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Is It A Client… Or A Partner?

When I started out in this great industry (way, way, way back in the day) every client was called… a client. Now that isn’t always the case. Companies have some clients and they also have some partners.

The question is: What are the definitions of each category and do companies always use the right label to describe a relationship.

Here is my definition:

  • Client: A client to me is a company that you do business with, they pay you for your services and those services are pretty much transactional. In a lot of ways this can be viewed as a commodity business. My dry cleaner, cable provider would consider me a client.
  • Partner: A partner to me is a relationship that is very important on both sides. Both parties see and understand the benefits and tend to be very loyal to the relationship. A partner is a very important relationship and one that allows you from time to time to call in a favor. Whether that favor is a discount in price or a better timeline. You have a vested interest in the relationship and when there is an issue or mistake, no one goes off the deep handle. The situation is discussed in a professional manner and a resolution is found very quickly. I would like to think that I would be considered a partner of our handyman Gary and companies like Marriott & American Airlines.

Anyone who is in a leadership position would like all of their clients to be viewed as a partner, but in reality that isn’t the case. By putting the wrong label on a relationship you are potentially giving yourself a false sense of security. And yes, we have done this at M/A/R/C Research. By calling a client a partner when in reality they are a client, you are viewing yourself much more important than you really are to them and very quickly the relationship can go away. Longevity doesn’t always mean a client is a partner – and yes, we have made that mistake as well.

By not putting the right label on a relationship you can’t maximize your opportunity and value to that company. Take a few minutes today and take 20 companies you do business with and put them into one of the two buckets. Take a deep breathe, a step back and I promise you will be surprised by the results.

And after you do that, let me know what you found and changes that you might make. But first,

  • What is your definition of a client?
  • What is your definition of a partner?

I look forward to reading your comments.

PS. We actually did this last year and it helped us go deeper with some of our relationships and turned four clients into partners!

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