How to Turn Customers into Advocates

Existing customers are more profitable and easier to sell to than entirely new prospects according to a study by Bain & Company. Increasing customer retention by as little as 5% increases profits by 25-95% while the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70% versus 5-20% for a new prospect. Your current customers buy more and buy quicker because they already know, like, and trust you and your product. And, if they become advocates, they will tell others and be a reference for you. Sounds great, doesn’t it! But how can a KAM turn customers into advocates?

Understand your customers

The better you Know your customers, the more strategic and effective you can be for them. Going beyond names and titles, you need to ask them about their personal and professional goals, motivations and expectations. Take time to understand the overall reporting structure in each key account, providing insights around what your day-to-day contacts are juggling in their job as well as the culture of their organization.

Dive deeper by leveraging Voice of Customer (VOC) email surveys combined with individual conversations consisting of customized questions across key account organizations. Then look at internal and external factors that may influence account success through a SWOT analysis.

While getting to know your key customers and when updating your customer knowledge, be sure to ask questions that reveal how you can become a great long-term partner to them. This is important since everybody has their own preferred way of working with business partners. By making a point to ask, you set yourself up to meet their expectations.

Some prefer to initiate contact when they need assistance, where others want partners to maintain consistent contact with them. It’s also important to learn their preferred method of communication as well as what key performance indicators against which they want to measure success. After you ask a question of your key contacts, take the time to listen carefully to their responses, ask follow-up questions, and confirm understanding before advancing to the next question. Then, it’s time to take appropriate action.

Deliver on your promises

Now that you have all this customer knowledge, it’s time to Act by creating an action plan. This is where you set goals, objectives, tactics, and tasks to deliver on the commitments you’ve made to your key accounts. Breaking down each goal into actionable steps enables you and your team to deliver value by actually doing what has been promised. Plus, it makes it easier to stay focused while tracking your progress. This is critical to the overall key account relationship.

Deliver value at every interaction

Make sure that you’re respectful of each contact’s time. Don’t schmooze. Instead, provide value in every interaction by showing them you understand their business and communicating clearly while offering insights, guidance, and new perspectives. This establishes you as a trusted partner delivering buteiness value and increasing customer retention. It also means your clients make you aware of changes and upcoming opportunities first. And they provide you with open, honest feedback quickly and continuously, enabling you to take timely steps to consistently improve customer experience.

Put your customer’s needs ahead of your own

As a Key Account Manager, you must always put your customer’s needs first. Doing so is a win-win where meeting or exceeding the goals and objectives of your key accounts means reaching your own company’s goals as well. Failing to remain focused on your customer’s goals ensures you fall short on both fronts.

Follow up on the value

It’s essential to establish specific goals and success metrics to Measure the success of your action plan by identifying which ones to use as you create each plan. Be sure to establish good baseline data at the beginning as you’re getting to know the customer. Doing so facilitates tracking your progress toward goal attainment. It makes it possible for you to quantify results when communicating internally. And allows you to clearly articulate to your clients the value you have provided. This can make all the difference when it comes to renewals by quantifying account success to stakeholders who think in terms of ROI.

In addition to clearly communicating valuable outcomes, be sure to ask customers if they received the results they were expecting and how you can improve. Always get feedback – this is essential to the future health of your accounts and enables you to keep your finger on their pulse at all times, addressing issues and making adjustments along the way.

Ask for references and advocacy

If they receive quantifiable value from you, ask your client to be a reference or to provide a testimonial. Then share these on social media. There’s no greater form of advertising than customer references, referrals, and testimonials. Make sure you take the time to ask for them once you’ve created this type of deep and trusting customer relationship.

Need help taking your Key Account Management program to this level? Kapta can help. Contact us to schedule a demo today.

Welcome to the Customer Engagement Economy

The Customer Engagement Economy is here—and it’s here to stay. That means it’s not enough to win new business. Customer needs are changing, and the only way to meet them is to dive into customer relationships, adding value in increasingly bespoke ways.

Today’s customers demand that you:

  1. Understand their business
  2. Make them more competitive
  3. Deliver on your promises
  4. Make them a hero

As anyone who works in Key Account Management knows, that’s no small feat. And if you’re still relying on your CRM to get you there, you won’t have the support you need. Why? Because CRMs weren’t built for the Engagement Economy.

Read more to learn why the stakes are higher than ever, why CRMs are structurally unable to rise to the occasion, and how purpose-built KAM technology can help.

Harder to engage. Easy to lose.

If you think your key accounts are safe from churn, think again. In the Engagement Economy, ever-growing customer demands lead to ever more vulnerable customer relationships. Consider these sobering stats:

  • Only 31% of companies believe their suppliers understand their needs
  • Only 47% of customers believe their vendors deliver on promises
  • 71% of companies are indifferent towards or disengaged from their vendors

So who are the companies who are delivering on their promises and building real engagement? And what are they doing well? They’re driving growth and retention through deep understanding of their clients’ needs, clear and actionable plans, and tangible results. They’re moving beyond transactional relationships to more engaged, more strategic work.

