Before admitting you into partnership, a customer manager screens you through a checklist like this:
What is the reward—can they produce what they propose within the time they have proposed it?
How much will it cost to educate them in my operation?
How much disruption will it cause if I bring them in? What is the most likely interruption to my people's productivity?
What is the risk of sharing my priorities and proprietary objectives with them?
You can predict your own partnerability by evaluating yourself against a profile of the critical success factors of partnerable consultative sellers:
Gains rewards by rewarding others, credits others for their contributions, likes to mentor others and leave them improved.
Negotiates by presenting options for the single best solution. Asks "What if?" rather than tells "What-to."
Enjoys collaboration. Acts as coleader and comanager. Demonstrates acute people-sensitivity.
Displays high frustration tolerance. Enters unstructured situations and shapes them according to the consultative model.
Lives a consultative lifestyle. Partners at work or play.
Stands up to being evaluated.
Customer satisfaction for clients is not a prescription from Dr. Feelgood. It is a pairing of two quantifiable outcomes that come together to form the standards of minimally satisfactory partner performance:
Zero cost, which requires that all significant discretionary expenditures must be investments, not costs, and as such they must earn a positive return.
Zero risk, which requires 100 percent certainty of achieving each proposed profit improvement.
These are the "hurdle rates" for satisfying clients. That means they get you in the door, but they do not compel a customer to invite you to sit down and partner. They serve to put a floor under your performance. You provide the ceiling, consisting of the height of the profits you can contribute and the frequency rate with which you can repeat your contributions. These are the measurements that determine how high your customers' satisfaction with you can be.
Departnering occurs when two conditions are met. An alliance that is incomplete or unfulfilled within itself is vulnerable. When a more promising partner appears, it succumbs. Many troubled partnerships linger on because both partners temporarily subscribe to the belief that "You know what you've got, but you don't know what you're going to get." As soon as one partner believes that what he or she is going to get is better, the partnership will end. In Consultative Selling, this means that the client will also be lost.
Because markets are tight communities, the loss of one client inevitably raises doubts, creates assumptions, and fosters anxieties that threaten the stability of other client relations. A domino effect can follow. The loss of one key account opens the door to competitors who, even if they have not been a cause of departnering, will be anxious to take advantage of its effects.
What leaves a partnership incomplete or causes it to be unfulfilled? There are two major factors that predispose to eventual departnering: divergence of objective and inequality of risk.
Divergent objective. Partnerships rest on a common objective. Both partners must have the same result in mind before they partner, see the same result as being achieved while they are partnering, and be able to look back at the accomplishment of their result as a consequence of the partnership.
Consultative partnerships are known by the objective the partners have in common. The eternal question of what partners see in each other is easily answered: They want to achieve the same objective, and they perceive the partnership as the optimal means of reaching it. This is their hidden agenda.
A consultative partnership is not a one-on-one situation. More accurately, it is a two-for-one relationship. Both partners share one objective—to improve the client's profit. Unless this is accomplished, the consultant's objective of improving profit on sales will be impossible. For this reason, the client's objective must come first for both of them. It is not philanthropy but enlightened self-interest that makes it so.
When objectives diverge, or simply appear to be going off in different directions or losing conviction, alliances atomize. A client partner may acquire the belief that the consultant is more interested in self-promotion to the client's top tier than in merchandising the partnership. The client partner may feel used, demeaned, and taken unfair advantage of by helping the consultant develop business elsewhere, either inside or outside the organization. The consultant, on the other hand, may believe many of the same things about the client partner. Whether such perceptions are true or not, they will have an erosive effect on the partnership.
Restating objectives and recommitting to them are essential elements in keeping partnerships on track. Objectives should be brought up for discussion at frequent intervals; this should be at the consultant's initiative. A good time to introduce them is when progress is being measured against them. At some of these checkpoints, the original objective may have to be downgraded. Perhaps it can be increased. In either event, keeping objectives current perpetuates the values that both partners are working for.
Unequal risk. Partnerships are a means of reducing risk. Two parties can share the load, divide the responsibility, and parcel out the components of the risk that would otherwise be borne by one or left undone. Although risk can be reduced, it can never be eliminated. It must be shared as equally as possible if the partnership is to be preserved. Otherwise, one partner may accuse the other of "putting your hand out further than your neck."
No matter how hard consultants try to bring into balance the risks inherent in improving customer profits, clients will always be left with the major exposure. They are exposed on their own behalf. They are exposed on their recommendation of the consultant. And they are exposed to their topmost tier of management. In any business situation, there can be no riskier combination of exposures.
Once clients commit themselves to work with a consultant to improve their profit, they must be successful. It is no wonder that they will be ultrasensitive to their own inherent risk and to the support they receive from you.
There is no way you can have the same degree of risk as your clients incur, but you can provide a greater degree of risk calculation and limitation. This must be your equalizer.