Saturday, July 14, 2012

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

Customers rarely actually ask, "What Have You Done for Me Lately?" You better believe they think it, though. It's up to you to remind them, the more often and the more widely the better, of your value proposition and just how badly they need you. By more widely, I mean you need to have multiple relationships at each customer. A single point of contact (one who may be jealously guarding that position) can be a death sentence for your account if anything happens to or for that person -- a promotion, a demotion, a job change, etc.  More on why and how to Go Wide at every account.

I recently met with a management team that had just this problem. A large customer - well over half their revenue, with a single point of contact, jealously guarding that position. They never get credit for the things they do that the customer doesn't even see - diving catches they make just before the ball hits the ground, sometimes inflicted by the customer upon himself. Yet they get all kinds of complaints about small stuff. It's not only disappointing to not be appreciated by your customer, but it's also a very tenuous position to be in. A competitor can easily waltz into such a relationship and unseat you. You've been commoditized.

What to do? Try a "what have you done for me lately" report. Here's how that works. First, you have to start the data (anecdote) gathering. In a former life, I was in the electronic components business and we had this problem. Once a year, we negotiated with the 20 or so largest electronics manufacturers in the world (Motorola, HP, Nokia, Cisco, etc.) for pricing on millions of dollars worth of parts. It was the job of the guy on the other side of the table, the purchasing agent, to commoditize us - to assert that our parts, our service and our company were no better than our competitors, so it's just about the price.

We put a little application up on our Customer Service system so the Customer Service Reps (CSRs) could log each time they made a diving catch for a customer. Like when HP called and said they're 2 days away from a manufacturing line shutting down because they forgot to order parts. Their fault, yes, but they expected us to solve it for them. That part wasn't scheduled to run again in our factory for about 2 weeks. Our CSR got on the phone with 5 of our big stocking distributors, found a couple of reels of parts, and had them overnighted (our expense) to arrive just in time to avert the line shutdown. The CSR then opened the "What have you done for me lately" screen to enter the incident, including the customer name, CSR's name, date, customer rep's name, a description of the problem, what we did for them, plus a roundhouse estimate of the economic benefit to the customer. Production line downtime in an electronics plant is priced in tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour. In an auto plant it's priced in fractions of or whole millions of dollars per hour.

Imagine the difference in our next negotiation, when the purchasing agent (buyers are liars) starts on that "You're just like everyone else" part of his script. Our guy says, "Well, could be, but let's take a look at some facts." He pulls out the "What have you done for me lately" report, just a query of our good deeds on that customer's account for a whole year. With, of course, a total of the estimated economic benefit.  Suddenly that "you're just a commodity" prop is gone. 

So, the first thing you do is set up a process and a discipline to capture what Jan Carlzon, then President and CEO of Scandinavian Airlines called Moments of Truth in his book by the same name. You can use a little database, Google Forms, or some other data capture platform that's accessible to everyone servicing the account.
The next thing you do is set the table. Create a venue and a reason where you can have an annual "performance review" of your company's work for a broad audience of people on the customer's team. Make an excuse, create a reason, whatever you have to do to "go wide" in communicating, at least once a year, with multiple contacts at that customer.

It's your job not only to perform admirably for your customers. It's also to be sure they perceive and appreciate that admirable performance. Don't ever assume the latter automatically results from the former -- it rarely does, in my experience. And, as always, Go Wide.

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Terry Weaver

Chief Executive Boards International
Chief Executive Boards International: Freedom for business owners & CEOs -- Less Work, More Money, More Freedom to enjoy it

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