Transactional vs Relational

CRM tools reinforce a transactional approach to customer relationships: Sales, billing, issue resolution, etc. All those transactions collect data, but very little of it actually helps you understand your customers better—much less make them more competitive and more successful. In short, transactions aren’t enough to build engagement. For that, you need relationships—and tools designed to help support them.

Relationships can never be fully automated the way many transactions can—but they can be accelerated by purpose-built technology. The right KAM platform prompts behaviors that build engagement: frequent, value-added client communication; strong, strategic account planning; and metrics tracking against key performance indicators (KPIs).

Intention and Infrastructure

Building customer engagement takes a unified approach: People, process, and technology. Leadership must commit to a customer-centric culture, and prioritize organic growth through exceptional client delivery. The right technology enables success for everyone in the organization by establishing and facilitating a clear customer engagement process: Know your customers. Act on their behalf. Measure your impact.

Your Customer Engagement Roadmap

Kapta is more than a tech platform—it’s a customer engagement roadmap, helping KAMs establish a clear framework for doing business in the Engagement Economy. Kapta gives teams a compass to follow, a clear structure for goal-oriented account planning, and an automated, visual approach to metrics tracking.

The result? When motivated teams are using our tech, they are able to:

  • Understand their customers’ business.
  • Deliver insights that make customers more competitive.
  • Deliver on their promises.
  • Make customers heroes—to their internal leadership and to the people they serve.

Sound familiar? These are exactly the things customers demand in the Engagement Economy. So while CRMs weren’t built for today’s customers, you’re not on your own. Purpose-built KAM software can help you drive success for yourself, your organization, and, most importantly, for your customers.

To learn more about how Kapta can help you excel in the Engagement Economy, schedule your demo today.

Winners and Losers in the Customer Engagement Economy

As we’ve written before, the Customer Engagement Economy is here to stay. That means your customers are demanding more than ever, and simple transactions won’t be enough—you need to build long-term engagement to drive profitable, resilient growth.

Companies who drive retention and organic growth through a deep understanding of their clients, clear action plans, and tangible results will be winners in this economy. Companies who can’t make the pivot will flounder.

In this post we’ll take a closer look at the Engagement Economy, asking who wins—and who loses—in the new B2B ecosystem.

Shifting Customer Demand

Today’s customers are harder to engage and easier to lose than ever. They are bombarded by personalized messages and services every time they look at their phone. They have a world of resources at their fingertips. Every day, someone offers them a new product or service.

In part because of their experience as consumers in the digital age, they have come to expect increasingly bespoke solutions from their B2B providers. Today’s customers demand their vendors:

  1. Understand their business.
  2. Make them more competitive.
  3. Deliver on promises.
  4. Make them look like heroes.

It’s a high-pressure world for B2B providers, and most don’t rise to the task. How do we know? Because 71% of companies are indifferent towards or disengaged from their vendors.

In this new economy, some B2B companies will thrive. And some won’t. Let’s take a closer look at the difference.

Success: What does it take?

Companies who succeed in the Engagement Economy are able to rise to the challenge of increasingly personalized demand, building retention and growth through strategic account management.

They know their customers. They act powerfully on their behalf, creating and tracking against clear, actionable account plans. And they measure results, so they have the insights they need to course-correct towards demonstrable, tangible results.

Because of how well they know their customers, winners in the Engagement Economy have an accurate, real-time understanding of the health of their accounts, which makes their own planning and projection processes more reliable.

So how do they get there? It takes intention and infrastructure.

  • Intention means senior leadership supports a customer-centric culture at every level and facet of the organization
  • Infrastructure means providing clear process and purpose-built technology to support people in their customer engagement efforts

In order to work, KAM technology has to be purpose-built and process-driven, designed with the specific needs of client relationship managers in mind. Just like KAM itself, KAM technology can’t be overly tactical—it has to be strategic. We’ll talk more about that below.

The new Engagement Economy challenges companies to think beyond their pipeline, asking how they can drive shared success; growing when and because their customers do.

Failure: What’s missing?

Companies who don’t succeed in the Engagement Economy are, simply put, the companies who aren’t able to pivot. That means:

  • They don’t recognize the shift in customer demand.
  • They don’t adapt their process accordingly.
  • They use outdated technology to support their efforts.

Some companies are still using a mashup of powerpoint, excel, email, and other tools to make account plans. But powerpoint decks only ever end up in one place: archived in a server somewhere. Static tools can’t connect to customer data—they don’t provide real-time tracking against customer goals, which means they don’t give you a sense of your real-life impact. Not to mention, they don’t give you a sense of real-time account health and customer engagement.

