By Oren Hansab

Strategic Account Manager

 

 

 


 

If you are an account manager operating in the business-to-business environment you will be familiar with the sensitivities surrounding relationships with customers. It often feels like you are walking on eggshells as you try to balance the competing demands of your customer’s needs and your own company’s interests.

 

So what is the best way to handle this difficult task?

 

The first and most important step is to develop a good understanding of your customer’s organization. What is their business strategy? Which markets do they operate in? What are their plans for the future? Are their decisions driven by price, quality of service or some other factor? Who are their competitors? If you can answer all these questions, you will have a good foundation on which to build a meaningful relationship.

 

Now that you are armed with the basic information about your customer, the second step requires you to dig a little deeper and identify their weak points so that you can find a way to add value to their business. For example, if your customer is planning to expand into a new territory with which they are unfamiliar, then do your research and offer them the support they need. Perhaps they lack expertise in a particular market in which you have experience—in this case, some small nugget of information might seem minor to you but could be priceless to your customer.

 

The third and final step requires a more personal touch. After convincing your customer that you have the skills and knowledge required to help grow their business, you need to cement the relationship by connecting on a one-to-one basis. Always remember, every business and company is made of people and every person is driven by their likes, dis-likes, wants and desires. This will go a long way to prolonging the partnership and smoothing the way whenever difficulties occur, as they inevitably will at some stage. There are a number of strategies that you can use to get to know your customer more intimately:

 

Social networks: Check out your customer’s profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and WeChat (for Asia-Pacific customers). Not only will these sites carry your customer’s latest corporate announcements, but they will also give you an insight into what makes your contact person tick. Take interest in their lives and make the time to acknowledge their significant life events such as birthdays, child birth, anniversaries and vacations. If you know what their hobbies and interests are, you can find common ground and be more prepared for the small talk that makes interacting with them a more pleasurable experience.

 

Exhibitions: If you are planning to attend a particular exhibition, find out if your customer is going to be at any lectures or seminars. These industry events are a great opportunity to get to know your contacts better.

 

Face-to-face meetings: It’s important to meet with your customer frequently, rather than waiting until an important issue has been raised. Even if the relationship is already great, regular visits will keep the atmosphere between the two parties warm, and help to create a dynamic that will be more effective when those big issues do arise.

 

The key to successful customer orientation lies in having a full understanding of the business and individual that you are dealing with, and then nurturing the relationship on an ongoing basis. If you follow these three steps systematically, you will give yourself the best possible chance of creating a partnership with your customer that is both mutually beneficial and long-lasting.