I am sure that every salesperson that we have worked with has a favorite customer who epitomizes the person they would like at all their accounts. These are the people who are great to work with and in every sense, help define a good business relationship or partnership. These individuals know what they are trying to accomplish with near term objectives and long range goals. They go to work each morning with the belief that the proverbial win/win scenario is not a cliché at all; it is in fact a recipe for success.
Maybe it is only semantics but there can be big difference between what I would consider a great and wonderful customer versus merely an “easy” one. Don’t confuse the two. A good customer is just what you would imagine; your main contact (first level relationship) who is satisfied with your company’s products and service. This person relishes the fact that you are meeting or exceeding his or her expectations. This, after all, is the end game. When you achieve this, it should be music to your ears to hear them laud your efforts and results.
On the other hand, easy customers can foster complacency or misguided priorities which can quickly become a trap for managers and reps alike. While you are gratified by their compliments and welcome a cordial and smoothly working relationship, you can become shortsighted. We all know from experience that our contact’s boss, or even their boss’s boss, might not share their standards for measuring performance and success.
Easy customers can often place their priorities more toward “not rocking the boat” rather than fully leveraging your company’s services and products. They might not test the limits of the creativity, innovation, and initiative that you can provide to enhance the value that they receive.
Over the years, I have come to make some generalizations about spotting the “easy” customer. As a rule, they are focused on the status quo and their priorities are often of a short range nature. Their frame of reference can frequently be myopic and oriented to immediate tasks. They like to eliminate hassles and confrontations within their own organizations. Many tend to avoid risk or controversy and their real goal can be the avoidance of “any glitches.”
At CommonWealth Growth Strategies, we believe in asking customers a lot of questions. In seeking advice from your own customers as to what they think your company should do in the future, do you often hear something like, “Just keep doing what you’re doing?” We’ve heard this a lot. In and of itself, this doesn’t merit criticism. It does, however, call for a yellow caution flag because of the ramifications it can have in the future. Keep in the back of your mind that the good customer contact is a waypoint to success; the overly easy one can be an eventual obstacle, detour or worse.
In the past several, our interviews with various companies have documented that in virtually all instances, substantial purchasing decisions are made well above the contact’s level. It is also true that in the final analysis, the customer’s upper management will generally view things more strategically. They look at a bigger picture while at the same valuing best practices, very competitive pricing and industry benchmarks. They are often more receptive to change and innovation.
Take care of all your customers, but with the easy ones, take a moment to contemplate the differences between “good” and “easy.”
Actions to Consider:
1. If you think that you have an easy customer contact, hold on! Ask yourself these questions. Does my contact really convey the goals and objectives of his or her organization? Am I receiving good coaching? Could it possibly backfire? Do they utilize my best services or products? If my contact isn’t the one to challenge me, what about their superiors? How do I get to them?
2. An easy customer contact situation makes knowing other buying influences more critical. Do you know and interact with this person’s bosses and in turn know what motivates them? If you don’t, make this a priority. When you know that you are meeting their expectations, it will make no difference whether your liaison is easy or just plain great….chances are you will keep the business as long as you want.
3. Best practices and new products can often require a risk. They always involve a change of some sort. Make sure that you are well versed in the best new ideas that are applicable to this customer. Remember, regardless of whether they accept or even consider them, decision makers like to know what the industry is doing and what their options are.
4. When in doubt, use the signature presidential phrase, “Trust but verify.” If you are sailing along and things are going well, then you pat yourself on the back. But whatever you do, make sure that your customer is giving you the right priorities and that deep down, you know that you are going in the right direction.