I was recently speaking with a potential client who told me, "I don't want a vendor; I want a partner."
His message was clear. He wasn't looking for just any company that could give him what he was asking for, and that's that: He wanted a company that would truly help him succeed, even if that meant delivering something outside of what he asked for explicitly. (And even if that meant calling him out on an idea that would be harmful to him but generate more revenue for the company who's selling to him.)
And I'm seeing this expectation more and more. People are moving away from the standard vending arrangement where you identify a need, buy a product or service, and then you're done. People are expecting more at each stage of the buying process and throughout their relationships with companies.
Help consumers make more informed decisions.
Content marketing has been on the rise for years now, and it's not hard to figure out why. Audiences and consumers know resources exist online that they can access to learn more and educate themselves throughout their own decision-making processes. And content works to answer questions and break down trust barriers during that process. It's really that simple.
So, if yours is the business that's creating and distributing content that helps your audience make its best decisions, you're laying the foundation for a great partnership.
However, if yours isn't the business that's looking to help and educate, but instead is only looking to sell, sell, sell, chances are good your audience is going to find another resource-one that cares about them and empowers them to make their best, most educated decisions.
To be a good partner and more than just a vendor, you have to anticipate every concern, every question, and every barrier that might prevent an otherwise qualified client from engaging with you, and you have to create content around those ideas to help that client. Use that content to consistently reach out to those audiences, remind them you exist, and stay on top of their minds. By being helpful like this and delivering value without the sole purpose of trying to make a sale, you'll start building a solid partnership.
Help your customers become better.
I spent a week in Phoenix recently. I don't know what's in the water in that neck of the woods, but in the short week I was there, I met company after company that fully understood what it meant to be a partner.
I stopped by the annual Infusionsoft conference, ICON, and got a chance to meet with a few team members focused on what the company calls the "Infusionsoft Small Business Success Method." David Bonney and Justin McDonald were small business entrepreneurs specifically hired by Infusionsoft to help the company's small business customers become more successful.
When I learned that, I thought, "Well, no crap. I've heard this before." A lot of company leaders say they want to help their customers, when really all they want is to sell more to them. Dave and Justin were a little different, though. Their team looked at what unique resources it had-in Infusiosoft's case, the company had 15 years of data about small businesses that it collected from customers-and used it to add value to customers. You could tell their focus was on actually educating audiences and helping them become better, not just selling their product.
This idea is simple. In a world where there's always going to be a software or a service with a smaller price tag, you have to find ways to add value for customers and build that trust. I sat in on a dinner with Clate Mask, the CEO and co-founder of Infusionsoft, and he gave examples of how he wants to help small businesses in the coming years beyond just selling a product-he was more excited than my 3-year-old on Christmas morning. This partnership mindset starts at the top, so I challenge all business leaders to look at ways (outside of their companies' products) to add value to customers and to start thinking more like partners.
Another business that shifted from vendor to partner and gained substantial share of its market is Presidential Pools, Spas & Patio. That's right-pools. Cool, hip tech companies aren't the only ones doing things to evolve from vendors to partners.
Tim Murphy, the founder, got his start cleaning pools and has evolved his company into the largest pool builder in the country, with its own propriety line of a variety of pool products, a commercial division building some of the biggest pool complexes in the country, and a chain of spa stores. You see big companies like Apple innovate and expand product or service lines (like iPhone, iCloud, Apple Music, etc.), but many times with small businesses, there's a lack of innovation or willingness to expand products or services to support customers outside of existing offerings. Presidential Pools is a reminder for any type of company leader to keep an eye out for opportunities that can help his or her customers.
And even on my way home from this Phoenix trip, I had a layover in L.A. where I met a rep from Delta Airlines whose sole responsibility was to find ways to help startups and develop relationships with the people leading them.
The goal was for Delta to use its resources to help these startups grow and become more successful, and as the CEO and co-founder of a young startup, I could completely understand why. I remember all the partners who helped us when we were just starting out, and I always go back to those partners (and recommend others do the same) because they were partners who made us better, not just vendors who sold us services.
This evolution isn't limited to just one area of business or one company size. From startups to Fortune 500 companies, businesses are making the effort to become better partners and leaving the vendor mentality in the past. If you're a leader not looking for these kinds of opportunities, you risk losing your market share, and ultimately, you'll never have a shot at truly leading your industry and keeping loyal customers.