A Matter of Trust: A blueprint to build a strategic alliance system

Marketers have always recognized the value of trust. It’s used to sell everything from baby products to investment instruments. The word is even printed on our currency. But trust is in short supply today, and Americans have become burned out on the concept. In the wake of scandals such as Enron and Lehman Brothers, trust has generally come to be perceived as a nostalgic concept. Modern taglines that employ the word do so at their own peril. When, for example, CNN calls itself “the most trusted name in news,” it’s unwittingly issuing a challenge to competitors and consumers to discover where the network falls flat on that promise.

Enterprising business leaders will recognize the opportunity presented by the decline in corporate trust. Make it your mission to reclaim it from the dustbin of watered-down buzzwords and by the example of your exemplary organizational culture restore it to its vaunted position as an old-fashioned, honest-to-goodness guiding principle. Accomplish that, and not only is “trust” printed on your currency, it becomes your currency.

Just as your grandfather realized, business – and trust – starts with relationships. And relationships beget relationships. Consider your strategic alliance system (SAS). Here’s a working definition I have used while growing business revenues in this economy: “a leveraged approach to building business relationships with select other business associates that target the same new clients / customers.”

Before people make a purchase, they usually ask a friend or business associate to search out proof of the quality of service. Many people join a BNI or chamber of commerce to network and get referrals, and for many business owners that can and has worked effectively. But that is NOT an SAS. An SAS operates like a highly dedicated sales force that you don’t have to keep on payroll. It can be a small group of people that regularly tell others about your company.

There are seven keys to selectively building a SAS system that produces quality new leads:

  1. Mindset…. You must shift your thinking and make building key relationships a priority in your weekly calendar
  2. Give first…. Just like at the bank, you need to make a deposit before you can make any withdrawals. Help each of your SA relationships first, before you expect them to help you by giving you a referral.
  3. Training…. You must own your approach to educating and training your strategic alliance contacts to look for and share the right type of referrals for your business. Take this step as seriously as you would in training any new sales person joining your company.
  4. Get personal….Get to know your contacts really well. Know their birthday, their anniversary. Know if they like football or Nascar or white wine or Vodka, etc.
  5. Delete….You must be willing to remove names from this list below over time. Most people will jump at the chance to become a strategic alliance partner. However, upon measuring the effort your contacts really put forth to refer business referrals to you, you may discover nine out 10 fail to produce quality referrals. After time and significant effort on your part, if they simply do not come through, delete them from your SA tracking system (discussed below). They can still be friends, but they will no longer be in your strategic alliance circle.
  6. Be accountable…. Most people join a fitness club in January and by the end of February have already lost their focus and are not attending regularly. Likewise, most sales associates or business owners would read this article and quickly launch their game plan to build more SAs into their marketing plan. Positive intentions notwithstanding, within 30-60 days they will have stopped their efforts to strategically and systematically build these powerful relationships because they lack the discipline to stay the course. The select individuals who reach out to a business advisor to help them build and execute their plan, however, will realize lasting success.
  7. Track…. Test and measure your relationships and action items. Below is a sample table that can allow you to track your activities easily. Organize your current or possible SAs, the actions you have already completed, future actions and scheduled appointments.




Recent Past Actions Specific Next Steps Next Appointment
Bob Smith 248- 722-1944 Lunch on Aug. 7 Email him an article the week of Sept 7 ??
Liz Jones 734 995-1678 Phone discussion July 9 Invite to Chamber event Oct 4 Coffee meeting on Sept 9 at AB Coffee Shop

Let’s do a little math. In terms of revenues and profits, how much is the average new client worth? Include the length of time that customer stays with you. For example, if your average client is worth $1,000 a year in revenue and they usually stay approximately 4 years, that makes your average client worth $4,000. If you get 10 quality SA referrals per quarter, and you close six out of every ten, that’s 24 new clients per year at a worth of $24,000 a year. That becomes $96,000 over four years.

A business owner who recently followed my blueprint assembled six strategic partners. Over two months the group was organized, team members were trained, and the tracking and measuring system was built. The launch of the SAS garnered 46 new quality leads in month one.

In its 13th annual Trust Barometer, Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm, recently surveyed about 5,000 people in 26 countries regarding how much they trust business, media, government and non-governmental organizations. Fewer than 20 percent of respondents indicated they trust business leaders to tell the truth. If you are a leader who sees the opportunity to differentiate your business by embodying trust as a guiding principle, it’s an easy leap to acknowledge trust as a powerful means to also building your business. Your SAS is a master marketing blueprint for generating new quality leads and revenue. Take the next step, and talk with a professional coach to help you develop, track and be accountable to your strategic alliance system. It’s a matter of trust, after all.

John Lankford

John Lankford was recognized as the 2007-2010 Associate Business Advisor of the Year in North America and brings proven executive experience and best practices to select companies every year. He served 18 years at the Executive Education Center at Ford Motor Company and is former Senior Director of Ascension Health Learning Institute. John has developed top leaders around the world in partnership with the University of Michigan Business School, the Center for Creative Leadership, Comcast University and GE University, to name a few. His business expertise has been tapped by prominent business media such as the New York Times, CBS and Dbusiness magazine and has been a syndicated business columnist. He is the author of The Answer is Leadership and Superstar for life…Career Transitions. John’s keynote speaking has landed him on the elite team that trains and certifies the new Executive Coaches joining the worldwide coaching community. John is also former Chief Executive Officer of the Innisbrook Leadership Institute. Lankford can be reached at [email protected] or call (888) 730-1950

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