What are relationship savvy sales forces doing to get ahead and stay ahead in 2008? How are they not just creating, but commercializing their most valuable relationships that others can’t? How do you compare – especially if you are a publicly traded company with a looming monthly or quarterly quota expectation? Are you focused on transactions or transformations of your clients’ prospective businesses? Which relationship-centric strategies will you invest in in 2008 to improve your organization’s sales competency?

It is critical to focus on these and other fundamental questions in order to have a proactive understanding of the application of strategic relationships to sales performance. More importantly, is your organization willing and able to embrace that which it clearly understands is important – the value of relationships – as an asset that very few quantify?

In no other part of the organization than its revenue-generation engine should relationships be more intentional, strategic, and as such, quantifiable to the success of the organization. Here are our Top 10 Most Important Relationship-Centric Best Practices for Profitable Revenue Growth in 2008:

  1. Trust = Credibility + Empathy – The definition of trust is simply one of predictability. What you say and do on a consistent basis over a sustainable period of time. Credibility alludes to the fact that you know more about your market dynamics, your unique value-add, and the competitive landscape in which you win and lose than anyone else. Empathy describes your ability to listen, which is dramatically different than waiting to respond. The plus sign illustrates the ability to connect one to the other. For many companies and industries, 2008 could prove to be an interesting year. Only by listening to your organizational structure, voices of the customer, and product or service roadmaps – in essence, only by focusing on that which is driving your corporate agenda – will you be able to provide any solutions of perceived value.
  2. Developing a Relationship-Centric Culture – It is extremely difficult if not impossible for an organization that has for decades prided itself on its technical prowess – whether industrial, information technology, accounting, legal, or engineering expertise – to suddenly transform itself to one of high touch, high care and strategically relationship minded. But perform any lifetime value win/loss or dynamic competitive landscape analysis and you are likely to uncover a much more prevalent sea of sameness with that technical prowess. When it comes to a finish line in the customer buying preference, relationships are a unique differentiator.
  3. Courage to Fail – Alan Weiss, a friend and mentor, often says, “If you are not failing, you are not trying.” I also love his quote that, “I have been thrown out of nicer offices than this one.” Most executives I know would rather hear what they need to versus what they want to. Only by taking well thought out, yet highly candid criticism and sometimes an outright contrarian perspective, will you elevate yourself from countless others who are competing for the same mind share and wallet share. Aim to identify leaders who “get it” and have the capacity and willingness to hear, accept and act upon candor – the same candor that could help you prevail or fail.
  4. Influence the Outcome – Nothing is more disappointing than the wasted opportunity to intelligently engage. Many business development professionals simply become complacent when they’ve been in their function, role, or geography for some time. They perceive that they can simply “wing it” and only come to the realization after the fact that they, “should have, could have, would have.” Influence the conversation, and you’ll influence the relationship. Influence the relationship and you’ll influence the outcome you desire.
  5. First 90 Days – A relationship-centric profitable growth strategy requires relationship-centric people on the frontline. When adding new team members, ask questions to uncover where relationships are on their priority list both within and external to the organization. And if you do add them to the team, keep this in mind: the first 30 days are fairly indicative of what you’ll get. If they treat their colleagues with respect and trust; if they are kind, trustworthy, courteous and considerate to those they engage; if they do less blaming and more standing up to be accountable; if they do less judging and more enabling and empowering; if they are as concerned about making a quantifiable difference as they are about their vacations; in short, if they possess the mindset, toolset, and the roadmap – gladly embrace them into your culture. But be forewarned: in many ways, a relationship-centric DNA comes built in. (By the way, the first 90 days is exactly what you’ll get and most people’s wiring makes them nearly impossible to change.)

Stay tuned for the April newsletter for the next five best practices in this series.