A brand marketer friend told me about meeting with a tech company he does business with, and when I asked how it went, he said, “It was great, except they said that they’re a partner, not a vendor.”
Having worked mostly at agencies and tech companies, I’ve heard this line a lot. Correction: I’ve said this – a lot. It feels great. It’s like giving yourself a promotion without doing any work.
Most of the time though, it’s not true. You’re not a partner.
And worse still, you don’t want it to be true. You want to be the vendor, not the partner.
Be careful what you wish for.
Here are a few of those self-deceiving lines and why you should avoid them however possible:
“We’re not vendors, we’re partners.”
So why are you selling me something?
What kind of partner is always trying to focus on renewing the account?
I’m about to celebrate my 12-year anniversary of my wedding this weekend. You know how many years that relationship would have lasted if I was constantly trying to upsell her every November?
Actually, she does have the ever-increasing hazard pay of putting up with me year in, year out, but if I tried pulling the kinds of antics that vendors pull, I’d be all churn with 0% retention.
And look, I love being married, but I’m pretty convinced that most vendors don’t want to put in the work of being a partner. Do you want to wash the dishes, change the diapers, and debate about which relatives to spend the holidays with? No. There is probably no way you have the margins built in to be a partner. Being a vendor is plenty rewarding if you’re any good at it, and it’s a hell of a lot more profitable.
“We’re not agencies. We’re trusted advisors.”
But what if I’m the client, and I don’t just need an advisor? What if I want the embodiment of the beautiful phrasing of the definition of “agency” in Oxford – “action or intervention, especially such as to produce a particular effect”?
I want actions that show a demonstrable effect. I didn’t run an RFP for advisors, and I never will.
Most of those who think that they’re trusted advisors wind up being on the wrong side of an RFP process as soon as their client welcomes a new CMO.
“We don’t do marketing. We do digital transformation.”
That’s fine, if you’re working for a CEO or other empowered leader who is actually going to transform her or his company. A handful of people who say they’re in the transformation business have actually transformed companies.
But if you’re working for the CMO or someone further down that department’s org chart who is going to go and use all your transformation mojo to launch a new marketing campaign, all you’re selling is a campaign. Maybe it’s a great campaign, but that’s not transformation. And do we still need to call it “digital” transformation?
So what should you be? Be yourself.
I’ve worked with some transformative partners and trusted advisors. They exist. They’re more like narwhals than unicorns; they might seem too fantastic to be real, but they’re out there.
Most of the time though, relationships between businesses are transactional. That’s okay. Be the vendor. Sell all that you can sell. Design marketing programs that serve the sales team at each stage of the funnel. Get the renewal. Don’t churn.
The more you’re clear about why you’re there, the better you can do your job, and the better the opportunity you’ll be given to succeed.
On that note, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving if you were celebrating it. What are you making of yourself?
P.S.: Since the last issue, we crossed the 1,000 subscriber milestone. Welcome new readers, and thanks to everyone who has spread the word about this, as most of the growth comes from word-of-mouth. I’m so appreciative of the time you spend with this and your advocacy.
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