You may have heard the phrase “winning the battle and losing the war.” Did you know it has relevance in business development? Well, it does when business developers focus only on winning the next contract — winning the battle — and give little consideration to winning many more contracts with the same customer. On the other hand, experienced developers focus on building lasting customer relationships to provide a solid foundation from which they can win both the battles and the war against the competition.
Lasting customer relationships allow us to gain insight into and to shape their wants and needs, to mold their expectations, and to influence their requirements. Such relationships permit us to help them understand the benefits, features and advantages of acquiring our solutions and using our capabilities. By interfacing with the customer early and often in the pursuit of business, we can support the customer in building a long-term answer to their needs. Plus, we improve our competitive position along the way by learning more about what they really want and by convincing them that we’re working on their behalf.
When building customer relationships, there are three goals to keep in mind:
As you go about achieving your goals, strive to appreciate how the customer views the acquisition process under their management. Here are five ways to gain that appreciation and build relationships:
- Create your relationship based on trust and dependability. Deal with your customer equitably and ethically. Always deliver what you promise the customer. Become their “Go To” team.
- Work with them as much as possible. Frequent customer assistance will grow your value to them. Of course, be mindful of any impacts that you might have on their schedules.
- Continually refine your understanding of their requirements. Integrating and verifying what you can gather about customer wants and needs will cause you to identify both the root causes of their actions and their real needs. Gather what you can about their problems/issues; what they truly value; and what pre-dispositions they might have in how they do their work and what they want to acquire.
- Listen, Listen, Listen. If you’re intent on selling your company, your product or yourself, you may not hear what your customer has to say. If you let them, your customers will tell you how to win against your competition.
- Make inquiries in an interested/inquisitive way demonstrating that you’re focused on helping them to achieve their objectives and to get what they truly wish to acquire.
- Take the time to uncover their real “hot buttons”, or the things that keep them awake at night. Not all customer wants and needs become readily apparent early in a relationship.
- Frequent customer interactions are urged as part of Goal 2 above. During these interactions, always present yourself or your team as well-informed and educated on the topic being discussed. By doing this, you’ll increase the chances that the customer will view you as having placed their needs at the top of your “To Do” list.
- Extend your customer understanding into several levels of detail. Knowing the details of what steps the customer goes through to make their purchases may have a significant impact on the success of your business pursuit. Understanding who the actual proponents of the proposed program are could make your customer contact efforts efficient and cost-effective. Studying the funding source for the acquisition might allow you to uncover follow-on opportunities or the potential for transitioning a proposed one-year contact into a multi-year procurement.
Pursuing good customer relationships will increase your competitive position. We urge you to employ the goals and ways suggested above, and to look at them as starting points. If you achieve these goals and then go beyond them to develop your customer relationships, you will continue to come out on top of the business competitions you enter. Good luck!
This article was contributed by Robert Kelly, one of our consulting partners who can help you capture government business. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 703-338-7627.