What I Learned From Baked Beans

Many years ago, the agency I was working for at the time got invited to a new business pitch from Bush’s Baked Beans (of Duke the dog fame). It was a great opportunity for us, but it was highly competitive. My team and I had been through this drill many times before, so we girded ourselves for the typical pitch process, but to my surprise (and, eventual delight), the Bush’s team had their own unique spin on how they wanted things to go.

The team invited us to their corporate headquarters in Knoxville, Tennessee where we would do an introductory presentation on our agency, which was fairly standard. After that, however, they invited our entire team to a dinner at a favorite restaurant of theirs, to share a meal together and NOT talk about work or the pitch. They were more interested in getting to know us as people and to share their community and culture with us.

As a follow up, they came to our town for a second stage presentation and asked us to take them to dinner at a restaurant of our choice to return the favor from our time in Knoxville and to continue getting to know each other outside of our work lives.

Why were they so insistent on this atypical courtship? Their premise was simple, yet profound. After assessing whether or not we had the right capabilities and experience to get the job done, it was more important to them to know that we could get through tough times together.  Because, inevitably, tough times happen. Getting through good times is the easy part. Getting through challenging ones doesn’t always happen unless there is a deep, more committed relationship that goes beyond just the task at hand.

Bush’s Baked Beans is the only company I’ve encountered that had a process like that (perhaps it’s all part of the secret family recipe). Fortunately for us, we were chosen as their partner and enjoyed a long-standing relationship that withstood the occasional tough time.

Their approach has inspired me to follow a similar spirit of partnership at Parallel Path. We spend a ton of time assessing “fit” in the courtship process, including lots of time outside of traditional presentations. We’ve also taken it a step further. When we consummate a new client relationship, we don’t settle for a two hour onboarding meeting in a conference room.  We spend two full days getting to know each other in our hometown of Boulder, Colorado. Yes, we cover some basics of business, but we also get outside and do hike and strategy sessions together. We share meals together. We open up about our personal ambitions. We create a deeper bond on day one than most people would ever consider.

And that’s how we know we can make it through most anything as partners.

  • What are you doing to break away from the typical evaluation process to go deeper with a potential client partner?
  • Have you analyzed what makes your best client relationships so good and how that can impact your new client criteria?
  • What is your most memorable new business story?


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