Trust is always a vital but often enigmatic ingredient in collaborative business relationships. In Part One, I explored why, for some people, it is often their biological wiring that leads them to shy away from investing in a new relationship. In this follow-up piece, I am going to look at the commercial aspects of trust – and what you can do to encourage it within marketing partnerships.
Even though economists have long proven that mutual trust and fair trading encourages wealth and progress, a lack of the hormone Oxytocin means some people simply struggle to trust. And with a lack of trust being a show stopping barrier to forming any successful relationships marketers need to understand how to build it. Writers such as Gibbs & Humphries, Gary Hamel and Moss Kanter have all looked at the ingredients of B2B trust and collaboration – and there are several common themes and pointers that practitioners should bear in mind.
Partnerships transcend traditional account management. Relationship Managers naturally must ensure the business objectives are met but unlike AM’s they also seek to understand the needs of the partner, make sure that plans are mutual and build strong lines of communication. A simple tactic is to deliberately over communicate in early stages of the relationship to aggressively build momentum and trust. Simply put, it is better to hear a partner say,’its ok we don’t need that report or meeting’ – instead of the opposite: ‘what’s going on? When are we meeting?’. As trust is built, RM’s can reduce the communication, reporting, checking and admin. But when the relationship is not yet proven and secure it makes great sense to invest in communication.
2 – Cultural Fit & Norms:
Another key element that builds trust is the creation of shared norms, appreciating where differences exist. This can include meeting habits, team behaviours, leadership styles. Some organisations may have team celebrations and ‘play hard’ culture as part of their DNA – for others, such behavior can be deemed as unprofessional and reckless. A colleague recently told me a telling example of perhaps not what to do. A large City financial institution insisted on taking their public sector partner for an expensive and late night dinner, with the usual rather lavish City style. Which for the partner was completely outside of their comfort zone and norms. Relationship Managers need to find the norms to build trust and that means relying on soft interpersonal skills – not just planning, contract drafting and spreadsheets. A former manager once explained to me after a poor meeting, that I had to learn to ‘tune in’ to the other party and shift styles to progress the relationships. Of course if finding shared norms and tuning in is too hard, then the reality may be that there is simply not the right Fit and it may be the wrong partner. Back to the drawing board, back to pioneering.
3 – Understand Mutual, Individual & organisational Goals:
Related to both of the above points is the sharing and understanding of mutual, individual and organisational goals. Any marketer can understand what their own business needs are – or at least they should if they have basic skills and company knowledge. It is relatively simple. This could be market share, acquisition, retention, sales – and maybe product or technology benefits. But understanding what makes the other partner tick and how you can use that is a more complex and subtle relationship task. A relationship manager should always be asking what is important to the other party. What buttons can be pressed and what levers pulled to add value to the relationship? Reflecting and proving you understand and want to support them to get what they want, increases trust and is more likely to enable you to get what you want. Effective negotiation, complex sales and relationship management needs a deep commitment to understanding the goals of the other party. As Hamel points out; ” Collaboration is bound to be difficult if a partner fails to understand the goals of its allies – suspicion and mistrust will fill any vacuum of knowledge or certainty about goals”
4 – Delivery & Momentum:
The Benchstone Gears Model describes Fit, Planning and Momentum as the cogs that drive successful partnerships. The ‘Big Mo’ is the collective energy and systematic progress that creates the tangible, measurable and practical outcomes of the relationship. It requires the individuals to be committed and for organisations to deliver and to do what they say the are going to do. Momentum needs partners to invest resource, budget, time and people. Momentum builds progress and like a great wheel, once it starts moving it is a fantastic force that steadily moves everything forward with almost its own energy. A useful tactic for Relationship Managers in search of trust is to search for ‘first dates’ – the simple initial handshaking initiatives that prove to both partners that they can benefit from working together. Seeing the other party deliver on commitments, even if they are initially small ones, will build trust that can help build the confidence and enthusiasm that can fuel the next steps.
Understanding how to build and manage trust within a business relationship is not something that is taught at management schools and yet all the research and experience demonstrates how important it is. Successful marketing partnerships will only come to those individuals and organisations who are prepared to pioneer new relationships and work collaboratively – and without an ability to build trust, those opportunities will never emerge. I’ll leave the final word on trust to American novelist Lemony Snicket;
“Deciding whether or not to trust a person is like deciding whether or not to climb a tree, because you might get a wonderful view from the highest branch, or you might simply get covered in sap, and for this reason many people choose to spend their time alone and indoors, where it is harder to get a splinter” – Lemony Snicket
For more information about marketing partnerships see www. Benchstone.co.uk