But it’s not enough simply to move to a more sophisticated platform. CRMs, though popular among sales teams, are designed for transactional relationships—not customer engagement. Interfacing with clients on a transactional level is the kiss of death for key account managers. If you only provide capacity, you’re very easy to replace; if you are a strategic partner, you’re indispensable.

That level of engagement is what your process and tools should be geared to develop. CRMs might generate leads, but they don’t help you do the deep dive.

While a failure to adapt your tech stack for the new B2B landscape is a critical issue, the more important thing is what it reflects: A deep adherence to the status quo. This, more than anything, is what companies need to overcome if they want to succeed in a rapidly changing customer environment.

Conclusion

The Engagement Economy is here to stay. To be successful, B2B providers need the intention and infrastructure to build customer engagement. To learn more about how Kapta can help you win in today’s B2B environment, schedule your demo today.

What IS a Key Account?

Key account management—focusing on the development of a company’s most strategic accounts—is at the center of everything we at Kapta do. But the question often gets asked: what’s the difference between a “key” account and a “regular” account? One typical way of defining a key account is to look at the “80/20 rule”—the oft-true premise that 20% or less of your client base drives up to 80% of revenue. But what defines a key account in actuality can be a bit more nuanced, and based on more than just revenue.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the other factors that go into defining what is a key account.

Potential for Development and Growth

Of course it’s logical to prioritize high-value clients. But there can be big gains to be had by applying a proactive approach to small and mid-sized accounts, if you’re able to identify their ability to grow with you.

In order to determine a client’s growth potential, it’s imperative you get crystal-clear about two things: first, what your company’s ideal customers look like, and second, who your current customers are. This dual-lensed approach is the best way to ensure that the foundation of key account management is in place, and that the relationship can be built to fuel mutual goals. (This exercise of determining your ideal clients is circular, by the way; once you’ve identified your core customer, real profits should be continuously analyzed to determine if your ideal customer is actually who’s bringing you business.)

Your client research shouldn’t be purely speculative, though; there should be a clear understanding from the client of what their philosophy is in partnering with you. How does this client buy? Do relationships matter, or is the client’s business more transaction-based? Is the sales cycle reliable? If you can collect evidence to show how and why a currently small or medium account has the potential to grow into your ideal, then it may well be worth applying a key account management strategy. Read our tools and best practices for getting to better know the clients you serve.

Providing targeted, smaller accounts with specialized treatment can require a lighter short-term effort that may still reap future big rewards.

Your Vision Aligns Well With Their Challenges

This one seems obvious, but it’s worth careful consideration in evaluating your most important accounts: are your solutions highly valued by the client? Is the client work an ongoing, collaborative process that takes advantage of the full scope of your company’s capabilities? A strong customer connection and jointly working toward mutual success is the bedrock of key account management. Your value should be evident to the customer; in turn, the customer understands the full range of your offering and wants to utilize your services and hold them to their highest capabilities and standards, ensuring mutual success.

Another angle to explore in assessing the mutual beneficiality of a client relationship is: How does selling to this client affect other areas of the business? You know that your large customers want personalized service and tailored solutions—so how do the operational costs and margins involved in creating those solutions trickle down to affect more nascent accounts? The needs of and learnings from your largest accounts can often shape your offering in a way that will attract and grow new business in the future. The result of a key account’s success should have a far-reaching positive effect on the business.

Executive Fit and Relationships

We know that key account management is based, above all else, on strong customer relationships. So it’s a simple fact that in order to be a key account, the ingredients that foster a strong client relationship must be in place. Some of the relationships areas to consider are:

  • Communication: is communication easy and fluid? Or do difficulties often arise? Are points of contact clear or is there frequent confusion?
  • Relationship-focused: does the relationship allow the account team to remain focused on customer service, or do smaller details typically require a lot of attention? Can the account team concentrate on the customer’s big picture needs or are they often mired in close or contractual issues?
  • Trust: no relationship is perfect, but when issues do arise, are they addressed with a spirit of mutual trust? Are you given the opportunity to face potential problems as they arise, or do you have to take a reactive approach and constantly put out fires? Trust is built on a foundation of other attributes, and it should foster collaboration.
  • Long-Term Strategic Planning: is the client willing to have conversations about shared values? Is the account one you’re willing to take a proactive approach in goal setting and troubleshooting? This process produces long-term goals and milestones that all parties embrace because they had an equal part in setting them.
  • Having these attributes in place provides for sustainable, repeat business with a fair exchange of value—in other words, a key account.

Conclusion

The goal of key account management is to be a strategic partner and trusted advisor. Once you have clarity on who your key accounts are, you should have systems in place to make sure they receive white glove service and feel special. To see how Kapta can help you transform your approach through the power of our KAM Process™, schedule a demo today.

How to Keep Up with Customers and Colleagues This Year

It’s been a long, weird year (and it’s not over yet). We’ve all had to rethink our original plans (personal and professional), and while we at Kapta spend many days counting our blessings, we’re feeling the disappointment this week: October 6-7 would have been our 3rd annual KAMCon. We’re really missing the chance to engage, learn, share, and catch up with people in person.

