Resetting Your Client Relationship

The Gist:

  • You can create different levels of value for your clients.
  • Sometimes, you find yourself in a situation where you and your client are comfortable just transacting, creating too little value.
  • When a relationship gets too transactional, you have the right to reset it by creating greater value for your client.

In Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away from Your Competition, I present a framework to help readers recognize four levels of value—starting with transactional value and climbing to strategic value—that they can create for their clients. The first level is the transactional value of your product or service. The second level of value is experience, generating compliments like “easy to do business with,” “great service,” and “good support.” The third level of value is your solution, your ability to solve your client’s problem and produce the result they need. Finally, the fourth level of value lets you advance the client’s strategic outcomes.

In a complex deal, you need to integrate all four levels of value, even if a modern sales approach would have you start at level 4. It doesn’t do you any good to help a senior leader pursue a strategic initiative if you fail the rest of their team. But what happens when you have been too transactional and now have to reset your relationship with an existing client, to reach a higher level of value?

The Right to Try Again

The Right to Try Again

You are always allowed to ask for a do-over when doing so will help you create greater value for your clients. The fact that you were too transactional with a client in the past should not prevent you from creating more value for them in the future.

In fact, it is imperative that you change your approach. The risk of not changing your approach to create greater value is that sooner or later, someone else will. A competitor who can create greater value is always going to have an advantage and an opportunity to displace you—often by providing greater value through their insights.

A large part of the value you create for your clients is helping them make sense of their world, clarifying the nature of their challenges and problems, obliterating their false assumptions, and providing them with a better view of their reality. The sooner you start teaching your client what they need to know to produce better, more strategic results, the better. Your risk of losing an account increases over time, especially if you let it lapse into transactions.

They Transacted with You First

They Transacted with You First

Often, a relationship drifts into transactional territory because your client or prospective client approaches the relationship in transactional terms. To be fair, there are some business professionals (mostly in Purchasing departments) who are taught, trained, and occasionally, incentivized to treat your deal as a transaction. You might also work with a contact whose experience has been mostly transactional, with few salespeople using their knowledge and experience to provide more value. Because these contacts have rarely had anyone start a conversation at a higher level of value, they settle for a low-value conversation.

There will always be prospective clients who treat the decision to buy more transactionally than they should, especially when the decision is more complex than they recognize. The complexity has less to do with what you sell and more to do with the frequency of the decision (decisions that they rarely make require more time and information) and the value of the result (the greater the risk of getting a decision wrong, the more time and certainty is needed).

Calling for a Do-Over

You have the right to call for a do-over at any time. It doesn’t matter how long your relationship with your client has been transactional or who started the relationship at too low a level. Your past behavior and your client’s past behavior may have established a pattern, but neither of you are obligated to retain that approach to the results you produce together.

When you call for a do-over, start the conversation by apologizing to your client for not doing as good of a job taking care of them as you could. Because you are responsible for your client’s results, you must take ownership for not establishing a more value-focused relationship sooner. Your client will understand enough of what you are saying, even if they have no idea what comes next or what relational changes you are suggesting.

Once you have apologized, tell your client that you can create greater value by helping them understand what you should be doing together to improve their overall results. Then, ask for an opportunity to share a number of insights and ideas that allow you to move the conversation from transactional to being about more strategic decisions and the better results that follow.

Your Greatest Risk

Your Greatest Risk

You might worry that your client will ask why you didn’t share your insights earlier. That may happen, but the greater risk is continuing to transact so long that you lose your client to a competitor who is willing to create greater value for them.

You lose clients when you are transactional, apathetic, entitled, complacent, or embrace the delusion that just because you have had a client for several years, they’ll never work with anyone else. Given a long enough timeline, you will lose every client. The way you push back against that entropy is by continuing to create value every client over time, avoiding apathy and complacency.

There are businesses, maybe including yours, that have done well selling with a transactional approach, one that we call the “legacy laggard” in our maturity model. But as our world becomes increasingly complex, we must adapt to the challenges of helping clients make good decisions and producing better results by providing them with a different approach, one built on creating greater value in the conversations we have with them. Anything less is just begging your competitor to eat your lunch.

Do Good Work:

  • Make a list of clients and contacts with whom your approach is too transactional.
  • Develop the insights and ideas that would allow you to create greater value for these clients and contacts.
  • Schedule a meeting to share some ideas with your transactional clients, so you can reset your relationship at a higher level of value.

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