If you want to be the best you can be, forget about customers – think Partners.

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Introduction

One of the most profound shifts you can make in your career as an advisor is to stop thinking of the people you cooperate with as customers, and start thinking of them as collaborators and partners. 

When you make this shift, you naturally stop thinking in terms of what products you should be selling to your customer, and start thinking in terms of how you can create the most value with your partner. This impacts everything from how we approach the initial conversation (going from “here’s what I’m trying to sell you” to “let’s figure out if it makes sense to do business together”) over how to approach the first meeting, co-create our solutions and even hos to close the sale.  

When we think of customers as partners first, we approach the conversation from a completely different perspective.

In other words, it becomes much more intuitive and natural to explore their situation alongside them and discover all the places in which there is room for improvement. This also means that when it comes to doing business together, we’re not going to be pulling some standard item off the shelf and hoping the customer will buy it, in spite of the shortcomings we know it has. No, we co-create a bespoke solution, that fits just the needs that the we’ve discovered with our partner, and make sure that we communicate the value that they get out of the solution. This means that we don’t just provide a solution for the solution’s sake – or offer it to our Partner, because most other customers buy it (which happens all too often), no we take great care to match the needs our partner has expressed to the solution we’re creating with them. 

And when I say the solution we create with them, what I mean is that we use their experience, know-how and insight into their company as a jumping off point to ensure that what we design with them hits all the right notes. And more importantly, we know that because our Partner has been involved in creating the solution, they will take ownership of it, and help get it implemented successfully in the organization – a phenomenon known as the IKEA-effect (source). Getting this type of buy-in from your Partner is extremely powerful, because what happens later on is if trouble arises – which it inevitably will – then your Partner is much more likely to have your back and help you get out of the trouble you’re in, than if you hadn’t taken the time to co-create your solution with them. This in turn, naturally makes it easier to do business together, and makes it much easier for both you and the client to be successful in the project you’re currently working on.

Closing with Partners

Last but not least, when it comes to partnerships the mindset around negotiation and closing the business becomes a very different story.

When we deal with Partners, it is very obvious that negotiations is not the end of the relationship, but the beginning of it. Which means, that our approach is going to be very different. It’s not uncommon in sales situations, that I see people approach negotiations in a life-or-death manner where the sole purpose is to squeeze as much juice out of the other party as possible. If this was a one-shot interaction, that might be advisable, but because we’re dealing with a long term relationship, this is something that hurts more than it helps. Obviously you don’t want to yield and keep yielding, but don’t be afraid to leave a little bit of money on the table in the short term in order to maximize the long-term benefits of the relationship. 

Conclusion

When you approach the people you do business with not as clients, but as Partners you’ll experience a subtle but very profound sense of change in your approach. Hardly detectable at first, but throughout your the interaction you will find that you approach every aspect of the interaction from a different perspective, to the benefit of yourself and your customer.

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