generative AI for sales is one area of impact, but additionally sales leaders need to outfit their entire team with the relationship map tools and visual tools and account planning tools they need to collaborate on a winning strategy.
By melding this commitment to non-technical and technical innovation, sellers can build better relationships and stand out from the competition.
Last but not least, all of these principles can’t be put into action without good communication. But communication is not just about how your talk to customers – it’s about getting the right information to make the most out of every single interaction with every single decision-maker with an account.
Recent trends in business highlight the importance of this. With more and more of the buying journey happening outside of the seller’s direct impact, and expanding buying groups, it is critical to make the most out of these interactions to succeed.
Therefore, a lot of this work needs to be done on the back end.
What kind of information are you taking into the conversations with you? Are you communicating your findings with buyers and getting their take on your findings to confirm them? Or are you simply finding the data that backs up your own beliefs?
Leverage these principles of partnership with account planning
As we and many other sales leaders highlighted in our recent book – like Scott Jackson Senior Director, Sales Enablement, Comcast Business – have found, it’s relationships that drive impact in accounts, not just the product.
“When you come up in a sales culture that doesn’t think strategically nor does account planning, everything is opportunistically focused,” Scott says. “A lot of the salespeople I encounter basically just show up in front of potential customers and say, ‘Here’s my list of tools; what can I sell you Today?’ instead of coming in with the intent to understand more deeply how they can help someone achieve their goals.”
It’s this commitment to solving shared goals that build great working partnerships. Account planning is at the backbone.
Learn more about how account planning can help you build partnerships via the eBook below.