Tag Archives: customer

7 Steps to SMARTEN UP about Your Biggest Accounts

raising_handPlease raise your hand if you are a sales leader that has ever been blindsided by one of your biggest customers buying something from a competitor that your company offers, and you and your team had no idea they were even in the market for it.

You’re doing a good amount of business with this customer. So how come the account executive wasn’t on top of this?  Why didn’t we know? Why weren’t we considered or asked about it?  It’s one of our best accounts and we missed a great opportunity to open a new line of business with them.  Now the rest of the account may be in jeopardy!

If you’ve been there, let’s talk about how to keep it from happening again.  If it hasn’t happened yet – well, listen up because it’s highly likely you’ll find yourself there when you least expect it!

Being consultative, at its core, is about two things.  The first is about conducting “discovery” on the account on a regular basis.  The second is about developing a living account plan that includes a solid strategy, and not just random tactics.

Is this rocket science?  No.  Then why do we still have these challenges?  Because it takes a lot of both work and patience – and with our quarter by quarter mentality, we just keep executing tactics to drive short-term revenue. We’re insanely busy and we just don’t have time to be “strategic.”  Plus, we already did a pretty thorough discovery exercise on this account.

As we move into the second quarter of 2014 sales leaders are grappling with two challenges

  1. Our prospects and customers are asking us to be more “consultative.”
  2. Many of our sales people are transactional sellers and are leaving money on the table at our most important accounts.

Group of unidentifiable business peopleBoth of these needs boil down to a hard truth:  we simply don’t know enough about the accounts we are already engaged with, and our accounts know it.

Wait a minute – accounts that we already have?!  

Right – I’m talking about accounts that we already have sold to, and maybe have even done quite a bit of business with.  The good news is that we have them. The bad news is that we may either be assuming we know more than we do, OR the sales executive is comfortable with what he/she is generating, and doesn’t want to risk rocking the boat on that account by pushing for more.  But the reality is that you don’t have time NOT to be strategic; limiting yourself to one round of discovery is the reason you had no clue that other things were happening in that account.

 

So here are 7 Ways to SMARTEN UP about Your Largest Accounts

  1. Define The Buyer’s Journey
    To get from point A to point B, you can wing it, or you can get your hands on a map.  The landscape inside of big accounts is not simple, and it gets more complex every day.  Consider developing a Discovery Matrix that outlines the stages of how your account’s customers typically buy from them.  This is the horizontal access on your map. Then list all the business needs that their customers might have that your offerings could help the account deliver on. This is your vertical axis.  Have you noticed yet that this buyer’s journey is more account focused than “sales” focused?  Unless you are helping them through their own buyer’s journey, then you aren’t consulting to help their business grow – you’re just selling, like everyone else.
  2. Map What You Already Know
    Now do a brain dump on this map about everything you know for sure about this account.  In what areas of the buyers’ journey are you already contributing?  What do you know about other any other areas, which you haven’t broken into yet?  Is someone else in there? If so, what are they doing?  What business needs have you already addressed or are currently working on?  What new opportunities, challenges or goals do they have that you are aware of? Populate this matrix with everything you know or are aware of.
  3. Identify and Analyze the “White Space”            
    In the white space, the areas in the account for which you have no information, lives potential opportunity.  There may be entire areas where you could be creative with how your offerings can help.  There may be extensions from where you are now that link to new ways to help in other divisions or solutions or offerings.  Are there any patterns in your map that might help define a path for account growth?  Most importantly, this mapping of the account shows you clearly and visually the areas where you don’t know enough to really grow the account.
  4. Do Your Research – Even if You’ve Done It Already
    So it’s back to doing some more homework.  Discovery is never done.  Why?  Because your account is never at rest.  They are trying to grow and expand themselves, which means they are constantly changing.  And their customers are changing, as well.  So what you knew last year, or even last quarter, doesn’t mean you’re on top of things today.  AND if there are areas in the account that are untouched by your company, then I KNOW you need to do more research to learn what’s going on in there. Does it take time to do this?  Yes. Stop complaining and get on with it!  What you don’t know is keeping you from penetrating and expanding the account.
  5. Develop Your Discovery Questions
    Mapping? Check.  Research? Check.  Now you can start to make some strategic decisions on where you want to begin to move further in the account.  You need to prepare strong discovery questions around the “white spaces” to continue to learn, and to demonstrate you’ve done some homework.  This moves you to starting a much more consultative conversation than you may have had with them in the past.  But good questions aren’t random.  Give some thought to what you want to ask and why.  Be sure it’s about true discovery, and not rhetorical questions that can only be answered by your products or services.  You are not going to pitch in this conversation – you are going to learn.   (Repeat that sentence twice!)
  6. Conduct Discovery Conversation (and Shut Up!)
    A good discovery conversation happens when you sit down with a person high enough in the organization to have an idea of the bigger picture of the company’s goals and objectives.  Be sure you are not with someone who doesn’t have insight into that view.  Share that your organization has been able to deliver more value in several key areas with other customers, and you have some specific questions you’d like to ask to determine where that additional value might be gained.  At that meeting, ask the questions, and SHUT UP AND LISTEN!  You don’t need to respond to every point.  Just take it in, write it down, and plan on going back to the office to think about it, talk with others, and come up with some ideas that you will come back and discuss. This sets the stage for the second consultative conversation.
  7. Define Strategic Account Goal, Top 5 Objectives and Action Plans
    At this point, you should have a good handle on what the account is trying to achieve, and you will have discussed some ways to help them deliver.  Now you’re ready to define a meaningful account strategy, set an aggressive goal, and define the top 5 objectives to get you there.  This forms the account plan that will focus your tactical action plans in a clear and well defined direction.  Strategy first, then tactics.  Account expansion relies on this.  The obvious sales opportunities are never enough to really go deep and wide in an account, and build a solid partnership.

