What Word Should you Use? Partner, Vendor, Agency, Trusted Advisor, Marketing, Digital Transformation?


Use the right words for the right jobWe keep evolving words. Often instead of evolving the actual work, or the relationship. There's a perfect scene in romcom The Proposal where the secretary is introduced as executive assistant. It reflects how companies have upgraded the few roles left, sometimes upgrading the authority and compensation with it.

Business development is a useful expression when it encompasses more than sales, for example. In most cases, though, the word we used to use to describe a role or function is appropriate.

Vendor or partner?

A company that focuses on renewing an account is a vendor, not a partner, as David Berkowitz reminds us in his excellent Serial Marketers missive. Use vendor if you're trying to sell something, partner when you're providing stability and lift to the business through your relationship.

I've been there, so I know that sometimes words get ahead of us when we want to feel useful. But if that's the case, focusing on how what we offer makes our customer's lives and business better is a good bet to stand out.

The classic Intel inside campaign was brilliant because the company actually embraced its role in the success of its clients. Plus it aligned well with the company's management philosophy. As Andy Grove said:

we really try to make no further value judgement as communicated by appearances, parking spaces, offices, titles, the formality of titles. We try to beat into people that their work is very important for what it is.

Agency or trusted advisor?

On the surface this should be easier. Yet, I bet you've heard or said it more than once. We mean well, we want to say we're trustworthy, and we will provide counsel as we work together, hopefully in the long term.

Clients want action. In fact, they often go for the most action and tend to cringe at words like assessment, discovery, and strategy. Agencies themselves are often balancing how much strategy work they want to do for various reasons.

An agency uses ideas to get to some kind of action. Companies are looking to acquire new customers, build commercial relationships with existing customers, and everything in between. Use agency when you help them do that.

Who can you trust today? Is a complicated question. Transparency makes the trust leap possible, for example. Unlike the plea “trust me,trustworthiness relies on evidence. Consistency of character over time builds it and not photo opportunities or generic claims.

We become trustworthy by being honest, competent, and reliable… over time. No shortcuts. Use trusted advisor when that is the case.

Marketing or digital transformation?

This depends on who you's working with you. Are you working directly with the CEO and C-Suite to help transform the business? Then use digital transformation. In all other cases that involve the market, customers, and sales use the word marketing.

Transformation is not just another fancy word for saying marketing. Though the current definition# of digital transformation is no big help:

Digital transformation refers to the changes associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society.

Digital transformation may be thought as the third stage of embracing digital technologies: digital competence → digital literacy → digital transformation.

The latter stage means that digital usages inherently enable new types of innovation and creativity in a particular domain, rather than simply enhance and support the traditional methods.

Describes what it is, rather than what it does. Greg Verdino has a useful definition of what it does:

Digital transformation closes the gap between what digital customers already expect and what analog businesses actually deliver.

Bigger than a marketing campaign, isn't it? It involves changes to the business, how it creates value and makes money and how people interact with it.

Be appropriate

We're all rushing to wanting ongoing relationships over time. Yet, we often skip the part where we build, connect, support, and compound our involvement week after week and month after month.

It's quite alright to make a deal, do the work to deliver, and move on. Can you imagine being in contact with everyone all the time, sharing wisdom and ideas with no expectation of immediate payoff? Who does the work?

Transactions are often the best (and most sustainable) form of preference.

I teach companies and brands to be appropriate. That's how they get what they want and build momentum for the business.

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