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
  • Thanks, Brenda - I hope that our audience will take note of the planning impact zones. Effective customer growth planning begins with these!

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  • Sure, Bengt, "Invest they will"

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  • Steve, would it be more effective to get my strategic customers on the phone to have these conversations rather than via email?

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  • Hi Steve,

     

    Your 3 Value questions are crucial to 'selling' though sometimes forgotten... It is all about solving the customers pressures.

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  • Hi Miles, yes...but it would be even more effective to have these discussions live in front of them...at least for those that are most critical to your 2017 success! After all, what customer would not want to spend a bit of time with you if the purpose of the dialogue is to discuss what success looks like for them in the New Year?

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  • Agree, Melissa. It's a "total picture" and if we don't understand the external pressures and drivers well enough, our experience is that it becomes even more difficult to align with their objectives and engage to effectively resolve their resulting challenges or problems.

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  • Hi Steve. Can you tell us how companies can unintentionally go out of alignment with their customers?

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  • Hi Jacob - yes I can...and it happens all the time. It is usually driven by an evolving set of business objectives on the side of the customer, and by an increasing focus on short-term revenues and costs on the side of the seller/supplier, and this is exactly what we are talking about in Chapter 11 of our book. Hence, the parties "grow apart" over time, and unfortunately...the wake-up call to the supplier is usually in the form of a crisis or burning platform.

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  • Part 4 has been posted. Steve's final tips will be posted at 9:50 AM PT with the last 10 minutes reserved for Q&A. Thanks!

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  • Thanks, Brenda - looking forward a question about the importance of trust-based customer relationships in the frantic selling world we are living in today!

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  • Hi Steve,

    One more question? Can you offer some effective things I can do to built further trust in my relationship with my customers?

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  • Sure, Jamie. First, make it your business to understand what matters most to them, both from a business and personal perspective. Next, never look at them through the "lens of your product," but rather in terms of how they see your world. And finally, always do what you say you are going to do - relentless follow-up is a characteristic of some of the most successful salespeople and account managers in the world.

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  • Good advice. Thanks!

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  • What surprised you the most when you started interviewing companies and deep diving with them?

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  • Jamie - one more thing. Try to make time to ask your customers what "success looks like" for them this year, and be prepared to listen and make notes. We find that this is a very under-utilized question, and the upside in information flow and goodwill between you and your customer can be remarkable.

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  • Steve's parting thoughts are posted. :-) Please get your final questions in to Steve before we close at 10:00 AM PT/12:00 PM Noon ET. Thanks!

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  • Hi Thomas, there were several things. First, how much they truly value relationships with their most important suppliers. Second, how rarely they mentioned pricing when asked about how they made decisions between suppliers. Finally, how surprised they seemed to be when salespeople approached them over what was of value to them, as opposed to how great the salesperson's company and products are! And we hear this again, and again, and again...

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  • Thanks again for sharing with us today, Steve. Do you have any other books you're working on or do you have articles you can recommend on this subject?

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  • Sure Wendy. Please check out our website at www.performancemethods.com. You can download our ebook about strategic account planning, and there are numerous articles and publications available for download, as well. Thanks for joining us today!

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  • Unfortunately travel is not in my budget, but maybe Skype?

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  • Sure, Miles - Skype or other online tools can work, as well...and are overwhelmingly more effective than email!

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  • Brenda - thanks for having me as today's Insightly Insider guest. I enjoyed the questions from your audience and hope that they will "plan to grow" with their most important customers in 2017!

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  • Hi everyone! I'm afraid our time is up. A huge thanks to Steve Andersen for being us guest host and sharing his best practices on How to Grow Your Most Strategic Customer Relationships in 2017. If you haven't already, check out Steve's book, Beyond the Sales Process: 12 Proven Strategies for a Customer-Driven World and his website www.performancemethods.com.

    Thank you all for attending this Insightly Insider! We'll see you next month!

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  • This was great, thanks Steve.

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  • My pleasure, Thomas!

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