The British businessman James Goldsmith was famous for his many wives and amorous adventures. He once offered this advice after his third marriage, “if you marry your mistress, you create a job vacancy”. When partnerships managers finally get to a yes with a new corporate partner, it’s fair to say you’ve just lost your warmest prospect.
An old-style approach to sales is ‘Always be Closing’, which was popularised in the film Glengarry Glen Ross. It’s a mantra that conjures up an image of a persistent, hard-sell approach that is continually driving towards closing the deal. But the more effective way to create new prospects and get more value from the partnership is to ‘Always be Opening’.
What does that mean for you?
We recommend using your first meeting with a corporate prospect to conduct a through discovery session. Rather than trying to sell at the first touch point, you’ll be asking lots of questions. The information you uncover will tell you about your corporate prospect’s needs, priorities and hot spots. A focus on ‘always be closing’ can lead to a partnership manager reeling off a prepared script and trying to force a decision before you’ve even got to know each other. A proper discovery meeting can arm you with the insights and information you need to make a final proposal successful.
Whilst good partnership managers have mastered the art of a discovery meeting, they often forget to employ the ‘always be opening’ approach to their existing corporate partners. When you’ve been in partnership for a while it’s like being in a long- standing marriage. At the beginning you’re intensely curious about them and everything is a novelty. After a few years you’ve got into a rhythm together and you’re sitting on the sofa in your trackies eating Tim Tams on a Saturday night. If you have an ‘always be opening’ mindset, you’ll be treating them like you’re still on honeymoon. That means continually checking on their needs and looking for new ways to keep the partnership fresh.
If you want to build a long-term partnership that increases in value, you need to nurture it and stay curious. Have you invited your corporate partner to an event lately or sent them a juicy piece of news or research that is relevant to their industry? You may be a great relationship manager but are you prepared to challenge your corporate partner and get them to think about their own business differently? We often encounter non-profits with a nature portfolio of partners that haven’t grown significantly since the early years. It can feel awkward to dig deeper about their business when you’ve known them for a while. It’s like asking questions when you’ve been in a job for a year- you think you should know it all by now. But the business environment is changing fast and corporate CEOs are struggling to keep up with the demands of their staff and customers. You need to ‘always be opening’ or you’ll fail to uncover what’s new in their world and how your partnership can grow and adapt.
Be assertive about your own needs
Experienced partnership managers have got really good at servicing their corporate partners. But sometimes non-profits can neglect their own organisational needs. If you can stop being immediately reactive to a corporate’s needs and start asking the right questions about your own strategy, direction and priorities, it can open up new conversations and new avenues for your partnerships. Maybe you’d rather be sipping mojitos at a salsa bar on Saturday night rather than lounging on the sofa. Can you start a different discussion with your partner about how to achieve your new ambitions? ‘Always be opening’ should also apply to your own organisation, not just your corporate partner.
So if you want to keep growing your partnerships, you’ll need to stay curious and open to new opportunities. Then your best prospect won’t be your last prospect when they say yes.