Insightly Insider presents: How to Grow Your Most Strategic Customer Relationships in 2017
How to Grow Your Most Strategic Customer Relationships in 2017
By Steve Andersen
President and Founder | Performance Methods, Inc.
Planning to grow your most strategic customer relationships is a game changer for many salespeople and account managers, but if you haven’t added this best practice to your arsenal of success tools, you may be wondering how to get started. Also, some of you may have tried this in the past when the emphasis was more about lengthy, complex forms, and less about results and execution. But it’s 2017, and things have changed!
Hi everyone! I’m Steve Andersen, President and Founder of Performance Methods, Inc., a leading sales and account management performance firm that specializes in growing relationships with strategic customers. It will be my pleasure to spend the next hour with you and explain how things have changed, and how planning to grow with your key and strategic customers has evolved to a level where just about anyone who has a significant customer can benefit. So let’s get started!
Part 1: Why Does "Planning to Grow" Matter in the New Year?
Happy New Year! Know what this means? If you’re in a sales or account management position, it means that it’s time to think about your 2017 business plan and your portfolio of customers. Consider the following question:
Does a relatively small percentage of your customers represent a disproportionately large percentage of your revenues (and success) in 2017?
Maybe you’ve thought about this before now, but even if you have…are you actually doing anything as a result of these statistics? Top performing salespeople and account managers that we work with daily are convinced that their success this year begins with adopting a planning mindset. Why? Because if we “plan to grow” our relationships with our most strategic customers in 2017, it’s much more likely that we actually will.
If planning to grow is what we need to do, our experience is that the missing link for many salespeople and account managers is how to actually do this, and do so without becoming encumbered with complex, inflexible processes that are unwieldy or too time-consuming. We’ve worked with many of the world’s largest companies over the past two decades, providing them with proven best practices, skills and tools to build, execute and realize growth plans for their most important customers. And as we’ve done this, we’ve heard our clients say that what they really need is a simple process for planning, coupled with a framework for building and implementing these growth plans.
Part 2: How Do Top Sales and Account Managers "Plan to Grow" with Their Customers?
Most plans to grow strategic customer relationships flow this way:
Plan ➔ Execute ➔ Review ➔ Adapt,
and then they repeat, with the customer designated as the central focal point of this process.
I would suggest that if your plan to grow isn’t focused on driving success for your customer, then you’re inadvertently “planning to fail,” it’s just a matter of time. But let’s suppose that you’re beyond this point and that your plan to grow is properly centered on your mutual success with your customer. Now the question becomes “How we get there?” which is typically a function of exploring four key areas of planning:
- Value (creation and co-creation with your customer)
- Alignment (internally, within your own organization and externally, with your customer’s team)
- Relationships (with customer sponsors and supporters that are trust-based)
- Growth (that is mutually profitable for both parties).
We think of these as the impact zones of planning. Further, if you interconnect these, then what you have is an integrated framework to support your growth plans, and you can make the case that most of the goodness that comes from planning to grow strategic customer relationships occurs between the “four walls” of this model.
Part 3: What Will Value and Alignment Add to My Plans?
Value refers to the positive business outcomes that we will create and co-create with the customer, and it begins with an understanding of what matters most to them. Think of where you’ve had prior success with your customer and consider these questions:
- What was putting pressure on your customer’s business?
- What were their objectives for addressing these pressures?
- What types of challenges had to be overcome in order to meet and exceed these objectives?
Your ability to assist with 1-3 above will go a long way towards helping them be successful, and you can leverage momentum from your past success with your customer to launch your value creation efforts in 2017. After all, isn’t being successful what customers care about most?
Alignment is all about balance and harmony – both inside your own organization with your colleagues and team members, as well as with your customer. This two-dimensional view of alignment is observed by many industry-leading companies across the globe, because unless you have some level of internal alignment, it is virtually impossible to align externally with the customer. We’ve heard many salespeople and account managers say that one of the largest obstacles to their success was misalignment within their own company as they tried to “deliver their organization” to the customer. If internal alignment was easy, all companies would have accomplished it. But it’s not and they haven’t. Practically speaking, if you and your organization are even 33% more aligned than others in your markets, your customers will notice.
Part 4: Where Do Customer Relationships and a Strategy for Growth Fit into My Plans?
Relationships are a core component of planning to grow with customers, so let’s begin by debunking a myth that appears from time-to-time in business and social media: relationships in B2B commerce don’t matter much today. During a period when business is moving more rapidly and customers are under more stress to deliver results than ever before, there is no substitute for a trust-based relationship with your customer. We’ve interviewed hundreds of our clients’ customers and we’ve never heard even one infer that their relationships with key suppliers didn’t matter (and this includes interviews with sourcing and procurement professionals). Sure, if your customer relationship is at “vendor” or even “preferred supplier” level, there’s less trust in the room than if you’ve developed a partner-type relationship – and this will impact your ability to engage your customer in your plans to grow with them. Plans to grow strategic customer relationships should always include a component focused on leveraging and expanding the individual relationships you’ve developed within your customer’s organization. If you’re entering 2017 with a lack of sponsorship and support within your most important customers, you might want to ask yourself if your organization is as critical to your customer’s success as they are to yours.
Growth is the final impact zone of your plan to grow. It’s certainly a function of value, alignment and relationships, but account growth doesn’t just mean growth in revenues. The most effective plans to grow with customers include a specific strategy for growth between both parties, and this component requires customer input. You can’t plan to grow with your customer if they aren’t interested in growing with you, and while this isn’t the forum to go deeper into this topic, suffice it to say that when the customer is willing to “meet you at the planning table” to discuss mutually profitable growth, you’re in a very advantageous position.
In Conclusion: What Should I Do Next?
Wrap all of this together with a proactive action plan and you’re ready to drive growth with your most strategic customers in 2017. Oh, and one more thing: if you haven’t asked your customer what’s most important to them this year, and what a successful 2017 looks like for them, then it’s time to do so. After all, planning to grow with your customers begins with understanding how they will define success in the New Year, and this can be as easy as simply raising the question.
Want to know more? Please visit our website, drop me a mail and check out our new book, Beyond the Sales Process: 12 Proven Strategies for a Customer-Driven World, available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and in bulk from 800-CEO-READ (www.800CEOREAD.com).