Competitors are constantly approaching your top customers and their C-level executive staffs with offers of better, easier, and cheaper. If you're nothing special to the high ranking staff you're vulnerable to replacement. If any of the staff had missed expectations, you'll be talked about negatively and again vulnerable. If you haven't stayed in touch reinforcing your ability to assist with opportunities or mitigate threats in their business or job functions, you're not top of mind when competition promotes how they can be of better service. So if any of the above are in play, then so is your competition.
Maybe after a sale you do a "Thank You" thing, i.e. send a note, invite some of the staff to a dinner or a round of golf, and you feel the relationships are solid professionally. Sales people tend to treat professional relationships the same as social relationships. They assume two people are close and one would not betray the other.
Well you're only tight professionally if each of these customer's people sees the benefits professionally working with you. That is, they see solutions with you, and/or their expectations are being met, and/or you're top of mind when opportunities or threats emerge. If you're tight socially, you'll be top of mind when it comes to socializing, but not necessarily when it comes to buying or seeking advice.
The belief that social relationship will thwart or keep competition from penetrating is the biggest mistake sales people make. However, providing professional benefits as outlined above is guaranteed to stop competition at the front door. The ugliest scenario is when your request for meetings are ignored while your invitations for social events are accepted.
So here are some questions to get you thinking about the status of your professional relationships.
1. Do you follow-up with all decision makers and their staffs to make sure all expectations are being met, and to solidify that you are something special. Or are you assuming you do a good job, and they feel the same way.
2. Do you have information share meetings with your customers' profit center leaders and their staffs to share new technologies and case studies with the intent to inform rather than sell?
3. Do your meetings and relationships at high levels fade after the sales or the projects end?
4. Do you monitor successes of old sales and projects and query senior managers to see if their expectations are still being met?
5. Have you ever replaced a competitor even if they have good relationships? How did you do it?
1. Suppose your best customer said he really likes your competition. What would you do to get the profit center leader and his staff back on-board with you?
a. Now before it happens, set the dates to enact those actions. A preemptive strike is more useful than a defensive plea. The defense may hold (or not), but the relationship will take a serious blow.
2. How would you penetrate a competitor's customer strongholds?
a. Now based on these actions, what defenses would you put in play to prevent competitors penetrating your customers.
Tak'n It to the Streets
1. For your biggest customer what are the interests and issues of each executive? It's got to come from the horses' mouths. So start interviewing each on a 30-90 day rotation. Realize issues/expectations are different change - some slowly and some often.
2. Subscribe to "News Release" a service on the internet. It's free and will keep you abreast of what's going on with your customers' companies.
3. Find experts to bring to the next meetings who will provide information your customer's senior staff will appreciate? Be sure to investigate what will be appreciated.
4. Pick professional venues that will be interesting?
And now I invite you to learn more.