I coach business leaders and startups focused on strategy and tactics for customer success and customer retention. I coach clients to make hard calls to benefit their businesses.
From time to time, the doctor takes a dose of her own medicine.
Several years ago, I coached myself through my own process for customer success and customer retention. It wasn’t any easier just because it was me.
To enhance my own customer success and customer retention strategy, I explored a formal partnership. Not just identifying another colleague with whom to collaborate on complementary products and services. I already have an incredible network and enjoy valuable, creative professional alliances.
I sought someone whose professional competencies would complement my customer success strategy. I sought a business partner who could benefit from cross-selling, up-selling and expanding the scope and complexity of our collective service offerings.
After several years of searching, I identified the perfect business partner! I was pumped. So was she. Following my own coaching advice, I didn’t let my endorphin rush cloud my process for evaluation.
A deal that “looks good” on paper has to be a deal that looks good as it comes to fruition, once the discovery process uncovers its warts and all. That’s the key to customer success and customer retention.
We initially met virtually. We defined a timeline, milestones, assignments and deliverables.
Then the wheels started coming off. Slowly, at first, but perceptibly.
I targeted forming a business partnership. That requires a solid business model: the structural underpinning of any business. That is a business process you cannot rush.
I targeted a Founder’s Agreement, a crucial missing ingredient in many startups and very small businesses with whom I work. That is a business process you cannot rush.
I targeted areas of marketplace overlap, and whether existing clients were ripe for upsell or cross-sell for our combined services. That is a business process you cannot rush.
Look before you leap, when deciding to work with potential clients and business partners.
She evaded answering my strategic questions from the start. Her current business model provided very little time for Strategy. She was a Do-er, tactically deployed by her clients. She was always in a hurry.
I was asking her to slow down. Think. Create. Strategize. Sell to generate new business. Formulate a business infrastructure. She was asking me to abandon process to fulfill her sense of urgency. She wanted to be a though-leader. Her kickoff activities involved throwing together shoot-from-the-hip events. Plus she wanted referrals.
Now the business wheels started coming off more quickly. More than a few red flags were raised.
I had to make my toughest business decision yet. I was coaching her own business, not forming “our” business. As I pushed back, she became less available for meetings. Her engagement on deliverables completely evaporated.
Have you ever gotten to a point in your business dealings where you realize the dynamics have become, from your perspective, completely one-sided? Potential customers continuously ask you to “re-clarify” your thinking. In the name of professional collaboration, you impart pro-bono expertise with the increasingly sinking feeling that the deal is going nowhere.
Always be prepared to walk away from the relationship. Following my own coaching advice, I drew my professional line in the sand: my toughest business decision yet.
My “goal” – once upon a time – had been to identify a business partner. Now it was time for me to do the same thing I tell my coaching clients: get real and apply clinical objectivity to the business case.
I applied my final filter for evaluation: Client Personas, courtesy of my esteemed colleague and content marketing Yoda, Ardath Albee. Most of us overlook the single most important criterion when targeting potential customers and business partners.
I have the greatest professional success when working with a specific set of client personas: independent of company size, industry type, longevity and success in the marketplace. And you?
I create the most enduring and valuable business outcomes when collaborating with individuals, teams, leaders and companies willing to move 1 millimeter outside their current comfort levels. Together, we have each other’s backs. We explore seemingly risky areas which ultimately bring out the breadth and depth of everyone’s expertise and competencies.
My epiphany? The prospective “partner” wasn’t anywhere close to being my ideal client persona.
My toughest business decision yet? Calling “that” meeting to clarify all the reasons – for both of us – why it made absolutely no business sense for us to form a partnership, let alone collaborate.
I again reviewed the strategic pros and cons of forming a partnership. She again reviewed her sense of tactical urgency in getting down to work and creating products.
We always had been on two different pages, with two different business goals. We had not been willing to acknowledge what was now so painfully obvious.
Like so many startups I work with, my potential “partner” focused on building products without understanding whether any marketplace needed them. I knew better than to become involved in that tactic.
Like so many very small and small businesses with whom I work, I perceived merger as a means of business growth. However, I was not willing to do 100% of the selling so someone else could do 100% of the doing.
I made my toughest business decision yet. I walked away.
My realization? By forming the partnership, I would short-sell my own expertise and devalue my professional brand. My toughest business decision allowed me to revisit my own core competencies and why I am invited to sit at business tables.
Making my toughest business decision yet catalyzed the trajectory I needed for growing my business. Sometimes professional epiphanies come in the strangest packages.
And you? What are the toughest business decisions you made?
Babette Ten Haken is a management consultant, strategist, speaker and coach focused on customer success for customer retention. She traverses the interface between human capital strategy for hiring and developing collaborative technical and non-technical employees. As a sales newbie, Babette walked into her first manufacturing plant – a slaughterhouse in Oklahoma – over 25 years ago. She fell in love with manufacturing. She serves manufacturing- and engineering- intensive companies, focusing teams on creating enduring business outcomes. Babette’s playbook of technical / non-technical collaboration hacks, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon. Visit the Free Resources section of her website for more tools.
Image source: iStock.