Sunday, January 4, 2009

Partnership and Client Orientation

I’m sure that nowadays nobody doubts that a real partnership with your clients and vendors is a key factor in the successful business development. Your clients who consider you as a reliable partner will return to your services every time they need them. Your vendors will strive to deliver the best services they have to justify partnership.

In the previous post Neal described a wonderful approach on the building partnership
relations with an offshore team from the customer’s perspective. I’ll try to continue this topic from the vendor’s point of view…

So, from the vendor’s perspective: what is involved into building partnership relations with your clients?

In my opinion answer to this question is
tightly related to such term as Client Orientation. Many (if not all) organizations delivering some sort of services are declaring themselves as client-oriented. However, what does it mean to be client-oriented?

Well, every company answers this question on its own. Sometimes this comes out to a set of rules to be followed while working with a customer. For example: Say “Hello”, Smile, Introduce yourself, Ask client what he is looking for, Direct him to a proper person to help. I saw such instructions in one large bank which positions itself as very client-oriented. Guess what? I spent almost an hour talking to very polite and smiling
clerks who directed me to each other until I called a manager to get whatever I came for.

Another example: some time ago I had a chance to select a vendor for some services that my organization needed. Every candidate I asked the same question: “How are you going to help me?” Only one actually asked me back regarding why I need their services in the first place. The rest were describing their offers and explaining to me why I need to buy from them. I think it’s obvious which of vendors was selected…

So, I believe client-orientation starts from understanding client’s business needs. In other words, you have to clearly
realize how client is running his business and how you could help him to be more successful in it. In our sales-driven world such behavior is quite rare. Eventually, we are hiring sales people to sell our services, aren’t we? Therefore, it’s necessary to focus sales team to build long-lasting relationships with clients.

Now, when you understand client’s business and make efforts to help him, is it enough to be recognized as client-oriented? Is this that simple? Unfortunately, it’s not.

Regardless how smart and
perspicacious we are, it’s very unlikely we would know client’s business better than he is. Moreover, our economy is so dynamic and priorities changes so often that it’s almost certain that we will be one step (at least) behind our customer. This means we will do mistakes in our efforts to help the client. However, these mistakes should not harm our relationships.

Therefore, client has to trust us to recognize as a partner.

In terms of client orientation, what should we do to gain client’s
trust? To answer this question it makes sense to understand whom we trust the most. I think it’s obvious – to ourselves. Because we know exactly what we do and what we don’t, we know why we are doing something and how we are doing it. There is no chance to lie to ourselves.

Thus, I believe there are three instruments to build trusting relationships between you and your client.

Reliability – When we are going to do something then we know exactly that we will do it. No exceptions. Moreover, when we are not going to do something then we do not fool ourselves with promises first and excuses afterwards. We just know we will not do it. It should work with clients in the same way. All our commitments have to be kept and we should not take commitments that we are not going to keep.

Visibility – Once we commit to something when we know exactly what we will do to achieve required outcome. That allows us to ensure there are no missing pieces jeopardizing positive results. The same we should do with clients – all actions we take have to be visible so clients could justify we are moving in the right direction.

Transparency – When we actually started to do something then we know how we are doing it and what corrections are needed. Therefore, we are not surprised by changes of original plans when it’s necessary. So, we should be completely transparent to clients in the same way. This will ensure great flexibility to adjust
approaches without jeopardizing original intentions.

Apparently, listed methods have to be used
in-line with described above understanding of client’s business needs. They will allow pro-active adjustments and corrections along with changed priorities.

Ultimately, only the clients have a right to name your organization as client oriented and recognize you as a true partner. To achieve that it’s necessary to:
  • Recognize and understand client’s business to help him to grow it;
  • Build trusted relations with the client by applying reliability, visibility and transparency approaches.
The only drawback: it does not happen overnight – both client and you need time to build partnership relations.

By the way, in software development world SCRUM Framework utilizes and even dictates mentioned approaches. However, in my opinion it does not make sense to implement SCRUM if you do not follow these principles. In opposite way: you could be recognized as a partner without applying SCRUM, but with using described instruments.

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