Relationship Breakthroughs (No. 6): Get Clear Feedback

A client of mine, a Fortune-100 company, recently told me this story:

IBM has historically been a large vendor to this company. Some years ago, the CEO of IBM, Sam Palmisano, calls up my client’s CEO and suggests they get together to talk about their relationship. They set a date in a week’s time. The CEO then calls his executive who manages the IBM relationship and asks how they were doing. The relationship manager telephones his counterpart at IBM—repeatedly—over the course of a week. He wants to discuss things with him. He never gets a returned phone call. Nothing.

The day before the meeting the relationship manager talks to his CEO and says, “I have to tell you—I’d grade the relationship a “C.” There are poor communications, some missteps, and overall things are not on a good footing.

Palmisano walks into the meeting and sits down. “So,” he tells the CEO, “My team tells me we’ve got an “A” relationship with you.”

The CEO looks at him and says, “My team has given you a ‘C,’ I’m afraid.”

Sometimes these stories have a sad ending. In this case, this meeting was the catalyst for major change. The IBM team rallied. The client sat down with them and clearly laid out its expectations. Today, my client talks about their relationship with IBM in glowing terms. There is frequent communication. Transparent, mutually agreed metrics. Joint account planning. “We have a great trusted partnership with IBM” they say.

How many of your client relationships do you think are “A” relationships? Does your client also grade you an “A,” in every case? How do you know? Can you afford to wait until a client tells you point-blank that the relationship you thought was terrific is really just so-so?

Have a look at my article, “A Great Client Relationship–Really?” if you want to learn more.

Autumn in Hanover, NH

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