Topodium Group Co-Founder and Topodium Kids Children’s Consultant, Chris Sharman, shares his secret (not so much now!) solution on how to work effectively with partners; his tried and tested Cycle of Seven method.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with top children’s and families brands over the past 25-years, and I’m often asked “Chris, how do you get started with projects, especially across such a broad spectrum of businesses?”.
From small coaching companies and schools, to global super-powers like Universal Studios and Disney, every project is unique and expectations vary enormously. So, where do you start when a project can seem so overwhelming or complex?
For me, it really comes down to the initial conversation. Making a connection, building an authentic relationship and understanding the needs of your potential partner. Not only that, but drilling down into how that issue, problem or need plays out in your potential partners world.
Do you go into your initial meeting willing and open to listening to the potential partners issue? Or, are you simply eager and prepared to sell, sell, sell and coax them into submission with a product or service you think should work for them? That’s a great place to start when thinking about how to work effectively with partners, and adapting your approach is key.
Solution selling has seen its rise in popularity. Sales people sit in the driving seats laden with a strong understanding of the businesses needs and wants, moulding their solution around the prospect. In the children’s and families sector this has worked exceptionally well. This approach involves a lot of open ended questions – The key to success here is talking less and listening more. Ask the questions, dig under the surface, and only when you’ve a solution that can tick all the boxes, then go in with your sales proposition.
Insight selling certainly isn’t new and has been around for a long time, but what has changed is the way we’re using insight selling to deliver impact. Sales people are coming to the table more prepared; they’ve already honed in on a solution and can present exactly the right information to showcase how this will benefit the partner. Rather than probing with hundreds of questions, they come with a deep understanding of the partners business, with specific insights into their company, sector or unique problem and crucially interpreting that data. Gone are the days of the one-size-fits-all approach.
Cycle of Seven
So, whether its solution or insight selling you chose, what tool underpins your approach? In 2010, we developed the Cycle of Seven method, and use this with all our potential and existing partners to establish where on their journey they are.
If used correctly, the Cycle of Seven helps you to understand both the short and long term needs of a business. It helps us establish current pain points but also strategic and commercial desires.
We start by establishing if the prospect is at ideation stage, or if they’ve a sound concept, or if they have recently launched and are in pilot phase, or if they have solid business experience and perhaps require a pivot or update to their trajectory.
Once you’ve established where in their journey the prospect is, it’s then a case of establishing where they need help. Some partners will need support in all seven areas, others may be struggling in just one or two; either way it’s the personalised approach which makes working across such a diverse range of businesses an easier process. Delve into the detail, unpick the data and prepare the insights.
What Are The 7 Stages?
So, what are these 7 stages I hear you cry!
First up is Design. Working with a partner to establish their need, researching the market and developing one or more products or services that match the commercial requirements of their business.
Next is Build: once the product or service concept has been born it’s about producing the necessary operations manuals, policies, procedures, session plans and marketing campaigns ready to launch.
At a similar time to building its time to Recruit: from writing the job descriptions and person specifications to helping find and interview the right staff to bring the concept or brand to life.
Once you’ve got the staff we move on to Train: through either bespoke developed training courses and innovative online learning, or off-the-shelf training workshops, it’s time to make sure the staff know how to consistently deliver products and services in a safe, educational and above all fun way!
So, you’ve built the product or service and have the staff trained and read to go, it’s now time to Launch: from supporting staff on their first day to a large scale launch with national press expectations and celebrity endorsements, it’s time to plan and then deliver a world-class launch that helps achieve specific business goals.
It’s then time to Manage: at Topodium Kids we’re with our partners for the journey, that could mean providing ongoing operational and commercial management support, update training and ongoing product developments or via our innovative ‘Powered By’ solution, actually taking the whole product or division off their plate and operating as an extension to their team. This stage is all about ensuring customers keep coming back and that staff keep delivering to the highest of standards.
Finally you need to Support: partner needs change and business focuses can shift, through audits and support visits it’s important to ensure that businesses and their teams get the back-up they require. Analysing data, results and financials is also key at this stage, because without that crucial information you can’t complete the cycle and start re-designing and re-building in this never-ending process.
So there you have it, Topodium Kids’ secret source behind successfully working with a variety of clients in the children’s and families world. It’s not all rocket-science though, simply a common-sense approach to structuring your starting point with each partner and then adding value at each stage of their journey. Can it work in other industries? Absolutely! Just make some subtle tweaks to the substance underneath each of the seven points.
Good luck on your journeys, whether that be as a consultant or as a partner!