We know we’re not alone: Many businesses are missing out on the face time we all need. Many of us are making it work on video calls, but it’s not quite the same.

So as we wait for a slow return to a new normal, what are some ways you can stay connected to customers, colleagues, and peers in this weird year?

Customers

Though it may seem harder than ever to stay connected to customers, it’s never been more important. Across B2B sectors, organizations are being asked to take a long hard look at every line item in their budget—and you don’t want to find yourself on the chopping block. Here are 3 ways to stay engaged:

  1. Schedule small-group video calls. When you really need feedback and engagement from customers, consider presenting work in a series of smaller calls (4-5 people) rather than one large presentation to 5+ stakeholders. The fewer attendees on a video call, the more manageable it is to field questions, monitor engagement, read chat questions, and capture notes. Presenting to multiple small groups vs one large group presents scheduling and logistical challenges, so make sure to build that into your timeline.
  2. Update your VOC and SWOT. Though it may be important for you to keep in touch with your customers, you have to make sure the connection is important for them, too. Updating the VOC or SWOT analysis for key accounts is a great way to learn more about their outlook for the coming months, while facilitating a 2-way, fully engaged conversation.
  3. Explore online thought leadership. Not travelling to events may actually free up your budget for thought leadership. So get creative: Instead of presenting at a conference, can you organize a webinar or online panel? Can you create a series of “snackable” videos? How can you reroute the funds and energy you might have spent in other years creating excellent online content? Make sure to engage video and sound editors, as well as any other talent you need to make your online thought leadership stand out.

Colleagues

With many offices closed and retreats on hold, how do you continue to build team dynamics and culture remotely? Whatever you do, don’t take for granted that your teams are functioning as they always do. Make time to check in.

  1. Create a virtual water cooler. While you may be talking to colleagues constantly in video meetings, make sure you set aside time simply to connect as a team. Just keep in mind everyone has a bit of Zoom fatigue, so be discerning in how often you ask colleagues to connect.
  2. Be mindful of employees’ challenges. This is an extremely stressful year for many people. Your employees may be parents trying to facilitate online learning for their kids while also managing their own workload; they may be in a high-risk health category, dealing with the ongoing stress of navigating daily life safely. Make sure you have resources available to your employees, whether it’s an EAP program, flexible hours, or other people-centered solutions to keep your staff feeling safe and supported.
  3. Upgrade your tech stack. Upskill your base. For better or worse, 2020 is a time to make change. Maybe you’ve been holding off on introducing new tech skills or programs because you didn’t want to interrupt the status quo—well, the status quo has officially been disrupted. Seize the day.

Peers

Industry events (like KAMCon!) are incredible opportunities to share emerging best practices, learn from peers, and generally enjoy time with like-minded people who are as deep in your industry as you are. How can we tide ourselves over until large events are happening again?

  1. Look local. If you work remotely most of the time, now is a great time to take a closer look at what’s happening in your own town or region. Connect (or reconnect) with local networks and set up a socially-distant outdoor coffee with someone you’ve been meaning to see in your own town. Again, be creative—this could be a great chance to step away from your screen and tap into what’s happening right next door.
  2. Read up. How often do we make a note to follow up on this or that article, only to get carried away by everyday work? Find a day you’d normally be travelling for work, block off the travel time, and use it to dig into 2-3 articles from thought leaders in your field. You may even find you’re better prepared for a SWOT review with your customers or your own internal leadership.

Conclusion

Obviously, when we started planning KAMCon 2020, we had no idea how 2020 would unfold. We know we’re not alone, and we’d love to hear how you’re making it work in the meantime. To hear more about how we’re spending our year, subscribe and stay in touch! Meantime, stay well and we’ll hope to see you in person soon.

Is Your Customer at Risk of Churn? 5 Ways to Find Out.

It’s a key account manager’s worst nightmare: One day, out of nowhere, you lose a major customer.

Sometimes it’s completely outside your control. But most of the time, if it seems like it’s coming “out of nowhere,” chances are you weren’t watching closely enough—or you weren’t looking at the right indicators.

Customers are harder to engage and easier to lose than ever—and that was true before the recession hit. Now, it’s time to take a close look at your major accounts and see whether they’re at risk of churn. Ask yourself:

  1. Have you updated your SWOT and VOC? If the last time you did this was before March 2020, it’s time to revisit.
  2. Are you embedded vertically and horizontally in the organization? Do you have relationships with the C-suite? Cross-functional teams? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
  3. Do you have a long-term, customer-centric strategic plan? This can’t just be a plan to sell them more widgets. It has to be a plan that advances your customer’s goals, too.
  4. Do you have a framework for measuring success (and are you tracking)? The only way to demonstrate value is to track it.
  5. How healthy is the account? This is more than customer satisfaction—it’s customer engagement.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at each of these questions, establishing a framework to help you assess your accounts—and see who’s at risk of walking away.

