15 March 2006


Over the last couple of weeks I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with some clients. I know this is, basically, what we all do - but in this case it was a little different.
Let me explain...

Usually, when we spend time with clients we are talking about either "the relationship" or "the work." In addition, there is usually a lot of pressure to stay focused as the clock is always ticking.

But this was different.

Case One:

We've been working with the folks at Freightliner for a number of years now. They're a very good client and it's been a good relationship. A couple of weeks back they had an internal Marketing Summit. Marketing folks from all the various business units - with all sorts of backgrounds and job responsibilities - gathered in Portland for two days. The idea was to do a couple of things. First - to get everyone on the same page in terms of where marketing for the company as a whole was going. Second - to get everyone aware of who the other folks in the company are. Third - to start the process of people being able to help each other within the company.

We, along with a few other selected vendors, were invited to sit in on these meetings and presentation.

It was incredibly valuable and actually very exciting. I learned a huge amount about the vision for the company. I gained priceless insight into the realities of the business. I started to get an understanding of the culture and the structures of this business.

In the end I walked away impressed and with a ton of ideas swirling in my head. I was energized and feel like there is so much potential in the business - and in our relationship. There is so much that we can do to help Freightliner reach for this vision now that I know what the vision is and what the business realities are. I understand the constraints. I'm starting to understand the people...

All I could think afterwards was "this is something that all clients should do." Not just have this sort of Summit - but invite key vendors. The only cost to them for having us there was the catering. We didn't charge for our time. And in the end - everyone is going to win.

Now that is "best practices!"

Case Two:

And then last week I went to Las Vegas to spend some time at the Bryant Heating and Air Conditioning meetings. Bryant is another great customer of ours. Great people, great projects.

At the meetings I spent a bunch of time working the booth on the tradeshow floor. I was working the Bryant.com booth in the Programs section of the floor. As a result, I had the chance to not only watch people interact with the Bryant.com site - I had the opportunity to talk with them about the site, about their needs when it comes to the site and about their businesses in general. I also managed to spend time eating lunch with these customers and even went to a bunch of seminars.

I was already pretty well versed in the business of Bryant thanks to our clients there. But this was eye-opening none the less. Spending time observing the real customers - getting the chance to ask them questions and listen to their issues and their challenges and their dreams.... This was a truly priceless opportunity for me.

I learned an enormous amount about the business - from an entirely new perspective. The perspective of the customer. And that, my friends, is obviously the important perspective.

Cost to our customer - minimal. Value to them long-term - priceless.

Again... this is truly "best practices."

Lesson learned from this... clients - involve your vendors. Vendors... get involved with your clients' businesses. Step back from the "projects, programs, work, relationship" bunker mentality.


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