Grow Customers in Challenging Environments

Growing key accounts in growth markets is by no means easy, but far less challenging than doing it in static markets or those in temporary decline. At any given point in time some markets will find themselves up whilst others find themselves down. When times are tough, sticking with and expertly executing the right key account management disciplines becomes business critical.

In this blog post, I want to give you three insights into growing your key customers in particularly challenging market conditions.

Demonstrating Heavy Support to Current Customers

When operating in challenging environments, many companies drive account management and sales teams to focus on finding ‘new’ opportunities with less established customers. ‘Number of customer contacts’ can become a key metric in delivering on this.

The most successful companies appear to take a very different route however, by paying even greater attention to those existing key customers who have provided the majority of recent business. These companies recognise that particularly around ‘high value expenditures’, their customers are likely to face increased internal questioning of their recommended decisions. Competitors are also likely to increasingly knock at their doors.

Given this, demonstrating to key customers that they remain your highest priority is vital. Some organisations have found to their cost that when teams focus on developing new business opportunities, existing customers quickly perceive lower responsiveness and move their business elsewhere. Demonstrating real commitment whilst competitors spread their prospecting leads to market share gains.

In challenging times cutting the number of opportunities the account team is working on in order to deliver more growth may seem counter-intuitive, but it is often a key to success.

Proactively Selling Risk Reduction

In difficult times, whilst price can appear to be at the heart of decision making, analysis of large buying decisions suggests that risk avoidance and risk reduction, is often a more important requirement (although less overt). Research shows that as decisions come under more scrutiny, customers strive more so than ever to ensure requirements are fully delivered.

Demonstrating your products and services reduce the costs and risks associated with alternative offerings, as well as delivering stronger benefits, is often highly effective. The costs of failure associated with a safety device not performing 100% of the time, or a slightly inferior health treatment, can be many times the additional investment in a premium but fail-safe one.

The heritage and track record of your company may be a strong motivator. ‘No one gets fired for buying IBM’ we are told. The quality of cross-functional teams engaged in supporting your key accounts gives your customer greater confidence in your proposed solutions. Successful organisations we have worked with have actively engaged more of their teams with the customer to develop major sales opportunities and share updates. Such factors are frequently underestimated. Customers are generally only told once a year about the strength of a supplier’s organisation; this is all too quickly forgotten.

One large engineering organisation we work with proactively monitors how frequently its sales teams communicate up-to-date case studies and news about the skills of its extended team to the customer. This has resulted in greater customer confidence, more trust and an advantageous position long before products, services and price are discussed.

Practice and Improve Key Customer Interactions

Customers purchase from people and teams they believe in. Demonstrating confidence in your offering and being resilient to questioning and objections is especially vital in a challenging environment.

Ensuring the account team is confident in front of your customer is essential. One services group we have worked with internally created what they call a ‘red team’; this is designed to pose challenging questions to any team that is about to propose an offer to an important target customer. Another client; a key supplier to the automotive industry, sets up in-house practice sessions, mirroring the particularly arduous negotiation environment, leaving no stone unturned.

It’s an investment that has proved very successful and an approach which is embedded as a regular discipline.

In challenging markets, focusing on the right opportunities is vital. Success is achieved through offering the right products and services but also about actively showing the efforts you make on the customers behalf, reminding them of the successes you have delivered and the stability and skills of your business and team serving them.

It’s about fostering the confidence that you will deliver the best possible solution, no matter how challenging the environment. Such foundations support the growth that more knee-jerk and less robust approaches fail to deliver.