Collaborating with external customers involves more than growing a relationship, being empathetic, researching trigger events and becoming their go-to resource. Could there possibly be anything more? Of course you know the answer is: Yes!
Collaborating with external customers involves working on their behalf even when the issue on the table doesn’t create business for you.
I’m not advocating that you become an overworked and non-paid member of their C-Suite or even sales or engineering team. That’s taking advantage of your situation, in anyone’s book.
Today’s business and engineering / IT professionals should consider how to expand their core capabilities so that they can become part of the larger, strategic conversation for their customers. How is the value that you create today leveraged for future growth – even if it doesn’t involve upselling or new customer acquisition for you?
Your external customers create a tremendous business laboratory in which to grow your business acumen.
As you sit at your customers’ tables, do you tune out until it’s time for you to speak? You hear noise when they discuss all of that stuff you don’t understand or think has any direct relationship to you. That “noise” may become fuel for your professional development. The issues being discussed involve factors that have short- and long-term implications for your own business longevity as well as for your customers. Time to sit up and pay attention!
Multiplied by all of the customers with whom you work, you receive a continuous tutorial about the State of Their Businesses. How does the information that you hear and read compare to industry trends and What You Currently Know? How do new advances in technology and engineering impact the discussions you are part of, but may not be truly listening to?
What are the gaps in your own knowledge base? How can you find answers; who might you ask / collaborate with?
Collaboration with external customers involves becoming proactive and anticipatory of technical, engineering and business scenarios that they, themselves, may not foresee. When you collaborate you have dialogues instead of monologues. You engage instead of demo. You ask “What if?” instead of “How many do you want to order?”
That type of collaboration with your external customers creates tremendous strategic value. That type of collaboration allows for robust new product, process and business development. That type of collaboration moves you forward as a Business Person of Worth.
That type of collaboration with external customers involves your becoming more than a vendor assigned to a specific Tier or functional output. You become a valued Collaborator. You become an Innovator.
Depending on where we all sit around the business table, we see the same things – differently. Becoming part of your external customers’ inner circle of executive forums, professional associations and industry think tanks allows you to cross-pollinate your own professional mindset and business development strategy.
Focus on collaborating with your external customers beyond your own business needs. The return on your mutual strategic investment in each other’s time and expertise will pay off for both of you.
Babette N. Ten Haken, President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, catalyzes business transition, startup growth, and professional development. She works with non-traditional sellers, engineers, manufacturers, and technical startups creating sustainable legacy business models. Her book on sales and engineering collaboration strategies, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon.com.