Let’s Spend The Night Together

The classic Rolling Stones refrain ends with “Now I need you more than ever”. Many experienced professionals in advisory businesses often have a very similar mindset when it comes to entering into collaborative discussions with other firms in order to profit from a client opportunity. Here is why they are more often wrong than right.  Trust trumps money. No amount of riches will arise if promises and expectations are not openly shared or honoured to the satisfaction of both parties.

In the opening conversation, my best clients at a minimum, ask five powerful questions:

1. “I am curious, what motivated you to contact us about this opportunity?” Find out the business and personal reasons.

2. “Do you a short term opportunity in mind?” You want to hear a buyer’s name, organisation and need. If the other party cannot provide that level of clarity, your retort is “I will happily tell you briefly about my firm’s expertise and an ideal client. However experience tells me it is a poor use of our valuable time to have a detailed conversation about a conceptual collaboration that may very well not happen.” Stop there, don’t go into the following questions.

3. “What stops you doing this yourself?” Identify the perceived or actual gaps in the potential partner’s competency and passion to address the client’s need.

4. “What has been the secret of past collaborations with people like me?” You want to find both the substance (expertise, knowledge, contacts) and the style (personal chemistry, appearance, image) that best suits the other party.

5. “What are your expectations about the investment each of us would ideally make in the relationship (communication, priority, accountability marketing, sales, revenue sharing, resources, branding and so on)?” You want to lay the cards on the table. Note, not all the cards are of equal value or importance in meeting or exceeding your client’s expectations so devote time accordingly.

In my experience, on average most service businesses will have between 10 to 40 such exploratory conversations in any given year. Typically, there is 1-10 hours spent on due diligence. 80% result in “it was great to meet you” and no business. Only 5% result in a long-term relationship. In other words this can be a huge “time dump” if you don’t apply the rigour I am suggesting. Equally, no advisory business can ignore alliances as a growth alternative.

Know where you are headed, ask the right questions and use your time wisely.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

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