During periods of growth and business development, as a B2B supplier you may find yourself more committed to winning new customers than in cultivating your existing customer relationships. How do you divert resources from your core business and customer base without losing long standing partners?
We know that building a relationship with our customers is the secret to a solid long-lasting client base. Suppliers do not always have the time and resources to nurture and develop these relationships. There are a few strategies that can put us on the right track without taking time away from the important activity of growing the business:
“Overselling pays more than being conservative?” Salespeople know that there is no perfect recipe; only experience teaches us what to do in each situation. If we promise more than we can deliver, we are taking a risk. If this risk is not well ‘calculated’, we could cause irreparable damage to our business relationships.
How can you ‘calculate’ this risk?
By gathering accurate information about your customer’s experience, satisfaction and their perceived value, you will discover the tolerance levels of your customer in the case of, for example, an unfulfilled promise; the customer may ‘gloss over’ our ‘mistake’ because there are other aspects of our service that create ‘value’ for them. Too often we are convinced that we have all this information, when in fact the information we do have is not objective.
In order to have concrete facts on which we base our strategic decisions we need to conduct a value analysis on our customer base. It takes years to build a relationship of trust but only a few moments to undermine it. Mistakes can happen, therefore it is better to make only the promises we can keep. When the time comes for the customer to give his feedback, the value they perceive will be higher than what they expected.
You may believe that the sales activities that surround your customer are sufficient; phone calls, emails and regular visits. However, what you believe to be key customer service activities for the customer may not be sufficient. They may feel that there is not enough follow up to their requests or response times are slow. Taking into consideration only your CRM tool or your sales representatives report does not give the full picture. Where does the truth lie? As always, in between.
The fact is that often customers do not complain directly to the supplier when asked for feedback on their products or services. They communicate only partially their issues, as a result, the supplier can offer only partial solutions. In some cases, the customers are asked questions which are simply too vague. Without details, it is difficult to implement important changes.
This is what customers expect after all. Once a service or product has been sold, the supplier moves onto the ‘production’ phase, however it is important to build a customer contact frequency plan and a follow-up process with the customer. You can schedule progress meetings, in the case of projects, or measure their degree of satisfaction after the purchase thereby gathering valuable insights for future sales. In the case of B2B sales, a meeting in person is always the best option.
If your customers are spread out geographically, you can do a follow up by email or phone. What matters is that the customer feels that his business is of importance to you. If we show we are listening, any issues they have will emerge as will what they most like or do not like about the business relationship. This exchange creates an opportunity to make up for failings and quickly solve problems that could get worse if not resolved or given necessary attention. Without this dialogue, dissatisfaction will have ample room to grow.
The sales process and the people involved in the sales cycle on both sides often have a long standing relationship. They know where the boundaries are and what is required for a proposal to be accepted. Often details are discussed ‘off the record’ before a quote is sent to the customer. Due to this fundamental, however, sometimes biased relationship, to ensure that objective data is gathered, the customer analysis should be handled by an external figure who can guarantee an objective approach.
Customer value analysis is a tool which can respond quickly to underlying customer dissatisfaction preventing years of business deals being tainted by a series of unvoiced issues.
An analysis by external consultants who can develop an impartial and independent customer satisfaction survey is particularly crucial when we refer to the B2B market. A neutral environment is created for the customer where they feel free to give truthful feedback and the supplier is certain to gain a realistic and reliable picture of the degree of customer satisfaction, without taking time away from its critical business development phase.