Is It a Fire Drill Every Time Your Customer Calls?

chinesefiredrillDo you feel like your customer meetings are reactive? That you’re no longer leading but constantly responding?

If so, it’s time to develop a Customer Engagement strategy to both educate your organization and help build deeper customer partnerships.

Every customer interaction (or lack of) tells them how much they are truly valued. These interactions are when a customer learns if promises made to them will be honored or not.

In order to create great experiences for customers, you must know what you want customers to feel, think and do at every stage of the relationship.

A strong Customer Engagement process can shift your efforts to being more proactive and more rewarding for your customer.

Proactively engage the customer with a long-term vision

30-60-90 business planYou can build deeper customer relationships within key retailers as a result of:

  • Having contacts and personal relationships beyond the buyer
  • Closer working relationships with retailer support functions (marketing, logistics, finance, etc.)
  • Better understand of key retailer goals, metrics and initiatives
  • Demonstrating the commitment of your company by personal engagement of senior leadership
  • Sharing category and shopper insights based on market trends

Building a strong Customer Engagement process

The basic goals of a Customer Engagement process will go a long way to shifting attitudes within your organization. Here’s an overview of what a Customer Engagement process will do for you.

  • Create a system to identify and prioritize your key accounts
  • Build a plan to engage in partnerships with senior level merchants and VPs
  • Build a new buyer engagement plan to proactively involve and on-board new buyer

A strong Customer Engagement process should include these key components

  • Clearly identify where you want to focus
    • Try using a 9 box approach with retailer profitability and sales on one axis and your sales and profitability on the other
    • This will help guide time and resource alignment
  • Establish a proactive schedule to meet
    • Look ahead 18 months
    • Build a schedule that cuts across the organization
    • Find opportunities for senior leaders to meet with their peers at the account
    • Do the same for key functional leaders in marketing, quality, customer service and distribution
  • Have a plan to share how you’re going to grow the business
    • Identify key account objectives and gaps
    • Share how you are tackling these issues
    • Demonstrate how your company has a vision for the category
  • Gain agreement on key metrics and results
    • Align your goals with your customer’s
    • Share and track those goals internally

Not only will this build trust and consistency at your account, it will help mitigate potential turbulence experienced when a buyer changes.

Engage customers through purposeful conversation

Engaged sales teamCustomer Engagement is designed to support the sales function.  Sales generally is the:

  • Primary interface between customer and the company
  • Communicator of key account strategies, opportunities and gaps. They are responsible for informing the organization of key events and changes
  • Facilitator of the Customer Engagement process with cross-functional collaboration
  • Responsible to make sure both the company and the customer are strategically aligned to deliver desired financial results

Equally important is the purpose of the engagement. Customer Engagement can be used to address a range of meeting types. Here are a few of the most common:

  • Top-to-top with buyer
  • Top-to-top with senior merchant leadership
  • Annual vendor partnership meetings
  • After product line review – go forward meeting
  • Damage control
  • New opportunities
  • Management changes and transitions

Consider the “Voice of the Customer”

Don’t get so caught up in telling your story that you forget the customer’s perspective. Some relevant topics that you can use to your advantage are:

  • Where are they in their business cycle?
  • What does this customer need to satisfy their shopper and to grow sales and profits?
  • How are we responding to these needs?
  • What insights can we offer?
  • What is the cross functional team’s role in each meeting?  This is especially important when bringing senior leadership to the meeting.
  • What do we need cross functional team members to say?  You want to reinforce key points, not create the chaos of over promise

Sales has concerns with “forced” engagement schedules

Let’s face it, senior management loves meeting with customers. But you should have a plan and not forget these key points when the boss decides it’s time to see your key account:

  • Your Customer Engagement process may not be broken – but your messaging and continuity might be
  • The purpose of each engagement effort must be in concert with the customers’ business cycle
  • CEO/VP contact must be strategic and supportive – avoid tactical meetings
  • Frequent CEO/VP involvement in meetings can be disruptive to regular sales functions
  • The “ranking decision maker” should only be involved when that level of support is required
  • Customer expectations and requirements vary greatly – there is no single approach to the process
  • Sales leads the cross-functional teams to interface as often as required to achieve mutual goals
    • Merchandising teams do the same within their organizations and most prefer a “single point of contact” (Sales) through which to coordinate cross functional communication and planning
    • Sales must coordinate these efforts and initiate them with buyer support and awareness

The most unsatisfied customers can be a company’s greatest resource for innovation

OpportunityCustomer Engagement failures must be pursued aggressively to find out how to create great experiences and value WITH – not for – customers.

Bottom line? A thoughtful Customer Engagement process can begin the shift to being more proactive with the customer and result in deeper relationships that can outlast any one buyer or sales manager.

Good Selling!


One response to “Is It a Fire Drill Every Time Your Customer Calls?”

  1. […] Hopefully, you already have a customer engagement strategy but if not, take a look at the Channel Instincts post: Is It a Fire Drill Every Time Your Customer Calls? […]

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