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Sometimes All We Want Is Good Customers. Sometimes All Customers Want Is Good Vendors.

by David Brock on April 6th, 2009
With this post, any doubt you may have had about me will be eliminated. You will know that I am schizoid, have multiple personalities, or some other disorder. In the last couple of months, I have written a number of times about establishing rich collaborative relationships and partnering with your customers. In this article, you may perceive me as reversing my position.

I’m reacting to a lot of things I hear sales and marketing people talk about these days. “Partnering” is the “it” word for sales and marketing these days. I’ve just been watching a marketing campaign and commercials by the CMO of a major corporation, a guy I really respect, announcing some new products. The tag lines focus on “partnering,” and “we partner with you, not compete with you.” I look at the materials, and they really are a pitch to get me to buy more stuff.

Not being one to pick on just one person, virtually every conversation I have with sales people and managers contains the “p-word.” Everyone wants to partner with their customers. They talk about establishing partnerships, yet down deep, all we really want to do is sell more stuff.

Somehow, it seems the “p-word” is better than going to a customer and saying: “I think I understand what you are trying to achieve, your goals, needs and priorities. I think I have a solution that will exceed your requirements and provide you great value. If I can demonstrate our solution produces superior value, I would like you to buy it.” I guess that’s too sales-y. Somehow, it seems better to say we want to be your partner and to dance strangely around the fact that we just really want them to buy our stuff.

Sometimes—in fact more often than not, all we want to have a great customer-vendor relationship. One in which we provide products/services that solve a customer problem and create great returns for their investment. Sometimes—more often than not, that’s all the customer wants. So why don’t we just be direct and not complicate what we are trying to achieve with meaningless language, “we want to be your partner.” Why don’t we focus on providing great customer service, great products, and great buying experiences?

When I speak of establishing deep collaborative relationships/partnerships, I am thinking of relationships in which there is a deeper degree of commitment and interdependency between organizations. Partnerships are tough—70-80% fail. They require deep commitment, strong support at all levels, and lots of work. They can produce tremendous value and returns for each partner. However, no customer can afford to partner with all their vendors. No vendor can afford to partner with every customer. It is simply too expensive, too difficult to manage and does not produce the required returns for each side of the relationship.

Partnering and rich collaboration should be reserved for your most important and strategic suppliers. It should be reserved for the most strategic customers. I believe these relationships are critical to all organizations, but they don’t represent the majority of relationships.

Sometimes, all we want is a great supplier, or a great customer. Many of the underpinnings to partnerships also apply to these relationships: creating value, great service, win/win, and many of the other principles.

Sometimes, as a customer, I want to go to people like this CMO, and say, “I don’t want to be your partner. I just want to buy good products that meet my needs. Can you demonstrate your products does this better than the others I am considering?” Then I want them to sell to me.

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