My job is selling technology. Actually I'm more of a translator. I sell technology to other businesses and that's where things get weird. There is a bewildering array of tech out there and unfortunately many companies think technology sells itself and the value that the technology delivers should be obvious. Wrong. That's where I come in. I said I was a translator. My job is to translate techno babble into value that customers understand. This blog share my adventures with high tech sales. Selling high tech is fun so come join me on my sales journey!

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Sales partnerships

It seems fashionable to say your customers are your partners.

How many sales partnerships truly operate on a partnership basis?
I usually come back to the real world of relationships to validate concepts and this one is no exception.  A marriage is a partnership.  I'm  a bit hazy on exactly what I signed up to on that big day many years ago but I definitely remember something along the lines of "for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health".  Pretty much it said "Hey guys you're entering into a partnership - it could be a roller coaster ride - are you happy to accept that the value of your relationship can go up as well as down?"

So back to our partnership selling - does it really extend to the same level of commitment?  The seller may think they are in a partnership but does the buyer?  What if the seller has convinced the buyer that they are in a partnership and then really call upon their "friendship".

Customer: Things are not going so well.  We need to invest in the factory to reduce our costs but haven't got any cash. Will you lend us the equipment for 1 year to see us through this tough time?
Salesperson: That's a big ask! I don't think we can swallow that.

I think most sales partnerships are fair weather relationships. I also think most sales  relationships are one sided.  The customer usually holds the power to walk away from the relationship more than the seller.

I think when most sellers use the term partnership, they are thinking about what's in it for them - locking in the customer. Some buyers do think of some sellers as partners - it's when the cost of walking away from the relationship is high - one that causes a lot of heart-ache and angst.

How people behave in parternships is also different to a classic transactional relationship of buyer-seller.

I recommend reading Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational.  It's kind of an economics book but he does some great real world experiments that are very relevant in sales.  There's one example which I think was fascinating. It revolves around a child day care centre that had a problem with parents collecting their children late.  So the care centre decided to introduce a financial penalty for late collection.

Interestingly this changed the social norms of this buyer-seller relationship.  Parents were in fact feeling guilty about late collection but the transition to one where it was financial had the unexpected effect of parents being even later collecting their children.  There was a social norm part of this "partnership" and the rules were changed. The care centre didnt want this so they changed it back but too late - the damage was done. The parents now had the benefit of a guilt free late collection and no financial penalty either !!

Prior to the rule change parents had guilt - they hadn't put a price on guilt.  Charging for late collection changed that - it now had a price and parents could weigh up how much being late was worth to them!

What's the moral of this story?  Well if you intend to run your sales on a partnership basis because you're following the fashion, understand what it is you're signing up to.  Once you operate on a partnership basis you are in this for the long haul - just like a marriage. Changing the rules mid way because things have got a bit tough can have unexpected consequences.

Marriage is a good benchmark for behaviour in a partnership.  What kind of change to your marriage relationship would you get if your wife presented you with a price list for sexual favours?

If you're inheriting an account make sure you understand where you are.  If the previous account manager had shown lots of good will and flexibility supporting the customer and you come along with a black or white approach to the account, the mood of the relationship will change - beware!

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