Being consultative with your best accounts means “being in the know.”  It’s up to your account team to stay on top of what’s happening and to ask smart questions that will inform as well as bolster the importance of this strategic account, and show how committed you are to helping them achieve their goals.

—  Lisa Dennis

Developing Buyer Personae

An important shift that I’m seeing more frequently is tailoring marketing content by persona.  Seems like a no-brainer:  focus on the “who” of your customers to be able to address them directly in their voice, about their concerns.  My experience has been that most B2B companies understand that is what they should do, but the pull of talking about their own products and services in their own voice is irresistible.

Marketing Sherpa published in their Chart of the Week some research on the methods of developing buyer personae.  Major emphasis:  interviews – going to the customers and prospects (64%) and talking to sales (56%).

They make a further point to  balance this qualitative data with more traditional quantitative data.  I’m in total agreement with the interview method.  There’s nothing worse than a buyer persona that describes who we “think” the buyer is, as opposed to mirroring the actual buyer.

— Lisa Dennis

Customer Fit: Do You Know What You Are Seeking?

You’re looking for more business.  The bad news is, so is everyone else in the world.  the good news is, you have a plan.  At least you will after reading this.

Evaluate the makeup of your best customers.  Things to consider:

  • market position
  • revenue size of organization
  • number of employees
  • market type
  • technology platform
  • competitive strategy
  • core business challenge
  • opportunity size
  • core product penetration
  • level of support needed
  • referral or reference potential
  • industry fit.

What common factors do they share?  What trends do you see emerging?

Develop your own set of custom criteria, get internal buy-in for the list, and prioritize by overall value to your business.  Go do this!  Now!

— Lisa Dennis

Fly Me to the Moon

People don’t mind paying for premium service.  They don’t mind cost so much when they know what to expect.  But imagine dining in a restaurant, ordering from a nice menu, and then discovering that there are extra charges for the dishes, glasses, and silverware.  That glass of water?  Extra.  Oh, and remember when you asked to move away from the table by the kitchen door, to that empty booth in the corner?  That's another BIG extra charge.

In this crazy scenario, I believe that most level-headed would soon stop dining out.  But isn't this exactly what the airlines are doing?   
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In the 2nd Quarter of 2010, U.S. airlines collected $2.1 billion in fees and extra charges from passengers in the, up 13 percent from the first three months of the year. This is from the US Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ recent quarterly report.  This $2.1 billion has been collected for the following "services": baggage fees, reservation change fees and miscellaneous operating revenue, including pet transportation, sale of frequent flyer award miles to airline business partners and standby passenger fees, as well as revenue from seating assignments and on-board sales of food, drink, pillows, blankets, and entertainment.  None of these are listed "on the menu" when one buys a ticket.

Oh, and by the way, I haven’t noticed a whole lot of customer service awards being granted to airlines these days. Seems like all of them regularly run behind schedule, and a lot of their personnel are pretty grumpy. There are a couple of airlines that seem to “get it,” but for the most part, the customer experience is pretty mediocre-to-poor.  So what’s a customer to do?  

Well, the Consumer Travel Alliance , the Business Travel Coalition, and the American Society of Travel Agents have launched the website MadAsHellAboutHiddenFees.com.  To date, they have collected over 50,000 signatures, including mine, on a petition they plan to present to the Department of Transportation (DOT) today (9/23/2010).  I think when fifty thousand of your customers speak up against how you are running your business, and they are mad enough to go to the government about it, you kinda hafta listen, dontcha?

I will be very interested in seeing how this plays out.  At least one of the airlines that “get it” is making the fact that they do NOT charge for checked baggage a big part of their advertising campaign.  Good idea on their part, but at the same time, kind of sad that NOT charging a hidden fee is viewed as a competitive advantage.

