Oct 15, 2013

Quartet Service: Relationship Innovation – Making Ideas Happen

Rob Bracey, CEO of Quartet Service, has a sign over his desk that reads,

It’s not how many ideas you have
It’s how many you make happen

It may come off as motivational rhetoric, but if you ask Rob about the sign you’ll hear an interesting spin on the quote.

Rob argues the secret ingredient for making ideas happen is committed, accountable relationships. It’s the work that people do together that delivers astonishing results.

Quartet Service is a mid-market IT services company. They invest in and manage IT infrastructure on behalf of their clients—such as servers and storage, private cloud computing and phone services.

But what really sets Quartet apart in a crowded and competitive market is their approach to client relationships. Rob explains, “I’m not looking for one-night stands. Relationships are where real value lies, and it’s worth the time to build them with the right people.”

Deep client relationships enable Quartet to innovate and execute beyond their competitors. For example, they offer their clients results-based contracts where the fees are tied to growth or cost reductions. And they even go so far as providing guaranteed cost reduction contracts.

Quartet could not offer contracts with guaranteed annual fee reductions without committed, transparent client relationships.

Reduced fees may appear to be the compelling offer, but that’s a result of a group of smart people from both companies working together to solve problems, innovate and implement new ideas. The partnerships not only save money, they help Quartet’s clients improve their overall business performance.

And the philosophy is working. Quartet’s revenues have more than doubled over the past five years from $5.7 million in 2007 to over $12 million. And large companies like the GTAA and Thales are seeking them out for their innovative approach to IT services.

‘Relationships’ is a loaded word

Relationship management is often confused with socializing. But coffee meetings, golf games and personal connections are not enough to make ideas happen.

In 2010, Professor Lynette Ryals of the Cranfield School of Management published a study on sales performance in the Harvard Business Review. She remarked, “Socializers may initially impress customers with their friendly chat about such things as children and cars. But they usually don’t get past this, and close deals.”

Customers want and expect more from their suppliers than friendly staff and complimentary baseball tickets. They expect results.

Ryals study found ‘Experts’ are the best sales people. She writes, “Experts make selling seem effortless, keep customers happy, and consistently outperform their peers.” And expertise and execution are at the heart of strong client relationships too.

Quartet doesn’t view relationship management as socializing. They treat it as a critical component of their business model and how they deliver results.

A structured approach to relationship management

Quartet’s approach to client relationship management has three key components.

1. Clear Expectations. The first step is open communications to form clarity on the nature of the relationship. Both parties talk it through, and really work to understand what each organization wants to achieve. This step is critical, because relationships can get off on the wrong foot when expectations are misaligned.

2. Contract Flexibility. Good fences make for good neighbours. Contracts bring accountability and structure to the clarity established in the first step. It’s a give-and-take process, and puts into writing what both parties are committing to. There’s a discipline to creating good contracts, but it also takes a willingness to evolve contracts over time. Expectations shift, and contracts have to keep pace with them.

3. Statistics. The heart of a good contract is metrics. You need empirical data to demonstrate you are doing what you said you would do, and view performance from both the positive and the negative.

Each step in Quartet’s approach to relationship management has a great deal of process and structure. They have invested deeply into growing relationships into a competitive asset.

Anyone can socialize, but true relationship management is a commitment.

Select the right customers

Not all relationships are equal. Business relationships are similar to personal relationships, because we’re not compatible with everyone.

A good client is like you.

Relationship Innovation starts with an understanding of the types of companies that fit, and being able to walk away from the ones that don’t. This requires deep self-awareness and expertise.

Quartet is growing a sticky brand and a profitable business by committing to the right relationships—the kind that make ideas happen.

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