Hands up everyone who has relied too much on a single contact at a key customer? Only then to find yourself high and dry when that person leaves, or moves to a new role. We’ve all done it.
There are three main reasons why it’s so important to broaden your contact base within a key customer. Firstly, you are more likely to do a better job for your customer if you can get wider support from within the account. Secondly, your up-selling opportunities increase significantly if you have a wider contact base. And finally, you are more likely to keep the competition out.
Think back to when you were trying to win the account in the first place. Winning new business is really tough. You have to break down doors, convince the skeptics, overcome the barriers to entry. And that’s just to get the chance to bid! But it’s even tougher breaking into new accounts if the incumbent supplier has all the entry points covered.
Your key customer is like a walled city. There are entry points, like gateways, that could allow your competitors to penetrate. If these are left open, it’s easy for them to get a foothold. But if they are guarded with your supporters or advocates, it becomes too difficult and the competition will move on to the next ‘City’ and try their luck there.
So how do you build a strong defense in your account? There are three main ways.
- Most importantly you’ve got to make sure you’re doing a great job for them. And delivering on everything you say you’re going to do.
- Secondly, you should ensure you’ve done all you can contractually, to defend your position, without the customer feeling hemmed in. For example, if your winning Terms and Conditions have a ‘sole supplier’ clause in, make sure it’s clear to the customer, and communicated widely.
- Thirdly, you need to cover all the bases, all those entry points to the account that keep the competition out. How might you do this?
Put yourself in your competitor’s shoes. Where might they look to enter into dialogue with your customer? Who might they want to start an engagement with? These are the people you need to get round and win over. If you have advocates and supporters on all the gates to the city, the raiders won’t get in. Your existing supporters should be able to introduce you. After all, if they like what you are doing, why wouldn’t they want to spread the word?
The conversations and the messages will need to be tailored for each new contact. Purchasing managers will have different drivers to divisional heads. Senior management will have different priorities to junior management. So put some effort into thinking about what your product or service means for each of them, so your message is personalized and relevant.
If you can create advocates across your customer, it makes it much less likely that competitors will gain a foothold in your key account.
By Andy Coughlin, who works with companies in the UK, US and Middle East, helping them deliver consistently high performance under pressure.