I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really terrific clients who value the contributions of my company, my team, and me. They treat us as partners, not vendors. What’s the difference?
- Focus on long-term strategic value
- Work together toward common goals and treat each other as teammates
- Build into each other (e.g., hold each other accountable to achieve business objectives, grow skill sets across the entire team, share risk and responsibility, maintain a set of core values, etc.)
- Communicate often and freely, including being free to discuss hard or unpleasant topics
- Celebrate and congratulate each other on successes
- Refrain from pointing fingers and instead become solution-focused during mistakes or problems
When clients think of us as vendors, it typically creates a different atmosphere and attitude:
- Focus on fulfilling short term need
- Motivated by other, perhaps unknown objectives (i.e., business, personal, or political)
- Willing to sacrifice others to meet those objectives
- Focus on protecting oneself or one’s company (e.g., grows skill sets of one person or party, acts defensive or choose to blame, transitions risk and responsibility, etc.)
- Only communicate what they perceive is necessary
- React defensively when discussing hard or unpleasant topics
- Receive all the credit when successful
- Look for someone or a group to blame in the face of adversity
Now, I’ve been successful with both types of clients, because that is my job. Understand the business objectives, determine how to achieve those objectives, and make it happen. That is what companies pay Credera to do. The question I ask myself is, “Did we take this opportunity to meet our business objectives AND do something life-changing for our people (jointly), our client, the customers, our company, or our community?” What if there was more benefit (i.e., strategic, financial, personal, or otherwise) that we could have gleaned from this situation? Shouldn’t we always try to achieve more than we set out to do?
By now you are probably saying “Of course, but that sure sounds pie in the sky”. Well, I have several client examples where it isn’t. I’ll write about one …
I have had the pleasure of working with Kelly Beam, VP eCommerce and Customer Experience, at National Geographic Society (NGS). The division for which she works generates revenue that is ultimately used to further NGS’ mission (i.e. to inspire people to care about the planet through conservation, research and exploration, and education).
Our firm has worked jointly with her team on a few different projects. Let’s go back to our first development project together, though. At the end of that project, we conducted a “Lessons Learned” meeting and spent 2 hours discussing what worked well and what needed improvement. We celebrated achieving our project objectives and timelines, but we also talked about what didn’t go so smooth. In that conversation, I really appreciated Kelly’s openness and frankness. And even more, I appreciated that we each owned certain mistakes and focused on solutions to continuously improve our overall team performance.
In addition to enhancing our project execution, we discussed future development and customer experience needs. My team articulated investments we thought would reap them significant rewards, and Kelly’s team communicated their initial strategy and roadmap for the next year. From there, we drafted a joint plan and agreed priorities. There wasn’t guesswork. There wasn’t deceptiveness. We spurred one another towards the right answers.
Two projects on their roadmap included enhancements to their eCommerce website as well as developing a mobile version of their website. Fortunately they chose to expand our relationship, and we worked on these projects together. We implemented some of the changes identified in our “Lessons Learned” meeting from the year before. The result… better communication, clearer roles and responsibilities, improved testing cycles and processes, smoother deployments, enhanced trust, oh and of course, technology that worked as desired, was friendly for customers to use (e.g., mobile site rated 5 out of 5 on the Go Mo scale, etc.), and established long-term growth potential.
Now, I’m very respectful that they are the client. They can work with whomever they want whenever they want. And we continually seek to ‘win the right to keep them as a client’. That is as it should be. But, it isn’t a relationship that operates in fear or doubt. Nor is it focused solely on short-term needs. Instead, our continued relationship focuses on achieving business success, continuously improving, doing things the right way, and ultimately progressing National Geographic Society’s mission. Now that is a greater purpose, indeed! And one that makes me proud to be their Partner!