I thoroughly enjoy working with startups and SME founders and business owners helping them to identify and maximise the opportunities that selling to business customers (ie operating in the world of B2B) can provide to them.
However, I am still somewhat amazed at the number of times I have heard a business owner or start-up founder say, ”If I could only be introduced to a decision maker directly we could have a really good chance at getting into Company X.” Seriously??
There is no doubt that gaining access to decision makers is critical to driving sales. However, getting business customers to purchase your product or service offering requires much more than an introduction. Even if you manage to get an initial coffee meeting with a decision maker, you will need to immediately establish relevancy and the ability to deliver value in terms of what’s important to them. Hence you will need to have a strong understanding of that prospect’s industry and company from the outset.
The true key to success is to create strong relationships with the relevant decision makers and influencers within these companies. The more they:
- Want what your start-up or SME provides
- Believes you can produce and deliver
- Sees your company as the best option
The stronger the relationship will be.
You can create strong relationships with the decision makers within your business customers and prospects by delivering value to the customer in 2 ways.
- Value Connections: Explore how you can provide more value through your current offerings
- Value Co-creation: Create new opportunities to deliver value through business innovation by collaboratively working with them.
(Source: 5 Keys to Maximizing Sales by Mike Schultz and John Doerr)
To determine how to deliver value to your customers and prospects, ‘listen’ to them using approaches such as strategic customer workshops, in-depth interviews and customer forums. For further details, please refer to our previous blog post, “Listening to Customers: The Foundation for Start-Up and SME Innovation and Business Growth”
Once you have ‘listened’ to (ie gained an in-depth understanding of) these customers and prospects, you can then begin to plan both how you will manage your relationship with them and deliver the value they require through the products, services and support your start-up or SME will provide.
The 3 Customer Management Roles Needed to Manage and Grow Your Business Customers
You must proactively manage your business customers to ensure that your company is continually delivering the value that they seek. Doing so will ensure that these business customers:
- Stay with you
- Buy more from you
- Also, serve as your referrals and references to help you acquire other business customers you seek
One approach is to ensure that 3 key roles are fulfilled for each of your strategic business customers and prospects
- The relationship lead: This person (often an account manager or business development manager) creates and strengthens the relationship and protects your company from competitors trying to win over your customers. This person will play an integral role in helping to understand the priorities and requirements of decision makers and influencers and the value they are seeking.
- The entrepreneur (aka ‘the driver’): This person leads the charge for maximizing business within a customer account. This is a critical role as without it there’s no one to drive growth and opportunities to obtain further business from that customer are not pursued.
- The technical expert: This person will have the relevant depth of knowledge and expertise in specific areas and an ability to solve problems and facilitate discussions. If you don’t have someone in your team with these skill sets, your company’s chances to create growth and value will be limited.
You don’t need a person for each role-they can be all filled by one or more people. What is important is that you have these roles fulfilled for each key business customer or prospect.
TAKE ACTION NOW
As you begin planning for 2019, meet with your team and consider the following:
- Target key customers
- What do you know about their goals, priorities, objectives and value drivers?
- What are the gaps understanding these customers? How will they be filled?
- The 3 key customer management roles
- Do you have the skill set for each of the 3 roles?
- How will these roles be allocated to your most important customers and prospects?
Position your start-up or SME for growth in 2019.
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