- Survey and satisfy these customers.
- Truly listen to them.
The third way to develop customers as allies is to team with them to develop additional products and services beneficial to both the customer and you.
Team with Your Customers
Once a customer realizes that your company is an excellent and reliable supplier, they will often want to team with you in refining current products and services or in solving new problems that they may be facing. Teaming together has two benefits.
- It ties you together more closely.
- It gives you an improved product or a new product line that you likely can (with minor revisions) sell to other customers.
Initially, you may be donating your time and expertise. Think of it as a quid pro quo to increase your visibility and tighten your relationship with the customer. But, over time and as the cost of the development increases, most good companies will commit funds to help you defray the development expenses. When the product development or refinement becomes successful, you will have significantly enhanced your relationship with that core customer. Further, even if the customer cannot sole source, any resulting specification will be written around your design putting you in the driver seat to win the work.
Three objections that you may have:
1. My customers never want to do this. Have you asked them how you can improve the product and service that you supply? Have you offered to team up with them?
2. My customers do not want to team with us. If they want to team with a competitor, then, most likely, that competitor has a superior relationship with that customer.
3. My customers want me to pay all the expenses. If the product improvements and refinements are something that the customer really values, then they will begin to pay for it. If they do not want to pay at all, you should evaluate whether it makes sense to continue. Sometimes, the threat of you stopping work is enough to get the customer to commit some money. Other times, I have seen where your development work with a customer just becomes a pet project of some staffer within the customer company to justify his or her job. It is vital to identify this and cut the cords before the project becomes a sink hole of time and money.
In one year, my division worked with customers in the wireless, cable television, environmental, and the alternative energy markets on new product development and product enhancements. In each case, the customers paid their fair share of the expenses and committed significant time towards the project. Within two years, these new or refined products and services had sales reaching $10M annually.
Alas, at the same time, we began a project in the Homeland Security area where we were never paid and reimbursed. Eighteen months later, far too late, we pulled the plug on this project. Later, we learned that we had never been considered more than an alternative to allow the customer to have the legally required three bidders even though they knew who they were going to choose all along. We learned an expensive and time-consuming lesson. In most cases, if the customer will not contribute money, the project is just not important enough to them.
This blog is an excerpt from David Shedd’s recently published book, Build a Better B2B Business: Winning Leadership for Your Business-to-Business Company, now available on Amazon.com.