These are challenging times. Nothing feels simple anymore. Things that we barely gave a thought to, like working in an office or dinner with friends are now logistic nightmares or a distant memory. Corporate partnerships are moving fast and becoming more sophisticated. Challenging times need a different approach to winning and building partnerships and managing complexity.
In the early 19th century two people were moved to action by the pain and suffering on the battlefields of Europe. Henri Dunant saw the carnage at Solferino and thought, in his logical Swiss businessman way, that what they needed was a few hundred trained nurses to tend the wounded. So he tapped some donors, hired the nurses and founded the International Committee of the Red Cross. Florence Nightingale took a group of nurses to aid the wounded at Scutari and was appalled by the conditions of the hospital. Whilst she tried her best to meet their immediate needs, she took a different approach. She challenged the British government to take responsibility for the outcomes of the wars they started and advocated for a new system of hospitals and medical care to support the army. Sections of her report were so confronting that they were censored by the government for fear that recruitment of new soldiers would be impossible. The responses of Florence Nightingale and Henri Dunant were driven by the same desire for change, but their approaches differed significantly. Henri chose to meet the need that existed, whereas Florence challenged the system and made people think differently about the issue.
Challenging your partner to think differently unlocks new opportunities with corporate partners.
Research by business advisors CEB in The Challenger Sale identified 5 archetypes for salespeople and which ones would be more successful in challenging and complex environments. These included:
- The hard worker- always willing to go the extra mile and works the sales process hard. Just doing more calls, emails and proposals is the answer to success.
- The lone wolf- follows their own instincts and is very confident but hard to manage.
- The relationship builder- generous in giving time to the client, gets along with everyone and nurtures strong relationships.
- The reactive problem solver- reliable, detail oriented and ensures that their partner gets the best service, sometimes at the expense of new business.
- The challenger- pushes the client’s thinking, brings fresh insights and teaches them something new about how they can be successful.
Do any of them sound familiar to you? You’ve probably got some of them in your team. But the question for leaders is, which ones are more successful in difficult times? The standout winner is the challenger. Why?
In stable economic times, where change is incremental, the hard workers and relationship builders do well. They are able to meet their partners’ needs and manage steady growth. But in a complex and turbulent environment, they are least likely to be successful. The challengers are disrupters, asking partners to change their normal behaviours and attitudes. Whereas relationship builders wants to please the client and meet their needs, challengers will outline to a partner how those needs have changed, and they haven’t realised it yet.
Consider the changes to the business environment from COVID. Consumers are demanding more, the environment is more competitive, technological changes are accelerating and there is a war for talent. If you have a team of relationship builders, how can you meet the partner’s needs when they don’t yet fully understand what they are?
If you lead a team of corporate partnership professionals, how can you encourage more of the challenger approach? This means moving decisively away from the case for support, philanthropic partnership pitch to identifying and creating solutions for your partner. The challenger approach includes:
Delivering insight to the prospective partner
Thinking about their business and their needs will make it worth their while taking your call. You’ll also create a point of difference between you and the other partnership seeking NGOs. For example, did they know that 1 in 5 people in the workplace will be affected by someone with mental health issues? And how that will impact on days lost and team productivity? It requires the partnership manager to do a thorough piece of research on the target corporate and their industry and provide insight that is relevant to their business.
Tailoring to the prospective partner
Shaping the message and making it resonate with their business so that you’re meeting their needs, not yours. The cookie-cutter pitch needs to go in the bin. A through discovery session to unpack their needs is what’s required. Then you can bring new insights to their business and stand out from the partnership crowd.
Challenging times require a different approach. Corporates don’t just want to buy your program offering, they want to be challenged and learn something new. Are you up for the challenge?