Every moment spent with my friend Gunther is a chance to debate and reinvent the fascinating world of collaboration and co-creation around a glass of wine, and our last dinner in New York was no exception.
Gunther plays well with others.
He has been dealing with business relationships since he started his career, and I can still confidently say that he is one of the most experienced relationship builders I have met so far. Like me, his role is about taking partnerships to new heights and delivering value for his organization & others through the right dose of risks and rewards, audacious goals and protein-enriched collaboration.
That said, Gunther likes to describe his mission as about 'breeding ideas, connecting people and opening windows of opportunities'.
"In a sense, I know my goals are met when my contribution becomes as essential for my partner as it is for my own company," he notices. "It won't happen without a genuine interest in their history, organization, strategy, values, decision-making processes, culture and internal dynamics" [this is Gunther's favourite euphemism for 'corporate politics'].
Gunther is an early digital native. In the 2000s, while eSourcing was just starting to get significant traction in the procurement world, he was pioneering the first opportunity management technologies available on the market. Initially designed to aggregate information and keep track of opportunity leads rather than business relationships, software would typically increase efficiency through easy data access and improved follow-up.
"Today, my most difficult challenge remains to convince seasoned decision-makers to shift from short-term targets to long-term perspectives and be open to serve the greater good. In a world ruled by distant justification and instant gratification," he says, "thoughts of long-term outcomes still sound like the fantasies of a crazy dreamer."
Gunther describes what a successful business relationship looks like: "I believe that a partnership can only earn the right to be called a 'real deal' once it has delivered positive results from 3 viewpoints:
depth (through value architecting and its variety of building blocks);
breadth (through pie expansion beyond the basic book of business);
length (through long-term aspirations rather than short views)."
"As a matter of fact, my strongest business relationships have survived a few corporate storms and I know they keep bearing fruits and impacting the organizations they were built upon. Others are dormant and get resuscitated every now and then." concludes a proud and content Gunther.
[If you have read this post so far, this is where you probably start to wonder...] so what exactly is the matter with Gunther?
Well, here is the full story: Gunther is a key account manager for a large global logistics organization. In short, Gunther is a sales guy; and while he spent the last 2 decades managing key partnerships with Fortune 500 companies, he mentioned that none of the sourcing professionals he's been dealing with for 20 years has ever asked him to share his views about the 'secret sauce' for successful business relationships.
Lack of curiosity? Maybe. Attention deficit? Not plausible.
Chronic undervaluation? Possibly. Trust crisis? Yeah, that too.
As paradoxical as it seems considering his invaluable expertise in strategic alliances, it looks like Gunther has simply, quietly and very unilaterally been put in the 'supplier' box (and the free tag came with a lifetime membership).
As I was typing this, an old but memorable question from Mike (one of my past procurement peers), came back to mind: "Seriously, what would a sales rep know about business relationships?" [seriously, Mike...?]
Old labels die hard and as we were ordering coffee, I asked Gunther why his expertise had never been leveraged by his clients when they decide to transform their supplier relationships.
"I suppose they were too busy debating the meaning of SRM", he said with a smile.
Successful business relationships have the power to blur lines.
They merge buyers and salespeople into Value Architects. They let resistance to change shift into entrepreneurship. They inject goals with purpose. They substitute duplication with co-creation. They build inclusive circles on top of territorial silos. They change service managers into transformation leads.
Successful business relationships dismiss labels... big time.
As I have just completed a career shift from corporate procurement to B2B collaboration, I started to realize that I might have as well just been welcome to a brand new box, where Gunther and I will keep each other company for the rest of our life… [and reinvent the world around a glass of wine] :-)
@Mike: find yourself a Gunther, buddy. It's time.