3 Secrets of Visionary Leaders: Developing Key Supplier Relationships

Operations & Training

How having a “vision setter,” a closer of big deals and an active engager of supplier relationships, can lead to higher returns and a more focused organization.

By Gary Goerke, CFE

Three secrets — you might be thinking to yourself, “How can anyone claim that business leadership has only three secrets?” Well, you’re right. They’re not secrets because as a business leader you most likely already know them and may not even realize it.

These three secrets, however, are the top three priorities leaders must clearly focus on to accelerate their company’s growth. 

Before we dive into each, let’s define the responsibility of a visionary leader in an organization. In short, the visionary leader differs from all other leaders in an organization because it is the visionary who is responsible for seeing the “big picture” and setting the direction of the organization.  The visionary is the entrepreneurial “inspirer” and the “passion provider” to the business.

This concept of the visionary as a specified role in leadership comes from Gino Wickman, the founder of the Entrepreneurs Operating System. In Wickman’s book, “Rocket Fuel,” he illustrates how two roles within an organization must be clearly differentiated in order to maximize the potential of any business. The visionary role often holds the title of Owner, Founder, CEO, or Chairman.

The second role of integrator is commonly referred to as COO, General Manager, Co-Founder or President. Of course, in many businesses, especially those involved in franchising, the roles are initially combined into the single position of President and CEO.

Secret 1: Vision Setter

Each one of your franchisees and company team members is walking in a direction. Of course, they’re not literally walking, but each day those who look to you for leadership are continually moving to accomplish something. It may be to accomplish the daily activities required in their position or it could be a project to accelerate growth, improve efficiency or any number of initiatives within the organization.

Every current and future stakeholder in an organization — the franchisee, investor, board member, manager, employee and executive — is looking for the visionary leader to provide the crystal-clear vision for what should happen or be done in the future.

This visioning or future-focused direction setting for the organization is not revolutionary, and calling it a secret of leadership is like calling a healthy diet and exercise the secret to physical fitness. However, the secret of successful visionary leaders is that they repeatedly communicate their vision of the future using as many mediums as possible.

Visionary leaders know that repetition is a key to understanding. They know that a person needs to listen to an idea seven times before they actually “hear it” for the first time. They leverage activities like luncheons, webinars, FAC meetings, employee orientations and franchisee training as opportunities to continually communicate their vision.

The visionary leader is like a “broken record,” repeating the same message over and over until it permeates every stakeholder to become part of the DNA of their organization.

Secret 2: Closer of Big Deals and Keeper of Key Accounts

It is common for businesses to have “special” accounts that contribute an above-average proportion of revenue, hold high promise for the future growth or have disproportionate influence in a franchise system. Franchisors especially experience this with long-established or multi-unit franchisees in their systems.

For the visionary leaders of young franchise organizations, prioritizing their personal to-do items related to growing, retaining revenue and the activities of staying connected to current and prospective customers, is part of their daily activities. However, this “secret” is often delegated in more mature systems to business development and operational support teams.

At Clarity, I learned a lesson about violating this “secret” when I discovered a long-time customer intended to leave our service. It was too late by the time I became aware of the issue and met with the customer, because they had already committed to another provider. It was a hard lesson to learn when I was told by the company executive that the customer left simply because he didn’t realize we could accommodate their new operational challenges. In this experience, I was reminded of the truism, “People don’t care what you know until they know how much you care.” Had I followed this second “secret” of being the “Keeper of Key Accounts” and proactively stayed in contact, we probably would still be servicing him today. Luckily, in a business like Clarity, the loss of revenue can be replaced.  For a franchisor, however, violating this secret could be far more costly if influential franchisee relations turn cold and it leads to negativity or mistrust in the system.

The Third Secret … Engager of Vendor Relationships

The third secret of visionary leadership is the best kept secret of the three. Often overlooked and relegated to day-to-day operations, visionary leaders understand that as the engager of vendor relationships they can learn of innovations outside their core business capabilities which, when implemented, give the organization an “inside track” competitive advantage to outperform its peers and competitors. As Charlie Chase, Founder of CertaPro painters and CEO of First Service Brands shares: “We choose our suppliers as rigorously as we choose our franchisees.”

Of course the secret for visionary leaders is not to take over vendor relations or be involved in the day-to-day operations, as it would be too taxing and an imprudent time investment. What visionary leaders do is stay aware of opportunities with suppliers, much like they would with large customer opportunities and then support the adoption of a vendor’s product or service into their company or franchise system operations. In other words, visionary leaders learn of products and services that would benefit their organization and use their influential leadership position as the executive sponsor of the
vendor’s offerings. 

Oftentimes, the strategic advantages a vendor would bring to an organization are diminished or lost completely when visionary leaders fail to convey the strategic advantages they believe the vendor offers to their team.

Visionaries of leading franchise systems, large and small, understand this and champion suppliers that will deliver maximum business value. Delegating strategic vendor relationships to purchasing agents often strip away business value as they focus on cost only benefits from suppliers. 

“I could foresee a surge in prospective franchisee interest when we won the IFA NextGen award,” says Jennifer Saxton, CEO of The Tot Squad. She adds: “I personally stressed to our team the importance of implementing a franchise-specific CRM to handle inquiries.” It was a timely decision for Saxton. When the announcement hit the press, The Tot Squad was inundated with hundreds of franchisee inquiries that were efficiently followed up and managed.

Large franchisors also understand the value of this secret.  The Dwyer Group, the holding company of 11 franchise brands representing 2,500 franchisees operating in 11 countries, created ProTradeNet as a subsidiary dedicated to researching and vetting potential suppliers for their brands. ProTradeNet discusses potential new suppliers directly with each brand President and is accountable directly to the CEO of The Dwyer Group,
Mike Bidwell.

Regardless of whether you’re a leader of a mature franchise system or the owner of your own franchise, keeping your focus on the things that matter most to accelerate the growth of your business is always a balancing act. By continually communicating your vision, maintaining high-quality relationships with key accounts and leveraging the business value of strategic vendor relationships, you’ll help your business in more ways than you could have imagined.  

Gary Goerke, CFE, is the Founder and CEO of Clarity Voice. As sitting member on the IFA Supplier Forum Advisory Board, Gary evangelizes that success-minded businesses use IFA Supplier Forum members as both suppliers and for business counsel.