 – Chuck Dennis

Customer Retention Outside the Box

I read an interesting piece today by Australian business consultant Peter Shallard, called Repeat Business and Customer Retention Formula Revealed.

He talks about a coffee shop in Sydney that, in addition to serving good coffee in a timely manner (a baseline for any coffee shop), had Polaroid snapshots all over the walls.  The photos are all of dogs, all taken in the cafe, with each pup's name written on the bottom.  Mr. Shallard then looked around at the other patrons, and estimated that 80% of them had dogs with them!  This is when the light bulb went on for him.

This cafe, one of many within the area, had built a loyal clientele by providing a good product with good service, and then combined that with another, unrelated, aspect that many customers were drawn to. 

To Mr. Shallard, and to me, this is brilliant in it simplicity.  For almost any product or service being sold, there are no doubt dozens, if not hundreds of other competitors selling the same thing.  Quality, price, service, and locale may not be enough to win a customer's loyalty.  But combining a business' primary product with another unrelated (but interesting) concept may seal the deal for certain customers to whom that unrelated concept appeals.

I imagine this was the thinking behind the first sports bar.  People get thirsty and hungry, so let's open an establishment to provide them beverages and food.  But wait, many people like sports, too, so lets decorate the place with sports memorabilia, and put a bunch of strategically-placed TVs throughout, showing sporting events or sports-related programming! Genius!

So, let's look at our own businesses.  We all work hard to provide a quality product and great service.  But what else can we add to that, that will appeal to a significant segment of our buying audience?  It doesn't have to be big, expensive, or complicated.  Polaroid snapshots of dogs on the wall – hello?

This is a great way to increase customer loyalty and retention, and have fun while doing it!  What a concept!  What can you add to your business to lock in loyalty from a significant segment of your prospects?  Please comment and share your ideas, and feel free to link to your site!

The Future of Customer Care has Arrived

I continue to be fascinated by the possibilities of Web 2.0 applications.  Things that were initially developed as amusement and entertainment are now being mined for business applications.  This explains the proliferation of geezers such as myself on Facebook (wanna be my friend?), YouTube, MySpace, etc.

Now, YouTube, the Internet’s favorite video site, is being used by some progressive businesses to enhance their total customer experience.  T-Mobile has created a YouTube channel where customers can get video answers to their specific questions, demos for various products, tips and hints for users to get the most out of their new phones.  This, good people, is where customer service must be headed.

Businesses need to keep up with the applications most favored by their customers.  And ultimately, they all will.  It’s just that some are doing it now, and that is pretty cool.

– Chuck Dennis

Apple – A Company that “Gets” Its Customers

While we are not currently Mac or iPod or iPhone users, we have a lot of respect for companies that focus on their customers, and inspire loyalty from them. 

Fellow blogger Rich McIver, in his blog InsideCRM, writes about this in his entry 12 Effective Strategies Apple Uses to Create Loyal CustomersHe discusses some of the techniques used by Apple to create customer evangelists.

    — Chuck Dennis

Measure of Success

I am reading an interesting book about building an organization around the customer, called Chief Customer Officer by Jeanne Bliss. She has worked in executive positions for Land’s End, Microsoft, and Mazda, to name a few, and she has primarily been the customer advocate in these organizations.

Her book is very tactical, and instructs people on how to “fight the good fight” regarding dedication to the customer. I had the good fortune to speak with Ms. Bliss on the phone, as I was (and still am) reading her book. She recommends what she terms “guerilla metrics” in measuring business success. These metrics go beyond simple sales goals, and other inane customer service metrics like average length of call, number of calls taken, etc. Her metrics are:

  1. What is the value and volume of your new customers in any given time period? Are you bringing in new business, and more importantly, is it the right kind of business?
  2. What is the value and volume of your lost business, and what are the reasons behind their defections. It is critical to know why customers no longer do business with you.
  3. What is the value and volume of your renewals, or repeat business? What reasons are behind this? You need to know what you are doing right for each customer.
  4. Analyze revenue and profitability by customer group. Sales figures alone do not tell the whole story. If a customer brings in tons of revenue, but requires huge amounts of attention and hand-holding and special treatment, they may not be your ideal client. You want to shrink your most costly customer group, and grow your more profitable groups.
  5. Referrals by customer group. Who is, and is not, referring your business to others, and for what reasons? This is quite possibly the most important metric, in my mind.

These metrics get to the heart of the matter. Is there more business coming in than leaving? If so, why? If not, why not? And, are people sufficiently enamoured with your business that they would recommend you to their friends and colleagues? This is called Trust, and it is the most important asset a business can have.

— Chuck Dennis

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