Understanding a Sr Executive Customer Reference: Dan Crain’s Journal, Part 1
This is the first of several posts from time to time over the next few weeks, recounting musings from Dan Crain, former CTO at Brocade, COO of Global Systems, Morgan Stanley, and EVP of StorageApps, Dan is the buyer - and the customer reference, and the advisory board member, and the customer community member, etc - any technology firm would like to have. Dan has also run such customer engagement programs within his own operations. He brings a terrific – sometimes contrarian - perspective to the issue of how companies often get customer engagement wrong, and how to get it right.
Q. Dan, you’ve been a buyer of technology systems, a seller, and a customer-engagement practitioner having run advisory boards for your businesses. Let’ say I’m a vendor looking to win your business and grow your account for years to come. What’s are the keys to establishing, building and nurturing a relationship with you that will achieve that?
A. Obviously listening to the customer is important. But so is having field representation that is credible and low key, especially with new products. Also, I’d say that establishing REAL executive relationships inside the company with customers is totally worthwhile. I’ve found that generic “executive sponsor” programs never really work, but the ones that are more organic, based on mutual interest of the customer and a vendor representative generate long term benefit for everyone. Obviously this doesn’t scale indefinitely, but it is definitely worth doing at some level. The one caveat is that the person who interfaces with the customers MUST be able to get things done, and show that it’s a real relationship, not just one based on getting references and marketing quotes.
Q. How many vendors that you’ve bought from actually do this successfully, in your opinion, and why do the others fall short?
Very few unfortunately. A rolodex is only valuable if people will actually answer your emails or phone calls, and this level of relationship can only be maintained with mutual communication. The best cases have people on both sides of the commercial relationship taking a genuine interest in each other based on mutual accomplishment, the worst cases are when the vendor representative is cynical about what value the customer can provide.