Many years back, when I was the head of marketing at Cadbury, I conducted a session for the younger people in the marketing team. One of the questions up for debate was how to become a good marketer. There were many responses, some of which were:
1. Work hard.
2. Be creative and innovative.
3. Ensure sound analytics.
4. Have a good understanding of the consumer.
I could go on and fill the page with the many answers, but there was a pattern in all the answers-they were all about what marketers needed to do.
I then explained what it took for me to be a good marketer. I said, 'Find a good advertising agency, find a good media agency, find a good digital agency, find a good market research partner, find a good film producer, find a good activation agency: cultivate and nurture them, and you are already three-fourths of the way on your journey to be a good marketer.' My answer is all about external partners who contribute to a marketer's success and effectiveness. And yet, when we think about being effective, we think of only the internal, within the business; we don't think of how to be effective in leveraging external partners. Getting better at leveraging the external partners is critical to long-term success, not just in marketing, but in all fields.
Between 2010 and 2013, Cadbury/Mondelez India was awarded the Effie Client of the Year two years in a row as well as the Emvies Client of the Year. For those of you who don't come from a marketing background, these are awards given by the Advertising Club of Mumbai annually. Winning these awards meant that our company was recognized as the best marketing company of the year across all companies and industries. Without a doubt, a major reason behind this recognition was that we had a fantastic marketing team within the company, but an even bigger reason was that we had a fantastic set of external partners and agencies-what I refer to as the marketing ecosystem. We got awarded as the best marketing company because we were very good at assembling the best external partners and in getting the best out of them during those years.
The logic for making the external ecosystem better remains the same. For the same effort from us, a better external partner ecosystem will get us better results. All parts of the business have an external ecosystem, not only marketing. Procurement has to work with vendors, HR with training companies and recruitment companies, IT works with software vendors, finance with auditors and tax advisors, sales with distributors and the outsourced sales force, logistics with C&F agencies and transporters, and so on. In any role, map the external ecosystem you have and then ask yourself the first question-what would be the impact on you if that external ecosystem improved significantly? And when you conclude that there is a significant positive impact on your results if they get better, ask the second question-what are you doing to help them get better?
You probably think that since they are external to us, we have no role in helping them progress. That is incorrect. We can play a significant role in their enhancement, and therefore in their effectiveness for our business. There are three ways we can help make them better for our business:
1. Move from vendor to partnership mindset.
2. Enable them to upgrade their people and capabilities
with the right remuneration.
3. Leadership role modelling.
From vendor to partner
In many cases, external partners don't perform even up to their current potential. They provide the same service to several clients, with your business being just one of them. It is quite possible that the quality of work and services for your business is much lower than what they provide other clients. It is, then, not about making them better overall, but more about getting the best out of them even
at their current potential.
This requires a fundamental change in our mindset-the change of treating external entities not as vendors but as partners, and building a partnership as opposed to a buyer-seller relationship. There are two kinds of external vendors-first, where what they sell is commoditized and can be measured against specifications, and second, where there is some amount of customization and value addition in each transaction. An example of the first type is, say, sugar for a food company or oil for a refinery or pigment for a paint company. An example of the second type is legal advice for a specific problem from a lawyer, or an advertising agency, or a training company.
We usually end up engaging with all kinds of external vendors in the traditional buyer-seller relationship, where the buyer sets the specifications and the terms, then negotiates the best price, and the seller then fulfils the agreed requirements. However, for the more customized and value-add vendors, something more collaborative and closer to a partnership creates better long-term value. We are not buying something from them, but often co-creating, and that requires a partnership orientation.
There are four main practices required to build the partnership orientation:
1. While the buyer pays for the services, they should not behave like one on a day-to-day basis. In routine engagement, it must be a relationship of equality, not a buyer-seller relationship.
2. Instead of telling the vendor what to do, involve them
in the resolution of the problem.
3. Give them a sense of ownership.
4. Recognize and celebrate their contribution.
The simple act of changing the relationship from a vendor to a partnership mode will help you get much better output from your external ecosystem, which will help boost your results.
(The book is published by Penguin Random House India and has 236 pages).
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