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

Author of Beyond the Sales Process: 12 Proven Strategies for a Customer-Driven World

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:

  1. What was putting pressure on your customer’s business?
  2. What were their objectives for addressing these pressures?
  3. 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).

 

www.performancemethods.com

sandersen@performancemethods.com

www.Beyondthesalesprocess.com


 

 

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Comments

55 comments
  • i can't wait. In the meantime what can I study to help me get going?

     

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  • Hi Mark! Love your question. If you can get your hands on a copy of Steve's book, I would definitely take a look through that. I'd also browse through the articles on their Beyond the Sales Process blog. Their most recent blog article titled Tis the (Planning) Season contains some great tips. Let me ask Steve if there's anything else he recommends.

    Looking forward to seeing you back here next Monday!

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  • So, its a live event, but taking place on the forums?  It's not a webinar?

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  • Hi Sarah, that's correct. Steve will be answering questions here in the comments area in real-time, but there will not be a webinar component. Because we have customers all over the world, hosting this online discussion in our Community forums allows everyone to still leave questions and return later to read them, even if they aren't able to make it during designated hour.

    Hope you can still join us! 

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  • Recently begun a new sales process. Very effective and similar to Steve's "Give before you get". Interested to hear him 'speak'

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  • That's fantastic, Melissa. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and experience with your new sales process too!

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  • Everyone,

    Our apologies. We have changed the date of Steve's Insightly Insider as Monday, January 16th is Martin Luther King Jr. Day - a holiday here in the United States. Steve's discussion will now happen on Monday January 23rd. The start time will still be 9:00 am PT/12:00 pm, Noon ET. Please note this date change in your calendars.

    Thank you! 

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  • Hi everyone!
     
    Today's Insightly Insider on "How to Grow Your Most Strategic Customer Relationships to Drive Mutual Success in 2017" will be starting in just a few minutes. Our guest host Steve Anderson, author of Beyond the Sales Process: 12 Proven Strategies for a Customer Driven World will be joining us live momentarily. Please sign in to our Help Center to ask Steve a question or share your thoughts. Thanks!
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  • Hi Everyone - welcome to today's session. For the next hour, we're going to be discussing the two most important people in the world: you and your customer!

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  • Please refresh your screens. Part 1 of Steve's discussion article has been posted. Thanks!

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  • Hi Steve. Welcome! I'm interested in learning more about your background. How did you get into this business and how did writing your book come about?

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  • Hi Brenda,

    Refreshing screen, though no articles are posted.

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  • Oh no, Melissa. Let me see what may be happening...

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  • Hi Wendy, I had a 20+ year career in the enterprise software industry, during which I observed that more companies were only focused on the time that the customer was actually buying something, rather than the entire customer experience. This led me to form Performance Methods, Inc. and to write the book: Beyond the Sales Process: 12 Proven Strategies for a Customer-Driven World.

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  • Interesting! How long did the book proceess take you?

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  • I see it. Thank you!

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  • Hi Steve,

    Of the many large companies you've worked with, what would you say is the biggest common mistake made in handling the relationship with strategic customers?

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  • It took about 2 years to write and publish the book, in part because of the time involved in the 9 in-depth case studies that are included. These case studies are about real companies, people and customers, and average about 5 pages in length. As you might imagine, the approval process for each of these was very thorough!

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  • Hi Jamie - great question! While there are many, perhaps the most common (and perhaps most dangerous) is assuming that your customer sees their relationship with the seller at a lower level than the seller sees it. We cover this in the book, and it's abll about assessing your relationship with your customer accurately, and based on their perspective, as well.

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  • Part 2 has been posted! We'll be posting Part 3 at 9:25 AM PT. Stay tuned!

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  • Hi Folks - as you think about Part 2, you might want to ask yourselves this question: Are you more likely to be successful with your most important customer in 2017 if you "Plan to Grow" with them, than if you don't!

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  • Hey Steve - Would love your advice on the best way to handle the discussion if I'm not 100% sure my company is mutually invested in growing with our customers?

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  • Hi Bengt, This is a very important question, as we have seen situations in which the salesperson or account manager wanted to invest in proactively growing customer relationships, the customer was also interested, but their own organization (the seller's) was not. This calls for an understanding at the senior management levels on why "Planning to Grow" will fuel overall company growth with the next wave of sales opportunities - which it will!

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  • And Bengt, by the way...as your caricature is so fond of saying..."They will be!"

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  • Hi Steve,

    I am not clear on what Alignment looks like. Could you provide an example?

     

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  • Hi Steve, what should I do if I feel a strategic customer is slipping away?

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  • Hi Erin - sure...think of it this way. Alignment is what happens when there are connections between people and organizations that better them to work effectively together. If it were easy, all would achieve it...and most don't. But what we know for certain is the most aligned supplier organizations (and their salespeople and account managers) tend to be in the strongest, most trust-based relationships with their customers.

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  • Hi Thomas, this is a deep and important question, and one that deserves a longer response than I can provide here. But your response should begin with understanding the pressures that are being placed on their business, the objectives they are putting in place to address these pressures (or drivers) and the challenges or obstacles that they are encountering as they attempt to meet and exceed objectives. At the end of this sequence is customer success, and many times when they are on the verge of "slipping away" it is because our objectives from the sales side are not aligned with the customer's objectives from the buying side.

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  • Good to see you, Erin! Melissa - so glad you can see Steve's article. Part 3: What Will Value and Alignment Add to My Plans? has just been posted! 

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  • Ha. You're right about that. Thanks, Steve.

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