When Do You Know The Project Is Off-Track Interview Questions Out of Sight, Out of Luck

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Out of Sight, Out of Luck

As managers, we don’t tolerate employees “calling it in.” But, are we setting up our systems to be so automated and low-touch that customers experience our companies “calling it?” If so, we create opportunities for competitors who know how to balance efficient production-related systems with effective customer-facing processes. In this case study, a customer who is happy with his primary supplier follows the path of least resistance and gives discretionary orders to a competing supplier who frequently shows up and asks for business.

This is one of a series of case studies highlighting “Questions to Ask and Course Corrections” drawn from 20 years of B2B customer perspective projects. All the names are not real, but the situations are real. The case studies paint a picture of how important it is to learn what your B2B customers are thinking–but not saying. These are real-world examples of how asking for and acting on customer feedback has helped companies hold on to customers longer, grow relationships and get new business faster.

Case Study: Happy Customers Buy From Competitor

Key Question (asked by a purchasing manager – the main contact with the vendor in this 5-figure relationship):

“Does the ‘RemoteVendor’ show an appropriate amount of interest in their relationship with you?”

Course correction quote:

Purchasing Manager: “The RemoteVendor is located hundreds of miles away. They have to realize that my local guy is here every other week. He gets my discretionary business. He gets it by maintaining a relationship with us. I’ve never met anyone from RemoteVendor.”

My Client’s Confusion:

This customer is full of praise about “RemoteVendor” product quality, responsiveness, reliability, competitiveness and professionalism. On the surface, that’s all RemoteVendor hopes to know: How happy are our customers with our business practices? When the conversation evolved into a discussion about where the gaps are, this customer pointed out that, by prioritizing efficiency, the vendor sacrificed all signs of customer intimacy. Customers notice when vendors work to develop a relationship, or fail.

In contrast, a sales rep from a smaller, local supplier makes it a priority to check in regularly to get what business he can. He also positions himself to take over this account if for any reason the customer is disillusioned with the existing vendor. An attentive seller will certainly obtain an RFP if the customer decides to put the business out to bid.

Conclusion:

This is another example of how sellers are leaving money on the table. This customer may know that the RemoteVendor can fill his orders, but the local supplier shows up and requests the business. It’s hard for someone to look you in the eye and turn you down.

To some degree we all know the following rules to be true: The order of effectiveness in building and maintaining relationships with B2B customers and prospects is (from least to most):

  • Electronic newsletter and mass e-mails.

  • Paper newsletters.

  • Customized paper mail.

  • Customized e-mails.

  • Phone calls.

  • Face to face contact.

Caveat: Everyone has their preferences. Ask each customer or prospect how they would like you to stay in touch. All you need or want is a periodic e-mail newsletter to keep you top of mind. Others want you to call or e-mail them every two weeks. Ask, don’t guess.

Cuts in expense budgets can range from travel to IT upgrades to head count. Headcount cuts will squeeze your remaining staff. At some point, cost cutting starts to hurt the customer experience and start costing you revenue. If efficiencies begin to decrease in effectiveness, STOP cutting unless you are intent on finding a “new normal” revenue size that can be sustained in your small operating budget.

Remember, your customers may also be running strong organizations, which means they take the path of least resistance if they can. If you can’t visit them, call and talk to your customers regularly. Develop relationships. Ask for more business.

Have heart: If you have prospects whose primary supplier is out of place, you can get your foot in the door by offering to take on smaller projects. Showing up regularly can help you dislodge a distant competitor. Let “out of sight, out of luck” work in your favor!

I categorize projects as assessments, investigations, treasure hunts or rescue missions. This project is an assessment. The client question “Are our customers satisfied with us?” The answer is “Yes, and you’re missing out on quick business by forgetting that customers are people first.”

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