Strong professional relationships of any kind – internal, external, sales-based, or consultative – all have one important trait in common: shared trust. Trust allows us to more effectively exchange information, identify and work through barriers to partnership, and collaboratively seek solutions to larger and more complex problems. Sometimes, you are lucky enough for this professional trust to happen organically and the status of a "trusted partner" comes easily. Many times, though, this is not the case.
Let me share an example of this:
Several members of our team worked with a large, Fortune 100 financial institution that previously had several bad experiences with outside vendors. Our team worked on several small projects, and our general manager handled the larger relationship between Handshaw and this client with their divisional training manager. At first, we were shielded from anyone outside the training department – we had no access to subject matter experts, exemplar performers, project stakeholders, sometimes not even to the training team members who performed the initial needs assessment. We knew that as a team we could be doing much higher quality work that better addressed this client’s training needs if we were just given the chance.
With each project, we continued to show flexibility and understanding to foster the relationship. We regularly needed to ask the client liaisons for clarification or additional resources required for the project, knowing before we asked that they did not have direct access to the information, either. If a project slipped off track, we attempted to provide an honest picture of how it happened, which usually included something along the lines of, "If we could just talk to the right person with you and ask them our questions directly, it will really make the process more efficient."
Eventually, the client did let us have access to the subject matter experts, or SMEs, to ensure the projects met the deadlines, and we were able to show that we are skilled at analysis and working with SMEs to keep the project within scope. From that experience, they started letting us offer suggestions on the solution design, and we were able to show how we creatively work to improve learner performance. The positive experiences and compliments started to make their way to the divisional manager, and he started to give us larger, high-profile projects based on our previous success. Finally, we had become a trusted partner for this client, despite their initial hesitations to open up to outside consultants.
We were able to help this client realize that by giving us more responsibility, we could take some of the project burden off their shoulders and deliver innovative solutions – the real value they received from the partnership. Relationship management and positioning yourself as a trusted partner takes ongoing work and dedication, but the results are certainly worth it: access to the resources you need for a project, the ability to propose the best solution, and the chance to proactively partner with your client as one of their valued advisors.
Peter Engels is a Lead Instructional Developer at Handshaw, Inc., where he focuses on designing and developing technology-based performance support and training solutions for a wide variety of employee needs. He is also actively engaged in account management and client relationship building.