I was having a conversation recently with another Founder about how to perform superior customer engagement in a B2B environment. What slipped off my tongue without really thinking a great deal about it was that a key way to build a strong relationship with your customer and get repeat business is to make your customer look good in their own organization. (I added, it’s probably something you want to do for your boss too, but that’s for another conversation)
So, what do I mean.
Actually, it is another way of saying that your purpose is to be of service to your customer. That the customer should be the hero of the story, not you. The customer is the one whose problem is solved. The one who is successful, when your product is implemented in their organization successfully. The one who reaps increased business or has lowered costs because of your product or service. It’s good to keep this top of mind.
Often in a B2B sale, when it’s difficult to get “into” an organization, the sales team will identify and nurture a Champion in the organization who can be instrumental to closing the deal. This Champion is usually someone who has influence and authority within the buying process. Champions can be anyone, not only the final decision maker. They can be functional managers or they can be SMEs. The point is they have some political clout in the organization and have influence over the final decision.
Post sales customer engagement teams need to carry on with this and also nurture these relationships – or possibly identify new Champions in the teams that they engage with.
Every organization has its politics and key players. Getting to know how you customer’s organization works will in the long run help you navigate your way around it. Getting to know how your Champion engages within their organization will also help you with engaging within the organization.
What are some key things to consider?
Don’t put your Champion in a position where they have to defend their decision about recommending you. Basically – delivery on what was promised, meet expectations.
If a problem arises, be clear about it and provide your Champion with ammunition to explain it to their organization. This may be in the form of a clear impact analysis statement or schedules to fix.
Find out any key deadlines, budget times, and appraisal times that you need to be sensitive of in order to help your Champion look successful.
Figure out if there are things that the customer needs to help with using your product or service. Are there reports that can help them? Is there training they can make use of? What is there key problem today, that you can help them solve and be successful.
Treat them like an insider (within legal restrictions of course). Give them heads up on upcoming product releases, features and changes before they get the standard announcements. Make them into an expert on your product.
Connect with them on LinkedIn or other industry networks. Invite them into your network.
To me, this is a lot more important than giving them t-shirts and coffee cups. (Though swag helps too, if looking favoured by the vendor is a status symbol in the organization)
What are the benefits?
Basically, it is a way to build a brand influencer, someone who will continue to recommend and advance your product within your organization and to other organizations.
Champions can turn into great case studies and reference accounts.
It also makes upselling easier.
If you are of service to them, they will gladly eventually return the favour. It’s building up great karma.
What if your Champion leaves?
So after spending this time and energy what happens if your Champion leaves the organization and goes somewhere else. Is this investment in time and energy lost?
Though this may be a short blip in time to build new relationships, the investment is not lost. If you were well engaged with the exiting Champion, then you are actually a source of information for the person who then has to inherit the responsibilities. You have to be cognisant of the fact that they need to find their own feet and make their own decisions, but if you are a knowledgeable resource for them this may be a great basis to start building a strong engagement with the successor.
As well, it’s a small world when you consider industry niches. People like to continue working with people that they worked well with previously. A Champion, who leaves an organization, may continue to be a great advocate for your product or service in the next company they work at.