This blog originally published in Printing Impressions.
You probably have varying levels of relationships with your customer base. I’m not referencing whether or not you have become friends with your customer, but rather, what level of business relationship have you earned? There are three progressive tiers that I like to look at. And while we could argue semantics, I refer to them as vendor, supplier, and trusted adviser.
What’s the difference, as long as you get the business? Maybe in some situations there is no difference. But in most, I would say that as a vendor, you’re on the bid list. Perhaps you are one of many vendors, and depending on who made the biggest mistake on the estimate, that determines who gets the project. It’s a cordial relationship, built on the strength of your last order. Frankly, some amazing customer relationships begin this way, you just don’t want to be at this stage for long. Moving from vendor to supplier, again perhaps semantics, you’re moving a little closer to the head of the table. Becoming a supplier means that you are more in tune with the projects they are working on, and on occasion, they may actually ask for your opinion. Another feature of this being on this level is that you sometimes get the opportunity to meet a budgeted price in order to get the project (two ways to do this – cut your price or work to change the project to fit you better and at the same time, give the customer a better product, I like option No. 2). So, better than being a vendor, but not enough to really make a difference yet.
Becoming that trusted adviser is not totally dependent on how long you’ve been working with this customer as much as it’s related to the impact they think you can make, or are making on their business. At this level, the customer reaches out to you on virtually all their projects, asking for your two cents — even if it’s something that they know you cannot produce. They value your opinion, they trust you, they want you on their team. You already have current customers like this. It’s a great feeling and a rewarding relationship. At each one of these stages, you move from sitting at the kids’ table as a vendor to sitting next to the decision-makers as a trusted adviser. So, while you have current customers in all these stages, how can you work to proactively move the process along for the others?
Sorry, but spoiler alert — it won’t work with all of your customers. On the customer side, it’s most effective with customers that are trying to accomplish meaningful results, might be pressed for resources, and understand and are comfortable in working with a team made up of internal and external resources to achieve their goals. In other words, they want to be helped. Now, on your side it’s a little like being a scout, a concierge, and a consultant. Like a scout, you should be competent in what you do, having earned your badges, but also well versed in their business and their challenges. You should be helpful and resourceful. Like the best concierge, you can make things happen while others simply wonder what happened. Being interested in their business, asking the sometimes challenging questions like a consultant might and managing the entire process so that it’s easy for your customer to say yes is another great trait help move this along.
Having and demonstrating those three skills is very important. But, it’ll be for nothing unless you validate your involvement in your customers success. This isn’t about performing difficult chest-beating exercises. This is simply summarizing projects or campaigns, or maybe it’s a business review and highlighting what was done, the execution, whether or not you met their expectations, and validating that as a team, they were able to reach their goals and you played a role. It’s an adult conversation with no bragging necessary, just the facts. Begin working on this process while you’re at the vendor stage and it will help you expedite the process for moving into trusted adviser land.
Your goals should be around getting the right opportunities with the right folks, the ones that want help and that you can help. If you have any thoughts on this post or would like to share what’s going on in your world, please get in touch with me or leave a comment below. Good luck, and let me know how you’re doing.
Mike Philie can help validate what’s working and what may need to change in your business. Changing the trajectory of a business is difficult to do while simultaneously operating the core competencies. Mike provides strategy and insight to owners and CEOs in the Graphic Communications Industry by providing direct and realistic assessments, not being afraid to voice the unpopular opinion and helping leaders navigate change through a common sense and practical approach. Learn more at www.philiegroup.com, LinkedIn or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.