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Relationship Excellence – so crucial but so political and so hard…

October 8, 2009

The focus on relationship excellence in all organizations requires perpetual innovation and improvement. Successful marketing has always been about correctly identifying or anticipating customer needs and fulfilling those needs. However, the 21st century will be a world in which the deeper, emotional needs of relationship fulfillment become a predominant factor in the decision-making process not just for CPG companies, but in B2B as well and this is why relationship excellence, more than typical sales activity, is crucial.  Market Research professionals (such as those on our staff) call this ‘needstate’, the underlying psychological needs driving someone to buy a type of product or service (the trick is to get your positioning aligned with their needs).

Most organizations upon which, as the leader of the outbound marketing unit of Return on Efficiency, LLC, I talk to have embraced the concept of relationship excellence from end to end, but are unsure if they can do it themselves or should engage an outside firm such as ours.  Reality is, the quickest and most cost effective way to introduce any continuous improvement program is through the experience and expertise of outside resources, followed by enrollment/ownership by internal personnel to sustain the changes and bake them into the company’s SOP.

Employees generally resist and resent change unless the person(s) implementing change demonstrate a level of subject mastery well beyond existing internal norms. This is unfortunate, for the very nature of business in the 21st century is a world consumed by change. Sometimes this change will be evolutionary, sometimes revolutionary. Either way, change and flexibility will be constant requirements for organizations to adapt to the changing and evolving needs of 21st century customers, and relationship excellence, rather than ‘sales’ and ‘account management’ will be the key factors making some companies much more successful than their competitors.

The role of the outside management consultant is to help the organization pass the various stages of change resistance, acceptance and implementation so that relationship excellence can be infused as a new core competency. To succeed in tomorrow’s highly competitive markets, management must be willing to invest today in the necessary financial and human resources, and in the internal procedures and processes, required to re-align the organization into a customer-centric concern.  One caveat here.  In my recent conversations with C level executives during this recession, I have noticed a visceral negative reaction to the usual consulting company practice of hiring top college grads and billing them at pricey rates while they fill out spreadsheets. Now fighting to save every dollar, these C level executives see no value add from this large but inexperienced staff.  They want people who have already implemented relationship excellence, both internally (and then had to live with the results) and for multiple clients.

The window of first mover advantage for implementing relationship excellence closes ever so slightly with each passing day. The most important value of an outside resource, particularly in the early stages of this re-alignment, is the advantage gained from an independent diagnosis of the organizations’ current market and image situation, and its future potential in both these areas. Additionally, the early stages of the process require an enormous time commitment by a range of business specialists and practitioners, time that is unlikely to be available by appropriate people within the organization unless they are completely relieved of all other commitments, duties and responsibilities. Once employees truly believe the truth is being stated in public, they can become enrolled in the process.

Enrollment requires both the consultants and the client viewing this process as an “arm-in-arm” program; an opportunity to work ‘shoulder to shoulder’ embracing their challenges, affecting real change in relationship management, especially where long standing barriers must be removed and political boundaries shattered.

The second greatest benefit of using outside resources comes from the impartial and confidential role of the consultant. Impartiality allows objective appraisal and analysis of the information uncovered during the investigative stage and this is particularly important in establishing relationship excellence where long term revenue streams, ‘I own this account’, glory and compensation are all directly affected and thus highly political.  Confidentiality allows a wide range of unknown issues, beliefs, feelings, and concerns to be raised by all parties. One of the key elements of objectivity is the correcting of ‘urban myths’ about how and why things are done within the company.

Additionally, the use of outside consultants can often harness across-the-board commitment to the project. Engaging an external consultant is often a key signal to the organization that the project is serious and that management is willing to admit that it does not have all the answers nor all the internal resources in place.

Also, external resources can often keep a project moving along, without it becoming delayed or bogged down by new priorities and day-to-day concerns.  As for those companies who say they can do it all internally, my only advice is to go to the window, open same and scream loudly “attention my competitors, please stand still while I figure this out”.

As Marketing & Business Development Practice Leader, everyday my staff and I speak to ‘C’ level business leaders, division heads, and process owners.  It is those very leaders and their frustrations as they embrace their challenges that inspired me to share the above.

Mike Resnick is a Partner of Return on Efficiency, LLC, who’s website is www.growroe.com and, is one of their senior Marketing & Business Development Leaders, with over 25 years experience in consulting and B2B Marketing initiatives. He can be reached at mike.resnick@growroe.com

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