Relationship Management: Please don’t call us a Vendor, we want to be your Partner

Jenn Cosenzaby Jennifer Cosenza, Senior Vice President, Strategic Accounts
As Senior Vice President of Strategic Accounts, Jennifer Cosenza brings to Scivantage 11 years of relationship management experience alongside an expansive knowledge of wealth reporting and B2B trading systems. Responsible for overseeing strategic relationships at Scivantage, Ms. Cosenza manages the development and implementation of account plans, inside sales account activity and overall client relationships.

I cringe when I hear a customer describe our relationship with them as vendor-based. The term “vendor” is often used to describe a person that sells something on the street, or a business that simply sells a product or service. Wow, I know I certainly don’t want to be thought of as just that. We want to do so much more for our customers, don’t we?

To be viewed as a partner is the ultimate achievement for any relationship. Thinking back to my Miller Heiman training earlier in my career, to be a partner meant that you were at a four or five on the Buy-Sell hierarchy. You were contributing and helping to solve a customer’s business issue or remedying an organizational challenge.

So how do you do that? Is there a “secret sauce” that we need to know to get it right? No, there is no secret sauce, no magic. The answer is simply: have a plan, do what you say you are going to do, and understand your strengths and weaknesses. For anything to be successful, whether personally or professionally, you need to set end goals. This helps you to know what you are working towards. It is the same philosophy in successful Relationship Management. Established goals internally within your organization will help all the relationship players understand what they are playing for. However there also needs to be goals set with your customer on what they want out of the relationship, what needs to happen in order for you to get it right and become that partner. 

From the goal comes the plan: a deliberate plan of action jointly established with your customer to map out the relationship and what activities (both tactical and strategic) need to happen by when. Mapping out a plan and actively managing it creates a jointly shared view for all players across the relationship. Relationship players are the team members within your organization that help you get it right. They are a critical part to the relationship plan because more often than not, they are the ones executing the work on the plan. This approach allows for more visibility into your customer’s viewpoint than you may normally have had. It also establishes direction for your internal relationship players that may not have otherwise existed. Sometimes in many organizations, when something does not go right for the customer it isn’t simply because someone else didn’t want to do the work, or forgot. They just needed a plan to help them understand what needs to happen to get it right. They just need some relationship direction.

Once the plan is outlined and relationship players lined up, simply do what you say you are going to do. Don’t overcommit, be sure to communicate, and manage the plan.

Finally, know your strengths and weaknesses. This one is often overlooked but probably most critical for the establishment of goals, planning, and execution. As a firm, it is important to know your strengths so you can align goals and relationship players that complement those strengths (and the opposite for weaknesses). The point that is often overlooked however is to know your own personal strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you manage a relationship and know that your strength isn’t in follow-up, create a mechanism to allow you to be able to facilitate follow-up without having to remember to schedule that meeting or write that email.

Ultimately, vendors provide a product.  Partners support an ongoing, positive business relationship. By having a plan, doing what you say you are going to do, and knowing your strengths and weaknesses you will be creating a perspective on a customer relationship that is much different than simply selling a product.

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