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Stop Leaving Money on the Table!
When companies plan for organic growth, they often look at customer acquisition (the “hunter”/sales function) and ignore account growth (the “farmer”/account management function). In this case study, a company that compensated salespeople (hunters) based on new-customer acquisition did not incentivize account managers (farmers) to explore the full earning potential of each customer relationship. Instead, account managers monitored the equivalent of repeat orders and resolved customer complaints. With very little additional training and partnership-orientation from divisional leadership, this function can often fully exploit the beachhead established by sales.
This is one in a series of case studies highlighting “key questions and course-correcting quotes” taken from 20 years of B2B customer insight projects. All names are fictitious, but the situation is real. Case studies paint–but don’t tell–how important it is to know what your B2B customers think. These are real-world examples of how soliciting and acting on customer feedback has helped companies retain customers longer, grow relationships and pick up new business faster.
Case Study: How “Peasants” Started Printing Money
Key questions (asked to the operations manager–the seller’s main contact in this 6-figure relationship):
“Do you have products or services you’d like ‘LiteManufacturing’ to add?”
Course Correcting Quote:
Operations Manager: “We buy kits from LiteManufacturing, but we have to buy components from another vendor. I would like LiteManufacturing to start offering components.”
My customer’s query:
It was a simple baseline feedback project, not a treasure hunt designed to maximize revenue, yet it was: money left on the table. I knew the kits and components that LiteManufacturing sold; Is there a reason they didn’t tell this customer? The account manager gets a call and realizes how he dropped the ball. He immediately reached out to his customer through the complete offering of light manufacturing and picked up that customer’s component business. The president then required all account managers to hold annual “account review” meetings with the 20% of customers representing 80% of the company’s revenue. Objectives: Give customers an opportunity to provide unstructured feedback and remind them of everything LiteManufacturing has to offer.
LiteManufacturing not only increased walletshare with individual accounts, but account managers strengthened their relationships with customers and began to enjoy their jobs more. On the other side of the table, customers felt a sense of collaboration with LiteManufacturing that was missing when account management was a passive function.
It’s common for customers to only know what they already buy from you. This can happen when:
The prospect was not listening during the sales process.
Fear that the salesperson will limit his discussion to the details of a product or service is “talking before the sale.”
No one took the time to educate existing customers as new products and services were added.
Turnover occurs on the customer side and the new contact person only knows about the current purchase.
As part of the on-boarding and formal/informal account review process, the relationship owner should review everything his company has to offer. As employees change anywhere along the customer side of the chain of command, from day-to-day contact to budget owner, it’s smart to treat the new person as a new customer. You want them to become familiar with your entire offering and recognize that their relationship is important to your company. As there is turnover in related positions throughout your relationship, it’s smart (and often strategic) for the new person to introduce themselves up and down the customer’s chain of command.
Failure to fully service existing accounts has three costs:
Leaving money on the table today (loss of incremental earnings).
Creating “beachhead” opportunities for competitors (failing to develop and protect one-stop relationships).
Weak positioning (failure to create a partnership-level position with customers).
Salespeople miss the opportunity to move from salesperson to partner after failing to encourage account managers to fully develop customer relationships. The first step to changing this at your company is to put a partner-focused leader in charge of account management.
I categorize projects as assessments, investigations, treasure hunts or rescue missions. The project was an appraisal-turned-treasure hunt. The client’s question was “Where do we stand with our customers?” I’m always on the lookout for outliers, because I’m trying to have the same conversation with customers that a company president would have if he had the time. No president will ignore the money on the table!
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