1) Updating SWOT and VOC

Key account management is a bit like playing the card game Spades. Some things are the cards you’re dealt—they’re out of your control. Things like pandemics, recessions, mergers & acquisitions, and other disruptive forces, for good or for bad. Based on those cards, you have to make a projection around how much you can expect to win—and then set out to meet those projections. Along the way, you’re adjusting to plays by your partner and your competitors. The way you project, plan, and react is the part you can control.

If you’re a key account manager right now, and you’re managing large portfolios of business, it’s time to re-examine your cards. Two ways you can do that are (a) updating your SWOT analysis, and (b) updating your Voice of Customer (VOC). Your VOC will help you check in with customers—how have their goals and expectations changed this year? Your SWOT will give you a clear sense of internal and external forces working for and against you, so you can adjust your plan accordingly. You can also hop on a call with your customers to update their SWOT analysis. It’s a meaningful and engaging way to get some face time (even if it’s screen time) and demonstrate your commitment to constantly refining your shared strategic action plan (more on that below).

If you haven’t updated your SWOT and VOC, both internally and with your customers, you might be missing key signs your customers are at high risk of churn—and even if they’re not, you’re missing opportunities to grow the relationship.

2) Vertical and Horizontal Footprint

If your customer relationships are heavily reliant on one person’s goodwill, you’re sitting in a risky spot. People’s plans change—they switch companies, they shift gears, they change careers. So while one strong relationship might get you in the door, your goal should be to expand your footprint within the organization as a whole, both vertically (all the way up to the C-Suite) and horizontally (across departments and/or with cross-functional teams). In addition to cementing your relationships, and reducing the risk of churn, you’ll also set yourself up to be even more effective with the organization, because you’ll understand more about how things get done.

3) Long-Term, Customer-Centric, Strategic Plans

That’s a lot of qualifiers, but they’re all critical: Your plan can’t be “sell them more things.” Strong account plans are long-term: How will we grow this business over the next 1-3 years? They are customer-centric: How will we grow this business by helping our customers meet their own growth goals? And they are strategic: How does this plan address what we’ve seen in SWOT and VOC analyses?

If you don’t have a plan that meets all the requirements above, or if the plan isn’t well-documented and easy for cross-functional teams to reference, or if you think there’s a plan but you’re not sure what it is, we have bad news for you: Your customer might be at risk of churn.

4) Measuring Success

Customers need to see the value of their investment. That’s always true, but especially so in a recession, when people are watching their spend more closely. In order to demonstrate value, you have to track it—and that means establishing and monitoring meaningful KPIs for your customers.
Revenue is an obvious KPI, but it’s not the only one. Part of the work is thinking strategically and creatively about what matters and how to track it. Then there’s the actual work of tracking it, which, if you have a program like Kapta that’s set up to do so, should be automated. Finally, there’s the work of interpreting the data to tell a meaningful story to your customer.

If you’re doing all that, you’re lowering your risk of churn. If you’re not, you’re increasing your risk of churn. It’s that simple.

5) Account Health Scoring

Although everything above contributes to an account health assessment, it’s still worthwhile to call it out as a separate question. To fully understand your risk of churn, you should be conducting regular account health scoring exercises with your team.

Start by establishing a common vocabulary and framework around account health. Account health includes customer satisfaction, but it doesn’t stop there—after all, a customer can be satisfied without being actively engaged. Engagement means they’re picking up the phone to call you at every step of the journey; they’re saying great things about you to their colleagues within and outside of their organization. They’re talking to you about future initiatives.

There are 3 main ways to gauge account health, each with pros and cons. We cover those in depth in this post; we’ll summarize here:

  • Method 1: Ask your customer facing teams
  • Method 2: Method 1 plus track leading indicators
  • Method 3: Methods 1 and 2 plus track lagging indicators

However you do it, tracking account health scores regularly and comprehensively is perhaps THE best way to predict any given customer’s risk of churn.

Conclusion

The worst case scenario for any account manager is an unexpected end to a client relationship. To keep that from happening, you have to look for the right indicators—and you have to do it often. To see how Kapta can help you update your SWOT and VOC analyses, build customer-centric strategic plans, demonstrate value, and gauge account health, schedule a personal demo today.

How to Train Your Clients: Three Strategies for Client Education

It’s easy to think of clients like we think of the weather: A mysterious force over which we have no influence or control.

If that’s your take, you’re probably more a vendor than a strategic advisor, no matter what you’re billing. True customer engagement means helping to guide strategy, not just helping with tactical execution.

It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s true: if you’re always doing exactly what your client asks, you’re not doing your job as a strategic account manager. Good key account managers know when, how, and why to step up and steer their clients in a new or different direction.

