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“We Want To Be Your Partner!” Another Closing Technique?

by David Brock on June 28th, 2011

Partnering has been in vogue for the past few years.  It seems as though every sales person wants to “partner” with their customers.  Marketers talk about partnering, consultants want to be everyone’s partner.

Whatever happened to valued vendor-customer relationships?  Whatever happened to “I want to provide you a quality solution, that fulfills all your requirements, at a fair price, with great customer service.”

What about the customer who just wants a dependable supplier that meets their commitments?

Somehow just selling to a customer who is buying is no longer sufficient.  We have to talk about a much deeper form of relationship.  We now want to become everyone’s partner.

Partnering is much different than being a reliable, customer focused supplier.  Partnering mandates a much higher level of relationship between each party.  Implicit in the relationship is a higher degree of interdependence.  Partnering relationships require great alignment in vision and values between partners.  Partnering requires sharing resources, risks, and rewards between each party.  Partnering usually involves many relationships across organizations — from executives sponsoring the relationship and driving governance, down through deep relationships between people working together on a day to day basis.  Partnering requires an investment of people, resources, and money by each party.  Partnering usually has project plans, commitments, milestones, and all sorts of things the parties have to execute over time.  Partnering is rarely about a transaction, but about attaining shared goals and results over a longer period of time.

Partnerships are tough.  Over 70% of them fail to achieve their objectives.  However successful partnerships can be very powerful for each party, enabling them to accomplish things they could not do separately.

Because of the level of resources, investments, time and commitment it takes, no company can afford to partner with all of their customers or suppliers.  In reality organizations can only afford to partner with a very small number.  Companies can’t afford to, and don’t want to partner with all their vendors and suppliers.  They may not care to partner with any of them–but they do want dependable and quality suppliers.

Partnering involves a lot from each party, which is why I always challenge sales people embarking on a “partnership” sales strategy.  Too often, when I ask the sales person suggesting partnering, “Why do you want to partner with your customer,”  the response is, “I want to use it to help get an order!”

I usually respond, “Does your customer want a partnership or a good supplier?”  Usually I get one of two responses, most often it’s a sales person looking at me cross-eyed, “You just don’t get it.  It’s what we always offer!”  The other variant is, “No they just want to buy a product, but we are going to say we have a partnership to differentiate ourselves.”  (This strategy confuse3s me because the competitor is also offering a partnership……)

Usually, I just give up there, but sometimes a morbid curiosity causes me to pursue my line of questioning, I may ask, “What will you be doing differently with the customer who you offer a partnership to?”  The response is, “We’ll treat them like a valued customer!”

Most sales people really don’t understand partnerships and partnering.  Use of the partnering strategy seems to be no more than another closing technique.  I guess if neither the assumptive or puppy dog closes work, the sales person might consider the “partnering” close.

There’s a problem with the “partnering” close—most buyers I’ve spoken to realize it is nothing more than a closing technique.  They understand what partnering is (at least to a better degree than the sales person does.).  Most know when they are looking for a partnering relationship–and their partnering process is different from their buying process.  Too many customers just want a reliable supplier, not a partnership.

In the end most customers I interview think the partnering close is a hollow commitment.  It’s just another set of fancy words sales people use, with little understanding of the implications of partnering.

I wonder what would happen if we just closed on , “We want to demonstrate that we can be your highest performing supplier, will you give us that opportunity?”

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10 Comments
  1. David,

    Partneships imply many things including the sharing of risk and burden, which is not what the saleperson is willing to provide. When a salespeson tells me they want to be my partner, I laughingly think, “You want a share in my business and I’m supposed to pay you for that?”

    With so much readily available knowledge and wisdom on selling successfully, people are still looking for an easy way out. One can only hope that some salespeople get it and develop better skills and behaviors.

    Thanks for a great post.

    Gary

    • Thanks Gary, sometimes customers just want good suppliers and we want good customers. Why make it more complex?

  2. Yeah, you’ve touched down on a lot of great points here David. Like Gary stated … it’s a two way street when it comes to partnerships.

  3. Yes, the word partner just like help has been overused. And the word in today’s real world connotation does suggest liability. Yet when we examine the word part from its Latin origins it means to prepare. Part is something less than the whole.

    I am not sure throwing out this word totally is a good thing. My sense is there may be a different expectation embedded in the word between small business owners and larger C Suite executives. I definitely believe this is one word I would not use with larger organizations especially when they have separate sales and marketing departments.

    Great posting and definite food for thought.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment. It’s an interesting think about the differences in partnering between small businesses and large enterprises. Actually, I would have a slightly different view. When we talk about partnering, whether with another individual (think for example of marriage), another organization–large or small, we are thinking of very similar things: higher levels of interdependence, aligned values and goals, and several other things. Size can have an impact–but probably more in terms of complexity in managing the relationship than in basic principles.

      Additionally, it is possible for very small organizations to have rich partnerships with very large organizations. For example, many years ago, I ran a multi – billion dollar division of a large company. I signed a partnerships with a 25 person company that had revenues of a few million. That partnership was very valuable to my organization and to the partner. Together, we achieved things that neither of us could have achieve as effectively apart–or with different partners. Today, I have two similar relationships–except my company is the small business and my partners are each multi-billion dollar organizations. We are each very important to the other and cannot as easily or effectively achieve our shared goals independently or with others.

      True partnering is an important capability for individuals and organizations of all sizes. True partnering is not oriented around a transaction, but around a relationship, interdependence, shared goals, values, vision, risks, and rewards.

      Partnering is not a “technique,” most people understand that partnering is a richer kind of relationship, which is why sales people (and customers) use this word–holding out the expectation of something deeper, but really not intending it to be anything more than a transaction.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  4. Genuine partnerships in business do exist, but there existence were never ‘purchased’ or ‘sold’ they developed organically over a very long period of time.

    They are in fact (in my opinion) mutually based business relationships that have developed through a wide range of collaborative processes, events and experiences, where trust and and mutual benefit have been able to be quantifiably measured and where the need to evaluate each others motive as to why they do buisiness together has deminished to be almost no existant over time.

    Quality leadership at the very top is required to establish this type culture within the business, where high value is placed on ethics and moral character when hiring new staff, especially with client facing staff is equally as important as skill sets.

    Without these qualities being portrayed to ones clients it simply is about the numbers and we all know that cheap does not always equate to good good. Especially in business.

    • Thanks for the great insight Robert. Partnerships and Alliances can be a critical part of a business strategy. As you point out, they need to be carefully thought out, there needs to be great fit and alignment between partners, there need to be shared vision, values, risk, resources, and rewards. Done properly, they can produce great results for all.

      As you highlight, partnering is not a sales strategy. Too many people are abusing this, and demonstrating their lack of understanding when offering a partnership to close a deal.

      Thanks for the comment. Hope to see you here regularly. Regards, Dave

  5. This is one of my pet peeves – thanks for putting out there.

    As a sales person, I always try to give other sales people a shot. The one that gets me the most is the telesales rep who opens the call with “Hi I hope you have a moment to talk to me. My company wants to partner with you to increase sales.

    I usually say something like “Great. Send me the partnership agreement spelling out all the terms. I’ll look it over and get back to you. Make sure to send two signed copies, If I decide to go in, I’ll sign one and get back to you. Thanks so much for calling.

    It’s really not the fault of the sales rep. His training consisted of memorizing a pitch and does not have any real sales skills.

    • Thanks Rick, we keep “wordsmithing” our approach to selling. We’d be much more effective if we dealt with the substantive issues of being a great supplier, providing the value the customer wants. Thanks for joining the discussion. Regards, Dave

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