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The Golden Rolodex Trap

You should always own and never outsource relationships in your business in Japan or anywhere else, and there is no reason you should have to, no matter what you might have been told.

A European company in Japan calls on an independent consultant for maintaining and
managing relationships with buyers and leaders of its Japanese customer companies. The consultant is adept. He has the golden Rolodex. He knows people in the customer companies, knows how to get meetings with the most powerful of them, knows how to talk with them, knows how their business works, and understands their priorities. So he makes the calls, sets up the meetings, accompanies the vice president of sales during visits, and even speaks for his client (the consultant speaks Japanese, whereas the vice president of sales does not).

The vice president of sales confided in me that he feels he could not independently get and hold a meeting with the director of purchasing at his largest customer account without the intervention of the consultant. If this is how the vice president of sales feels, how independently do you think his sales force moves on new business development? Do they even think that business development is part of the job, or do they view their role as merely swooping in the take orders only after someone else has paved the way for them?

As helpful—if not necessary—he or she might appear, such contacts rapidly entrap your business and limit its opportunities. The relationship is one of self-imposed co-dependency, which is never a healthy look in business. As long as you rely on others to build and maintain your customer relationships, you preclude your organization from developing an independent capability to do the same. The longer your sales staff serve in your business under such conditions, the more difficult it will be to help them develop the capability later on—if they can develop it at all. And then what happens should the golden Rolodex guy or gal suddenly becomes unavailable? What happens when his or her aging contacts retire? Where will that leave you?

There is nothing wrong with using experts with contacts to advance the development of your business. However, you should never allow anyone to do your marketing for you. Only you and your people can best sell your business. Click To Tweet Only you and your people can adequately answer questions in a buyer’s office, address concerns, and spot opportunities in the moment.

The best experts with contacts understand this, and so they make the introduction and then get out of the way. If they are doing so as part of a professional service to the client, it is not by inserting themselves as a gatekeeper to exact a fee from either or both parties. Real and sustainable value is not in the introduction, but rather is in advising one or both parties how best to maintain and develop the relationship for maximum return. It is capability transfer that counts. The golden Rolodex is only one possible means to that end.

In my business, I am constantly meeting people with significant power and influence and who have value to offer others. I never hesitate to connect two people who might find a relationship with each other valuable. I do so freely for people I know, whether a client or not.

I have never turned down a request for an introduction from someone I know and trust. Nor have I ever asked for or accepted a finder’s fee—and I never will. I want there to be no doubt that when I make an introduction it is only because I believe it is the best interests of both parties to know each other. A financial interest for me only muddies my intentions.

I don’t disparage the consultant whose European client uses him for developing and maintaining customer relationships. He plans to retire soon, and I have heard that he offered to his client to continue to work as an advisor to support them as they take ownership of the relationships he helped forged. Professionally, that is exactly the right thing to do and is in the best interests of both the consultant and the client.

As for the vice president of sales who said he feels he could not independently get and hold a meeting with the director of purchasing, in my experience, his concerns are misplaced. The value of the business relationship between both parties is usually sufficient impetus to motivate direct collaboration once an interlocutor steps back. There is no reason now this vice president cannot own the relationship, and there likely never was. You too can always own your business’s relationships if you have the mind to do so and do things right.


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