In this post, we’ll look at three pathways to growth that are grounded in pushing back —and pushing your customers towards better work.

  1. Accommodate, then educate. Make sure your clients understand what you and your team need in order to do exceptional work.
  2. Options, options, options. Deliver what they’ve asked—then present your recommended solution.
  3. The power of a POV. Show them what you know to add lasting value.

Why the Customer is Not Always Right

Before we dive into the strategies outlined above, it’s important to set the stage. Everyone in client service has faced a situation where the customer asks for a deliverable or an approach that isn’t the best path forward.

When that happens, you have a choice: Defer, or push back. There’s a time for both—and when you decide to push back, there’s a real opportunity for you to demonstrate your value as a trusted strategic partner who adds perspective and expertise, instead of just a vendor who adds capacity.

So why is it so difficult, when the customer is wrong, to push back?

  • We have all been raised in a business culture that says “the customer is always right.” After all, the customer pays the bills. It takes confidence and clear-sightedness to see the long game: What they’re actually paying for is help achieving their goals—not someone to agree with them every step of the way. If you fall into the trap of always saying “yes” because it seems easier and less risky in the moment, you’ll slowly dilute your value—especially if you put long-term outcomes at stake.
  • Defensiveness is the human condition. We are all hard-wired to feel defensive when someone tells us our brilliant idea maybe isn’t so brilliant. Unless you have strong communication skills and good judgement, it’s intimidating to enter what feels like a confrontation with your client. To be clear, we’re not recommending you burst in, guns blazing, and commence to calling them names; rather, we’re recommending you find a way to open a productive dialogue about new ideas.

The strategies below are all ways of navigating defensiveness on the part of your clients—especially if they also believe, as customers, that they are always right.

A final note about tone before we dive in: You have to use your own judgement about when it’s time to push back and introduce an alternate idea, and when it’s time to just to do what they’ve said. To use a soccer analogy: you have to go for the ball, not the player. If it’s clear you’re acting in the interest of the best possible work, and never attacking anyone personally, you’re less likely to incur a foul. And finally, you have to understand your customer inside and out. The more you know about the challenges they face, and the objectives they’re trying to meet, the more you can ground your conversation in long-term outcomes—which everyone will appreciate.

1) Accommodate, Then Educate

One common situation is that clients ask for something on an unreasonable timeline, or within some other unreasonable constraint. This can cause tremendous stress for your internal team.

It may be tempting, as the key account manager, to shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, the client asked for it, so we’re working all weekend to deliver it. My hands are tied.” But if you do that consistently, you’ll work every weekend. You’ll also degrade your relationship with the internal team and risk the quality of your finished product. “Rush makes mush,” as they say.

This is an opportunity to step back and teach your client what goes into your deliverables, so you can plan for a better process next time—and show them just how valuable your work is.

Remember the good/fast/cheap paradox: Your customers can have 2, but not 3. If you roll over completely to get them all 3, you’ll set a dangerous precedent that, while it seems less risky in the moment, actually threatens the quality of your work (and the strength of their outcomes) down the line. And while you might feel you’re outperforming your competition by delivering the impossible, you’re actually degrading the value of your work by implying it’s quick and easy (when it’s not). You may also be reducing the profitability of the account.

So, accommodate: Do what’s possible to meet the request. Then educate: Make sure you’re better set up for success next time. When the stressful moment has passed, have a check in with your client and explain what you need moving forward to do even better work—that helps them be even more effective in their own goals.

2) Options, Options, Options

When your customer asks for something that you know is not the best solution to their problem, a very low-risk way to introduce new ideas is simply by delivering options.

  • Option 1: The thing they asked for, the way they asked for it.
  • Option 2: Your recommended path forward.

If you go this route, don’t just send both options to them via email. Get on the phone. Show them their options and talk through your rationale for taking a different approach. By delivering what they ask for, you buy credibility and trust—if they don’t like it, you haven’t lost any time off the project timeline by not following their directions. But if they do like it, you’ve over-delivered, and you’ve hopefully shown them that next time, they should involve you even earlier in the decision-making process. (And they’ll usually value the thinking and ingenuity, even if they don’t choose your option this time.)

Presenting options creates opportunities not only to do better work in the moment, but also to drive organic growth with your customer. The farther upstream you are in their process, the more chances you’ll have to grow your business with them—and the more influence you’ll have over the outcomes that make you both look good.

3) The Power of your POV

It’s not enough to present options—you need to present a recommendation. There’s something very comforting to clients in knowing that you (a) understand their business; (b) understand your business; and (c) have a clear idea for how to move forward. At the end of the day, what many customers are looking for is confidence.

After all, navigating a complex marketplace (which many B2B customers do) and weathering a recession (which we’re all doing right now) take an emotional toll on even the most experienced professionals. So while you may not be able to offer certainty, you can offer confidence—and when you do, you’re addressing a fundamental emotional need of your client, even if it’s not one they express out loud when they assign you a task.

