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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Integrity, relationships, and marketing

There are cliches in business, and some of them are so obvious that they seem meaningless. "Say what you do, and do what you say" is one of them. Yesterday, I observed in action the practical importance of observing these principals.

Some weeks ago, I met someone who wanted to pitch a relatively minor 'first stage' joint venture initiative to me. I, meanwhile, was preparing for a more significant project and saw this person's company as a natural ally in pursuing it. So, at our meeting, after listening to him explaining some really wild big-picture dreams (that would require really incredible resources to achieve), I proposed my rather simple alliance.

He declined, saying he had a much bigger project under-way with the other organization. He represented to me that while my thoughts were really early stage, and not well developed, he had already developed high level relationships with the other organization, and I should not mess around with them. Frankly, he put some fear into me that maybe indeed he knew stuff that I didn't know.

Nevertheless, our business is independent, and I decided to move forward on my own with my plans -- carefully describing a strategy that would result in our expressing and implementing our core competencies, while building a (positive) place for the other organization who I believed had competences distinct but highly complementary to ours. As I prepared for the presentation, I made a final call to this individual. He didn't return my call.

We made our presentation. I provided a first draft of the proposal telling the other people in the room that things were rough around the edges and I welcomed feedback before proceeding. I emphasised that some of our demonstration material wasn't quite ready but would be fixed within the day. And I mentioned that a key part of the job could better be handled by other organizations, including possibly the one of the person who bragged about his relationships and failed to return my calls afterwards. I intended to show how our work would fit within the 'big plan' described to me by the person I had met a few weeks previously.

Wow. Did I ever get a mouthful. "He said he was going to do all these things, and never followed up, and never did them," I heard from the people in the room. It seems the big-shot's name was mud with this organization. Of course, I never had (and never will) say anything negative about the individual or his organization (which I still believe is a good and reputable business) but I certainly felt relief that I hadn't waited for his 'permission' to proceed with my own presentation.

Within 24 hours, as promised, we prepared our revised presentation. I quickly removed the positive references to the other person's company (without however saying anything negative), cleaned up the details, and improved things based on the feedback. We got it right -- sort of. As noted previously in this blog, our own business isn't free of its share of skeletons and previous mistakes -- and not everyone in the community thinks highly of me and our business.

Nevertheless, yesterday we were ready for a key stage in developing our project, and I received a go-ahead to move forward with that part of the initiative. I felt it right, then, to call the person who could have been a partner in the deal to give him a heads up about the situation. I explained candidly what the other people had told me about him, and the problems this was creating for his own interests and business. He thanked me for my frankness.

I could not of course solve the problems with his own relationships, but observed with interest his observations: "I tend to be a big picture guy and get beyond myself". Contrast this with the people we hope to do business with, whose leader told me: "We appreciate that you don't claim to do everything -- but what you propose fits right within our visions and plans."

In the end, selling and high-end marketing is all about the quality of your relationships, your integrity and your common sense. Say what you do, and do what you say. I'm glad, in this case at least, I followed that part of the Golden Rule.

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