Stop Being a Vendor and Start Being a Partner

Robyn Hannah - Stop Being a Vendor and Start Being a PartnerRobyn Hannah, Senior Director of Global Communications, Dynamic Signal

I can’t tell you how many times over my career a vendor has asked me for permission to use my brand’s name in a press release, a case study, a blog post, or some other asset for public relations or marketing.

I get their plight. Because that’s my job too. As communication professionals we know our stories are best told by the satisfied users of our products and no one wants to miss a media opportunity or lose a lead because you didn’t have the right customer asset in place.

I always have a Karmic dilemma of wanting to help my fellow communicators: On one hand, I know I’ll eventually have the same ask- pleading with my customer counterpart to talk their legal team off the ledge when I’m faced with the inevitable “no endorsing vendors” speech.

But there’s a flip side. A balancing act, forced upon me by the other part of my job: Protect our narrative and guard our hard-earned brand equity from being used in the wrong way, with the wrong voice, or to the wrong audience.

More often than not, I find myself favoring my defensive. Denying those vendor requests, or cleaning up the rogue mentions we learn about after the fact.

The reason is simple: Relationships.

At any organization, the P.R., Communications, and Legal teams are bombarded with P.R., sales, and marketing requests from recruiting partners, the office furniture supplier, the company that provides server security, every vendor in their tech stack … you name it.

I once had a Telcom vendor send me a press release for immediate approval of the quote they’d drafted for us, announcing my company as a recent customer. My IT team was the buyer and knew who they were, but I’d never heard about them. We hadn’t launched with their services, and I had zero idea of their brand reputation status- a critical component I would need to consider before publicly tying our names together.

Good communication professionals over-index on controlling the message and guarding the brand. If it’s the first time we’ve ever heard from anyone at your organization- or worse- it’s the first time we’ve heard of your organization, chances are high that your request will be met with a firm “no”. (As was the case with the Telcom company.)

A sales mindset

The best sales professionals put their energy into understanding the needs of their customers and how they can add value, rather than prioritizing a quota or an impending End of Quarter goal.

A sales executive wouldn’t show up to a demo with an annual contract, and ask for a signature shortly after introductions. They recognize that the sales cycle is a time to build relationships, suss out pain points, add value, and nurture trust. Why then would we think it’s appropriate to ask a customer for a quote the very first time we’re introduced?

Great sales professionals don’t ask someone to buy their product as a favor. They empathize and understand needs. They gain an understanding of their prospect’s world and clearly explain why their product is going to fill a gap, meet a need, or eliminate a pain point. This strategy applies to communications as well.

Learn your customer’s goals around thought leadership, PR, or speaking and don’t ask them to tell your story as a favor. Learn where they want to increase visibility and then find mutually beneficial ways to help them tell their story- a story of which you’re very much a part. A little understanding goes a long way towards creating a partnership that serves both parties.

It’s time to stop acting like a vendor and start acting like a partner.

Chrous.ai is a software vendor that provides a sales development tool we use internally. Despite the fact that I’m not the buyer, and I don’t use the software, I hear their name all the time. They’ve invested in the team and formed relationships with leadership. They strategically increased internal visibility by encouraging our SDR team to create a #Chorus slack channel, and they’ve enlisted my colleague, who is their buyer, to socialize their brand with me. When Chrous.ai needs a customer to quote in a press release, they’ve been well championed to me by a colleague I trust, and their name is not new.

I’m certainly not suggesting that your customers should become walking billboards or an infomercial for your company. But by being aware of their business objectives and sending targeted opportunities their way- whether it’s speaking at industry events important to them, or talking to journalists they follow- you’ll turn those customers into storytelling teammates.

When you invest in your customers and act like a partner, the next time you’ve got a reporter under deadline, you’ll already be armed with a rolodex of relationships, mentally cataloged by needs and goals, and you can quickly reach out with the right opportunity- Not just an ask.

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