Conclusion

As you’ve probably picked up by now, a common thread through all these strategies is that they speak to your customers’ underlying (and potentially unspoken) needs, rather than focusing only on the task at hand. To reiterate: The only way to push back well is to understand your customers’ underlying needs—personal and professional; functional and emotional. (Last week’s post about mining customer insights might be helpful here.)

Ultimately, the reason you push back on clients is not to put your ego or your needs first. You push back to better address their needs, whether it’s by giving your own team the space they need to do great work, or by presenting new and different solutions that will help your customers meet their goals.

When you do this well, you build true customer engagement. You rise above “just another vendor” to a trusted advisor. You generate confidence, respect, and a greater understanding of and appreciation for what you bring to the table. You grow your value by keeping your eyes on the long game.

So when your client says “jump,” don’t always ask “how high?” Build the credibility and confidence to say, “Let’s try flying instead. Here, I’ll show you how.”

To see how Kapta can help you be a more confident key account manager, schedule a personal demo today.

Customer Insights Workshop: Tools and Best Practices

You need to know your customers. But you can’t read their minds. So how do you learn more about the people you serve?

You can always ask them. (And you should.) You can also mine insights from your own team. A customer insights workshop is an engaging way to learn what there is to know about your customers from the people in your organization who work with them all the time—and rally your team around a customer-centric approach.

Just remember 3 keys to running a great customer insights workshop:

  1. Get the right people at the table: Make sure to include customer-facing teams from across the organization, as well as leadership and marketing teams.
  2. Set the right tone: Remember, your customers are people. Consider their emotional needs as well as their functional needs.
  3. Make the most of your time together: Focus on learning from different contributors, discussing key points, and gaining alignment around customer needs so you can re-infuse your organization with a customer-centric purpose.

In this post, we’ll dive deeper into best practices—as well as exercises and output—for running a great customer insights workshop.

Best Practices

1) Get the right people at the table.

The goal is to turn customer insights into a customer-centric strategy (whether that’s marketing, operations, or account planning), but that doesn’t mean you only need one group in the room. It’s critical to have people there who interact directly with customers all the time. This is especially true in large organizations, where operational silos tend to diminish the customer voice in certain circles. So ask yourself: Who interacts directly with customers? Key account managers (or client service leaders) are important participants, as are customer service/success teams if you have them.

2) Set the right tone.

Before you dive into “who are my customers and what do they want?,” it’s important to make sure you’re thinking about them not just as clients, but as human beings. Too often, we conflate professionalism with a loss of personhood—but your customers don’t check their humanity at the office door. So don’t just consider their functional needs; dive deeper into their emotional needs. For example, they will always need their B2B partners to deliver timely, accurate, value-added work. But what else? They probably also need to look good to their leadership and colleagues. They need to feel like somebody sympathizes with their day-to-day frustrations. In short, they need what all humans need: They need to feel heard, seen, valued, and successful.

3) Make the most of your time together.

The highest and best use of a workshop like this is two-fold: (a) to learn about your customers from the people who interact with them everyday; and (b) to re-invigorate disparate teams around a shared purpose: Customer centricity in everything you do. Make sure everyone has a chance to participate. Pursue and facilitate discussion. But don’t try to wordsmith now; let people know you can take the output and turn it into recommendations on the backend.

Tools

Here are a few ways to frame questions in order to get ideas flowing:

  • Day in the life: What does your customer’s day-to-day job look like? What are they responsible for? Who reports to them, and who is their boss? This is a great warm up since it tends to be pretty easy to answer.
  • Goals: What are they trying to achieve, both personally and professionally? What is their organization trying to achieve? How does their daily work life contribute to the bigger picture goals around them?
  • Gains and pains: When working with a B2B partner, what makes them look good? What makes their life easier? In contrast, what drives them nuts? What are the dealbreakers?
  • Value add: Once you’ve painted a portrait of your customer—their job, their goals, their gains and pains—ask yourself how you as an organization are set up to deliver on a customer-centric promise. How do you:
    • Save time, money, or effort?
    • Do something they’re looking for?
    • Help them sleep at night?
    • Fulfill their aspirations?

Output

Once you’ve completed the workshop, it’s time to turn your insights into action. What did you learn about your customers? How can you better address both their immediate functional needs and their long-term goals and aspirations?

The best way to upsell your customers is to proactively raise new ideas grounded in a comprehensive understanding of who they are. When your ideas are relevant and resonant, you create a platform to introduce innovation—and bigger deals.

Conclusion

We are strong advocates for regular VOC work, i.e checking directly with your customers to stay current on their needs, expectations, and satisfaction. But people don’t always vocalize their aspirations. They might not say out loud, “you need to make me look good to my colleagues.” So in addition to VOC work, mining customer insights from the people in your organization who know the customers best is a great way to unearth deeper needs, bigger strategic goals, and hidden pain points. Armed with this insight, you can make an action plan to grow the business in a truly customer-centric way. To see how Kapta can add structure and support to this process, schedule a personal demo today.

