I was in the process of reducing the number of suppliers that my company used. As we grew both organically and from acquisitions over the years, we increased the number of manufacturers we used to serve the needs of our clients. Overall, I couldn’t fault any of the manufacturers; their quality was high, their support was good, and their prices were competitive. Why “thin the herd” when everything seemed to be fine?
As you probably know, when employees have to learn multiple product lines or service offerings, it can be difficult to master all of them. This can potentially challenge those who are working to design and implement a cost-effective solution. On average, it is easier, cheaper, and better to solve problems with a small set of well-chosen products and services than with a large set.
So off I went, gathering information from my company’s front line staff, asking them what products and services their clients liked and why. Some liked particular features, some liked the pricing, and some felt that the technology road map their supplier was on would save their clients from future system obsolescence. The reasons varied, but after a while we were able to create a smaller list of truly outstanding manufacturers. But I still had too many suppliers.
How do you thin the herd when the herd is so good? How would I decide in a world where products were more alike than they were different? And how do your clients make decisions when the products and prices of bidders are close?
For me, it comes down to a company’s management team. And while I love a good business plan, a great product roadmap, and a strong balance sheet, when all things are equal, I’ll go with a management team that has passion every time. Just as there are few geniuses who are not tremendously curious, there are few great companies who do not have truly passionate employees.
How do you measure passion?
Oddly enough, it is difficult to measure passion in a business situation. We are all very practiced in how we come off during a major presentation or a one-on-one meeting. We research our prospects on the web, know our products or services well, and have a polished presentation that has prospects searching for their contract signing pens. It is very difficult to see through the role-playing and get to the heart of the person or company. How do you tell what is real? Business passion is easily faked.
Truly passionate people are rarely passionate about just business. Their passions usually spill into other areas of their lives, and I have noticed over the years that those who passionately pursue other interests outside of the business world are usually exceptionally capable in the business world.
A case in point – a past meeting with a supplier. My company did some business with them, but we did many times the revenue with some of their competitors. This supplier had done their research on us, had identified us as a company who was growing, and wanted to have a higher level of partnership with us. We spent the morning at their office, worked on some new programs, and decided that we would be able to accomplish good things together.
But that afternoon we got to know each other outside of the conference room. We were in an area that had some great wineries nearby. I didn’t know it at the time, but the management team of this company had expertise in wines, wineries, and wine making. They were almost giddy to share their knowledge of the wine industry. After seeing how they interacted with the vintners, tutored us in the challenges of creating a great wine, and eagerly awaited our opinions of what we tasted, I was able to see that the passion they had for wine was no different than the passion they had for their business.
That’s when I knew we would accomplish great things together.
But what about their products? Were their products outstanding? Were they priced competitively? Did they have all of the latest and greatest features? Of course – they had already made the short list. But there was that last part, the passion that they showed outside the conference room that set them apart and showed me that they would go the extra mile for our clients. It became an easy decision to choose them as a company that shared our desire to build a great partnership.
If people can verify the often fake passion of the business world with the real passion of things outside the business world, they can use that discovery to forge stronger business relationships, and ultimately build a partnership that creates long lasting value.
So what about you? Are you passionate about your company and other interests? Do you have a way of sharing that passion with your clients, in a way that they can see you as more than just a salesperson looking to make a commission? You may feel uncomfortable sharing personal details of your life, or you may be dealing with a situation where this type of interchange is inappropriate. That’s okay – this doesn’t work in every situation. But give it a try…you may be surprised at how easy it is to build a stronger relationship by showing who you are, not just what you do.
And the photo of Steve Jobs at the top of this post? Surely no other person of our time better represents passion (in all it’s good and bad forms). Apple’s employees are known for an almost cult-like passion for their company and its products. Did I need to replace my Dell with a Mac Air, my Blackberry with an iPhone, and my paper note pad with an iPad? Certainly not. But I bought them all, spending money on things I didn’t really need that cost way too much.
I couldn’t help it…I got caught up in the passion.