The first challenge of any outsourcing company is to get clients. Once (and if) you do, the pressure moves on to keeping the partnership going and growing. To keep things on an honest side, in the beginning of the relationship with your new client you are far from being partners (even further from trusted partners). You are considered a vendor and in the beginning there will be a normal and expected dose of scepticism. But the relationship can evolve and it may go through the following stages described in the lines below. I didn’t come up with and can’t take credit for them, but I find them to be very valid (source: www.trainingindustry.com).
You have a good pricing model and a good (enough) reputation. Congratulations, you’re on their approved list. But you are not perceived as having any competitive edge over other vendors.
You’re seen to be more efficient and get more work than the other guys on that list. You are now in a more select club. You are still just involved at the execution level. You just do more of it.
You add value to your client’s product and now you are seen as a technology thought leader. You are working and advising them HOW to do the work
You are sitting at the table working on the WHY, longer term business issues. At this point, you have moved in the partnership zone and you are helping your client deal with a broader range or challenges they are facing.
Senior management is asking for your advice as a sounding board. You are viewed as a long-term partner and key to their long term success.
Let’s reverse the roles for a second and see a different perspective. As you have clients, I am sure you (as a person or a company) have some vendors. Let’s think about them for a second. Think about the relationship with your accountant, insurance guy, mechanic or the cleaning company. There are 2 key points in your relationship with them. The start, when you chose them, mostly because you needed a vendor and you decided they have the best cost or quality, they were recommended to you, or they just might be the only ones at that point that can help you. So they became an Approved Vendor. And the “Now” when they are your Trusted Partner. You respect them and trust their opinion and vice versa. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship and they need you as much as you need them.
So the question is, how do you become a trusted partner? How did you get to that point with your own vendors and how do you develop the relationship with your clients? What is the journey from Approved Vendor to Trusted Partner? Looking back at the trust relationship you have with your vendors, you can identify some actions that got you to this point. I am sure that there are many ways to get to be a Trusted Partner, but here is my proposal, distilled from the experience Endava and myself had with clients and vendors.
To get to be a trusted partner there is a set of pre-requisites. These are also the points that might get you the contract in the first place. I won’t insist much on these as they can be considered as common sense but they are still worth mentioning. What gets you on the vendors list and on your way to becoming a trusted partner are:
If you have all the pre-requisites you are at the starting line. To get further you would need to help your new client in various ways.
You need to understand your client’s needs and business challenges. Once you do that you will need to adapt your offering to meet those needs. You might have the best product or service, but if your client does not need it or needs something else more, you might drop off the vendors list and your journey is over. Do you know your client’s needs? Great!
In the early stages, it’s important to get to know each other, set the right expectations and set a common vision for this (early) relationship. How will you interact? What do you want to achieve together? Discuss everything you feel is needed to set the base for further conversations and interactions. Get involved early and constantly in the business to understand where the business is going and constantly review your expectations.
You know your client and you know what you want to achieve together. But how can you (and your organization) help them grow and become more successful? Make sure you create win-win solutions and you work and learn together. Don’t just sell your product or service. Create value and growth for your client as well!
Be transparent with your work. There are various ways to do this and the more automated, the better. You need to show your skills and potential, so focus on quality and continuous delivery. If the client can see how the product is evolving, where the glitches are but can also see you have the skills and knowledge to handle anything being thrown at you, it will give them confidence in working with you further.
You need to care. Genuinely. And you need to care not only about the client as an organization (and its needs and challenges) but also about the people you interact with and their needs and struggles. Part of our core purpose in Endava, our DNA sort to say, is to care for our customers as individuals. Trusted partners know their clients as people and don’t see the relationship just as one between two organizations. Get to know your clients by demonstrating care and concern for them as individuals.
Sometimes it may be difficult to say your opinion, ask some difficult questions or just say “no” to your client’s requests. But if you think that you have something valuable for your client, speak up. You might just have a very helpful perspective, insight, resource, tool or practice. That could help make your client’s product better or be more efficient. Speak-up and show you care about your client, their product and that you want to contribute and add value wherever you can. Don’t worry, this is not improper or disrespectful. But do pay attention on how you deliver the message. Communication is the key.
Everyone makes mistakes sooner or later. Especially in the early stages of your relationship, this is normal as you are still getting to know each other. Admit your mistakes and take ownership for the solution. Be honest with your clients and they in turn will reward you with their trust. Also, follow through with your commitments, don’t make promises you can’t keep and always strive to be better. Set short feedback loops so you can constantly adjust and improve.
Now you know your client, understand their needs and where they want to go. You deliver a quality, competitive service and help your client further develop their product. You have shown that you want to contribute, that you are not afraid to ask the tough questions and you are interested in their success not only your gain. Your client trusts you to be honest when asked for your opinion and they trust your opinion because you have shown to be knowledgeable. You are transparent with your work and you managed to connect with your client as an individual. You are now a Trusted Partner.
In the end, don’t expect do develop a trusted partner relationship with all your accounts and clients. The reasons and factors are plenty and can range from pricing, perceived quality, communication issues or simply you don’t click.
And remember it’s not only about quality services, capabilities, prices and other things you might believe will ensure you a long lasting relationship. These are important, but to become a trusted partner you need more. You need focus on your client’s needs, communication and transparency.
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