3 Reasons to Update Your Customer Org Charts

Be honest: When was the last time you took a long look at your customers’ org chart? We’ve seen too many B2B companies establish customer org charts early in the relationship — and then never look at them again.

On the surface, org charts may seem like busy work. But they’re the kind of work you need to do consistently to build customer engagement. Org charts are an exercise in stakeholder mapping, which you need for:

  • Influence: Decisions are usually made by a cohort of customers. Make sure you know them all.
  • Intelligence: When you can see the dynamics within your customers’ organization, you can better serve individual and enterprise needs.
  • Resilience: When your relationships go beyond a single champion within the organization, you’re much less vulnerable to inevitable personnel shifts.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at all the reasons listed above, and cover a few best practices for stakeholder mapping through detailed org charts.

 

Kapta org chart example

Influence

According to an in-depth analysis of buyers and sellers in the B2B world, an average of 6-7 decision makers influence every B2B purchase. So it’s simply not enough to have one or two strong contacts within your customers’ organizations — you need to develop a coalition of champions from across the organization.

Your coalition will be different depending on the services you provide. If you sell software, for example, you need buy-in not only from day-to-day users, but also from procurement, the C-suite, and internal IT, to name a few. Your org chart will help you visualize the relationships within the organization, so you can cultivate the right client relationships along the way. In this sense, your customers’ org charts help you build your own, by making sure you have the right team in place to meet the variant needs of individual decision-makers, influencers, champions, and implementation partners in your customer’s organization.

Org charts cement your influence by making sure you invite the right stakeholders to the right checkpoints at the right time. In doing so, you’re increasing your reach within an organization while also helping your direct contacts manage their internal partners, whether it’s their leadership or their key collaborators.

Intelligence

One of your jobs as a key account manager is to know your clients better than anyone. Org charts can give you all sorts of insights and leads in this pursuit. They do this both by visualizing both vertical and horizontal relationships.

Vertically, org charts show you who reports to whom — and what the pathway for advancement is for individuals within your customer’s organization. This is key for understanding how to make your direct contact’s life easier. For example, when you can see the managers to whom they must demonstrate value, you can help arm your direct contacts with the results and messages they need in order to look good to their leadership — and get buy-in for their projects. (These are your projects, too, so it should be clear why this serves you well.)

Org charts also give you insight into your direct client’s goals — what’s the path forward for them? If you can help your clients not only meet their deadlines and execute their deliverables, but also grow their careers, you’ll have a champion for life — and that champion will be more and more influential as they ascend the ladder.

Org charts are also important for the horizontal picture — how different functions or departments collaborate within the overall structure of the organization. This information again helps you be more proactive for your direct contacts, by helping them manage lateral stakeholders in the organization.

Big picture, the org chart serves as a lens into the organization’s values as a whole, since companies tend to build structures and hierarchies based on their strategic goals and overarching values. They also give you a forward-facing view into where the organization is heading, so you and your team can work proactively to offer proactive, integrated B2B services.

Resilience

If your “in” with a customer rests entirely with one person, and that person leaves, where does that leave you? Worst case scenario, relying too heavily on one client contact can leave you out of a client.

The more integrated you are — which means multifunctional relationships with stakeholders across the horizontal and vertical org chart axes — the more you’ll engage the customer at an enterprise level, building resilience as individuals leave or initiatives come to a close. Enterprise-level engagement tends to unearth new business opportunities at every turn.
Best Practices for Stakeholder Mapping
We say all the time that customer-centricity can’t just be a value you state in a strategy deck somewhere. Customer centricity requires infrastructure.

Org charts are infrastructure for stakeholder mapping. They give you clear horizontal and vertical visualizations for the structure in your clients’ organizations. They give you influence, intelligence, and resilience — and each of those things builds on each other to form broad and deep customer engagement.

So how do you make org charts work for you? The best org charts are:

  1. Detailed: Make sure you capture the nuances of internal relationships. People don’t have to be direct supervisors to be strong influencers.
  2. Dynamic: Things can shift quickly when it comes to personnel and structure. Make sure you’re checking in regularly and capturing any changes.
  3. Visible: Everyone at your organization needs to be able to see the org chart for your customers in order for you to be able to offer integrated B2B services.
  4. Tech-enabled: The right key account management software will give you templated org charts to help you maintain this detailed, dynamic, highly visible tool for your teams, whether or not they’re directly customer-facing.

Conclusion

Org charts may seem like busy work — but in fact, they’re critical work. Org charts help you build influence within your customer’s organization; they give you intelligence you can use to broaden your engagement; and they help you build enterprise-level engagement for greater resilience over time. To see how Kapta can help you create dynamic, detailed, highly visible org charts, schedule a personal demo today.