The Reverse Bow-Tie


Last week it was the haircut; this week it’s the simple bow tie…

But before you assume that the blog is gradually morphing into a TAB version of GQ magazine, let me explain…

In last week’s post I talked about dealing with more than one person when you’re dealing with a customer. That the buying manager won’t always be the buying manager and if you’re going to have a really strong relationship with a company you need to build contacts with more than the person who gives you a purchase order number.

That’s true even for a business like mine – essentially my clients are the owners and directors of SMEs in and around York. They’re the ones who come to the Board meetings; they’re the ones who write the cheques and on the surface it’s a 1:1 relationship.

But if I only spoke to my clients, I couldn’t do my job properly.

When I go to see a Board member I always talk to – and try and build a relationship with – the key members of their team. Number one, they’re bright, intelligent, interesting people. And if I only talk to the boss – to my direct client – then I only get one point of view.

Very often one of the team will say something to me – make a suggestion or a comment – that they don’t feel comfortable saying to their employer. That gives me real insight – and something I can feed back to my client when I talk to him or her.

For those of you that like business theory, it’s called ‘The Reverse Bow Tie.’

The old model of business was the ‘bow-tie’ model: one point of contact in your company had a relationship with one point of contact in your customer’s company. Your sales department dealt with their purchasing department – or in more extreme cases, your sales manager dealt with their purchasing manager.

The business relationship that’s usually quoted as the one to change all that is the long and successful partnership between Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart. It’s been cited as a text-book example of cooperation between companies and there’s an interesting article here.

The starting point for the success was simple; the two companies didn’t see it as a traditional supplier/retailer relationship. It was a partnership – to use a favourite phrase of this blog, they thought win-win. If they worked together, everyone would benefit.

That meant that the old model didn’t work anymore. The relationship wasn’t owned by the sales manager and the purchasing manager. It was owned by everyone. So computer systems people talked to computer systems people. Distribution and logistics did likewise. Ditto for packaging and marketing. ‘Game-changer’ is an overused cliché – but this relationship was exactly that. Everyone benefitted – including the consumer.

So that’s why you’ll always find me talking to as many people as possible when I visit a client – and as you know, it’s no longer all about me.

Jackie Mathers and Julia Sutton-McGough have been with me for over six months now. Both of them bring new qualities and new insights to TAB York and the ‘team’ approach is already starting to benefit clients – especially when my team is working with our client’s team. For me, that’s the real future of executive coaching.

But my immediate future looks rather different. It’s the garden centre and B&Q. Yep, it’s finally Easter. The time of year when the sun shines, the children eat too much chocolate and men-in-suits grab a spade one day and Google ‘chiropractor’ the next. Enjoy the break!

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