Sell once and retain forever – Retention Strategies for Corporate partnerships
What’s the point of going to all the effort of securing a new corporate partner only to lose them a year or two later because the relationship has not met their or your expectations?
In my observation, too many organisations put a great deal of time and effort into securing new partners, yet few have clear strategies for retaining and growing those partnerships. The danger is that they end up in a never ending cycle of new business development consuming valuable time, money and effort, and miss out on the key benefit of effective servicing – the lifetime dollar value that can be generated from a satisfied corporate partner. A $1 million a year partnership with $0.5 million spent on leveraging by the corporate is a $15 million investment in your organisation over 10 years.
The key is to focus on servicing to the lifetime value potential of the partner, not the initial transaction amount. This means deliver them a level of service assuming they will become a $15 million partner not a $1 million partner.
Servicing is more than implementing
Too often organisations secure partners, implement what they agreed in the proposal and then towards the end of the process realise they have to re-sell the opportunity. The key to retaining corporate partners is effective servicing throughout the process.
To use an analogy, if you were to describe a restaurant as having ‘great service’ you would probably be referring to more than the meal advertised on the menu. Your praise would be for the way the staff demonstrated attention to detail, showed interest, and provided insight into the food, wine or venue – all with a smile. None of these points, however, are listed on the menu.
For organisations dealing with corporate partners, the concept is similar. It’s not just about implementing what is agreed in the contract, it’s recognising that people like to do business with organisations that can solve their problems and with people they like, and then servicing at these two levels.
Tips for servicing at an organisation level
- Deliver what you promised
At a bare minimum you have to deliver what you promised, ideally exceeding your partner’s expectations and providing a positive experience.
- Understand and show interest in their business
Effective servicing is about continually looking at the business of your partners to uncover additional needs which you can provide a solution to. In essence, the sales mindset that you had up to the point of securing your partner continues throughout the servicing phase.
A useful question to ask is “Since we last met, what’s changed in your business?”
If your partner is a printing company, find out what issues are impacting the printing industry and engage them in a conversation about how the challenges will impact their business and what you might be able to do to help.
Send articles to your partner relating to their industry or competitors or send a timeline of matters affecting their sector over the next few years. This provides topics to focus on during your next conversation.
- Help them achieve their business outcomes
Help your partner to integrate what you have sold them in your partnership agreement into their normal business activities to drive real benefits and outcomes. For example, if a partner is using hospitality entitlements to entertain prospects at an event, discuss how they are going to follow up on those new relationships to move the prospects through the sales pipeline to become clients. Provide advice on how best to do so using examples of what other partners have done.
- Complete clarity on your partners’ objectives
This a key point. The more specific you be in your understanding of their problem, need or challenge, the more specific you can be in your solution. It amazes me how often people don’t have an understanding of their partners’ objectives. When they do, they are still vague.
Effective questioning is key. When a partner says they want more engaged staff, what does that actually mean? If their staff were engaged, what would they be thinking, feeling, saying and doing in relation to the organisation? What are they thinking, feeling, saying and doing now?
- Multiple contacts
Ensure that you develop multi-level relationships between your organisation and partners. An example would be where I facilitated a corporate partner’s workshop at the partnership manager level during the day, and in the evening a dinner took place between the same organisations at the CEO/director level. Buy-in at multiple levels reduces risk.
- Move from being a seller to a trusted advisor
Overall your intent should be to move from being simply a seller of partnerships to being your partner’s trusted advisor. You know you have achieved this when they share information with you about what is really going on in their business and seek your thoughts on how to deal with those challenges.
Servicing at a personal level
At a personal level, make the experience of working with you enjoyable; make them feel special by providing unique experiences that they value and are relevant to them. Help them to look good to their colleagues.
Tools for guaranteeing servicing success
1. A joint implementation plan
This sets up the relationship for success, by outlining who is doing what and when to achieve the partnership objectives, and the agreed measurable outcomes.
2. Regular reviews
Your plan should provide a format for regular joint reviews to determine what’s working and what’s not.
3. Effective questioning
Use your questioning skills to determine their satisfaction regarding what you are delivering.
4. Leveraging workshops
Identify what else both parties can do to drive additional value from the relationship.
5. Joint partner workshops
Bring partners together to explore opportunities to do business with each other.