We all want to create strong and lasting relationships with our customers. Not only do they give you access to the right people and information you can use to become a better business partner, but also – frankly – it’s hard to do business with someone you don’t like or trust. While long-standing relationships with customers are a good thing, they also can lead to a few unintended consequences that are inevitable over time. Here are three pitfalls to avoid when building customer relationships.
Getting too comfortable.
As with any relationship, getting too comfortable can create unintended consequences. I have sold into situations where there was an incumbent partner who had spectacular relationships with the entire IT department. That sales person was in with the client all the time – delivering donuts and going to lunches – but they were not building relationships with other decision -makers. I managed to get into that organization at the executive level with a compelling value play. My team and I were literally two stories above our competitors, meeting with the entire executive staff, walking through an understanding of their business, finding out what they wanted to drive and telling them we could affect that through technology solutions. Our competitor had no idea we were up there.
Lacking a Vision for Growth. I don’t think there’s a single salesperson who has been selling for a while that hasn’t been stung or felt the genuine heart-sinking disappointment of finding out that a customer with whom you have an excellent relationship is buying something from someone else. Customers may say, “Well, we didn’t really know you did that.” And then you realize you haven’t tried to build on the existing relationship and take it to another level, “Shame on me; they just didn’t know. I thought I was sitting pretty, because everyone that I deal with loves me so much.” It’s important to have a vision of where you want the relationship to grow, and understand how you can deliver ongoing value along the way.
Becoming Stagnant or Stuck.
Another unintended consequence of a strong but stagnant relationship with a particular department can mean getting stuck at that one level and sucked into the political structure of the organization. You start having to check everything you do with the people with whom you have close relationships, rather than doing what’s best for the organization. You end up kind of get clipped and stuck. Let’s be honest, as salespeople, it’s easy to get comfortable in this type of relationship, because it is more enjoyable. It is the easier path to take for procurement and fulfillment, and it can work well for a long time.
Sooner or later, though, the chickens come home to roost. The relationship you have built may have a history and feel like it is strong, but you’ve put yourself in a vulnerable position, if you find yourself falling into one of these categories. Perhaps you haven’t built a relationship within the C-suite level, or you are unaware of the larger business priorities for the company. Perhaps you are unaware of other services or solutions that other departments are seeking. All of the sudden, you may realize that the relationship has “over-rotated” and become more about the relationship and immediate sales than about the business, its growth objectives and how you can help your customer reach its goals.
In my next post, I’ll share insight into delivering value into every level of the relationship.