Think about the last time you used the words “fine” or “satisfied” to describe something. Did you feel the obligation or urge to use that product or service again and again? Or was the experience perfectly average?
Almost all products and services today work the way they should—in other words, they satisfy—yet many businesses equate satisfaction with retention and long-term engagement. That’s not the case. In the B2B space, buyers who report being “satisfied” and “fine” are often indifferent to the vendor and are likely exploring other options. Prior to working with our salesEQUITY team, a commercial insurance client even found that 73 percent of lost clients were “satisfied” or even “very satisfied.”
For over a decade, I have been researching and analyzing B2B relationships to identify best practices for long-term client engagement. In founding salesEQUITY, I set out to teach Fortune 500 companies how to measure the health of their individual relationships and identify the clients ripe for up-sell, cross-sell, and other types of increased engagement.
For any company in any industry, the first step in improving the health of individual client relationships is understanding the four types of clients:
You deliver a fine product or service at a fair price. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the relationship – in fact you probably have high levels of client satisfaction – but there’s nothing particularly right with it either. As I like to say, if you got hit by a bus tomorrow, your client will find someone new and their life will go on “just fine.”
“You’re my favorite, but…”
All things being equal, your client would just as soon continue doing business with you. It would take work to switch: you are already an approved vendor, you know their systems, you are “up to speed”, etc. While the client may think moving to another vendor would offer better value, the incremental benefit is not worth the switching costs. It’s a relationship based on momentum, not motivation.
3. TRUSTED ADVISOR
Your company is clearly different. Your client recognizes the value you create for them professionally (and personally), and their life is better with you in it. They involve you earlier on in decision making, and count on you to identify potential problems, rather than just solve them. To your client, if you got hit by a bus tomorrow, their life would be worse.
At the other end of the spectrum, your client is actively seeking to replace you with someone better. You’ve likely either failed to deliver on the basic promise or transaction, or worse yet, you’ve broken a promise and lost their trust. To continue the analogy, with antagonistic relationships, your client may be the one driving the bus.
It’s clear that the ultimate goal of any client relationship is to evolve to the “trusted advisor” category, and unless you already take that spot, there’s room for improvement. There’s incentive as well – trusted advisor relationships translate directly to profits. Engaged clients:
- Spend 3x more
- Stay 4x longer
- Require 41 percent less work
WHICH ONE ARE YOU?
Understanding the four types of clients, the second step is classifying your own. While trusted advisor and antagonistic relationships are obvious, predisposed and transactional can be more difficult to identify.
Emotivity plays a huge part in measuring the client relationship. Predisposed clients will talk about the strengths of the company and the product with little focus on the people providing the service. Transactional relationships focus only on what you can do for one another - there is no relationship beyond fulfilling orders in a timely manner.
We’ve created six dimensions to guide organizations in moving their clients up the ladder by measuring the current relationship climate. To turn an antagonistic client into a transactional one, focus on the first two: integrity and competency.
These are satisfiers and considered the ticket to the game. Once you are average or better than your peers, focus on the next four dimensions—the motivators—which compel clients to increase their engagement and reach the trusted advisor zone.
- Integrity. Do you do what you promise?
- Competency. Do you know your business?
- Recognition. Do you treat me like an individual, or like an average?
- Proactivity. Do you look out for me and protect me from surprises?
- Savvy. Do you understand my business?
- Chemistry. Do we click and work well together?
Of course, it’s hard to “do” integrity, because it’s a perception and not something that you can take immediate action on. Practices or behaviors, however, like the act of writing things down or helping a client sell an idea internally, are shockingly simple and have profound, positive effects on your clients’ perception of your integrity.
So, what kinds of clients do you have? By putting time and effort into understanding your client relationships and what it will take to improve them, you’ll enjoy continued business growth and success.
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