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Tips for the C-suite: How to Build Relationships with C-level Customer

Posted by Bill Lee on April 12, 2010 at 09:41 AM


Reference Point Newsletter

April 2010

Executive-to-executive relationships are some of the most powerful ways to cement ties with key customers and develop them as references. C-level executives with a background in high-level consultative sales are likely to understand how to foster these relationships, but for those not accustomed to such customer interactions, here are some tips.

First, understand the customer's predominant "behavioral type"

Different people respond to relationships in different ways. If you've been paired up with a customer executive, the best way to get off on the right foot is to understand his behavioral type. It doesn't require a PhD or handing him some sort of assessment tool. Skilled sales people can size people up quickly and do so all the time. Is she a Driver? Analytical? Expressive? Amiable? Here's a useful checklist. Different types respond to different approaches and have different emotional triggers. An Expressive executive, for example, loves the spotlight and will likely be excited about getting up on stage or in the media with his success story. A Driver may be ambitious to raise his professional stature, which can guide you in developing reference opportunities that will excite him. However,  he'll also want any issues he has with your delivery resolved fast.

Understand--and care about--the customer's problems

Whatever the customer's behavioral type, building strong business relationships means nurturing the emotional component, which hard-driving executives at your firm may sometimes overlook. Nothing will stifle a budding relationship more than a customer's realization that you don't really care.

Provide value

As the relationship builds, provide value from time to time. Send a link to an article or blog post you come across that intelligently addresses an issue he's dealing with. Or a  recommend thoughtful book. Put him in touch with relevant people in your network. But again, be careful in your approach. Few things are more annoying than an overly eager new friend who starts sending you things that are intended to be "helpful" but that only reveal he really wasn't listening to the issues you confided to him.

Don't get bogged down in discussions about the customer's problems .  .  .

This may seem paradoxical in light of what I just said, but demonstrating you care doesn't mean spending an hour going into the details of a problem your firm can't help him solve. That's a waste of your time and his. Demonstrating empathy doesn't require mastering details.

. . . unless the problem meets these tests:

    * It's serious

    * The customer--or one of her colleagues at her firm--is  personally feeling real emotional pain as a result (frustration, worry, fear, etc)

    * Solving the problem would create a substantial monetary impact on the customer's business

    * And of course, it's something your firm could solve.

Build a rapid response network between your firms

As you develop critical information about your customer--their needs, frustrations, what delights them, etc--you'll want to respond rapidly and effectively. Is something frustrating them about your delivery? Fix it. Has a new need arisen that makes sense for your firm to address? Get your NPD team on it. Are they delighted with that new consulting offering you provide? Ask for a reference and then deploy your video testimonial or white paper team. A rapid response network should include executive peers from both firms, along with lower lever implementation people from both firms, together with regular communication and follow-up processes.

Ask for referrals

As you build the relationship, and particularly as your firm chalks up impressive results for the customers, ask for referrals--the most powerful lead generator of them all. "Who else at AAA Corp should I be talking to?" "Who else within your professional network (inside our outside the firm) should I get to know?"

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