First dates are tough. Should it be casual or dressy? How do I make a good impression? The first meeting with a prospective corporate partner can be just as daunting. Plus, there’s the added pressure from your boss to hurry up and bring in more partnership income.
The first meeting with a corporate prospect is important and can open the door to exciting partnership possibilities. To ensure your first meeting isn’t your last one, you need to avoid the Top 5 common mistakes for corporate partnership managers.
Don’t try to sell on the first meeting
This is like turning up on a first date in a wedding dress. The first meeting is about building rapport and testing the research you’ve already done about the corporate partner. At this stage, all you’ve got is a hunch that you might be a good fit together. Use some structured questions to learn more about your prospect and see if you really do have things in common. I once met with a publishing company interested in creating a book range to benefit a children’s charity. As the conversation unfolded, I found that their core products were racy, bodice-ripper adult books. Not a great fit, so the first meeting saved me a lot of time creating an unnecessary partnership proposal. Which brings me to the second common mistake.
Don’t bring a ready-made proposal
Are you bringing the proposal because the corporate asked for it, or is it a comfort blanket for you? A ready-made proposal is like offering a Big Mac in an à la carte restaurant. You’re creating something generic that’s not tailored to the interests and needs of your prospective client. The point of the first meeting is to uncover your corporate’s priorities, preferences, needs and pain points. If you’ve done a great job in asking the right questions, then you’ll probably find the proposal doesn’t match up anyway. It’s a waste of your time and could risk sending partnership discussions down a blind alley. If your corporate asks you to bring a proposal, then politely decline. Tell them that you don’t work that way. Tell them that you create partnerships that are tailored to each corporate and you really need to meet with them first. Then use all the information you’ve gathered from the meeting to create an awesome proposal that hits their hot buttons.
Don’t talk about yourself all night
The classic problem of a first date. How boring to sit with someone that talks about themselves the whole night. I once had a date with a guy that talked about cricket all evening. I learned a lot about changes to the lbw rule and the Duckworth-Lewis scoring method, but he never asked me anything about myself. It was a short date. The temptation for partnership managers is to overshare. You’re bursting to tell your corporate about all the great work done by your non-profit. But rather than share everything in your 50-page annual report, try to focus on some gold nuggets of information. You want to provide a selection of greatest hits, not the entire album in the first meeting. Your aim is to inspire, build their interest and leave them curious to know more. You need to gather information from your corporate prospect, and you can’t do that effectively if you’re the one talking the whole time.
Don’t try to convert them to your crusade
I know that corporate partnerships managers are passionate and enthusiastic people. You’re totally committed to your cause, whether it’s climate change, wildlife rescue or sick children. But the purpose of the first meeting is not to convert the corporate to your crusade. A committed corporate partner can become an influential and powerful advocate for your cause. But the first meeting is about establishing connections, testing your hypothesis and seeding inspiration. You may be immersed in your cause, but your partner might be hearing about it for the first time. Give them time to absorb what you’re sharing and use the time to understand whether it’s relevant and interesting for them.
Don’t forget to plan for the follow up
You’ve done a great job at getting your corporate prospect to open up about their business and their ambitions. You’ve built rapport and shared some inspiring stories about your non-profit. You need to be ready for their question “what next?” It’s likely that you’ll need a further meeting, or 2 or 3, to develop the partnership opportunity more fully. You might need to bring in someone from your organisation or perhaps include their team. Maybe they’re not the decision maker and you need to talk to someone else. It’s important that you have a plan for the follow up that allows you to nurture the opportunity and make the most of the great start you’ve made. Be clear with your corporate prospect about the next steps and don’t be afraid to take the lead.
You’ll be having a lot of discussions with corporate partnership prospects in coming months. If you want to make the most of the exciting opportunities out there, you’ll need to nail that first meeting. Not every first date will turn into a marriage but avoiding the Top 5 common mistakes will ensure that you don’t close the door to a fabulous new corporate partnership.
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