The words Customer Intimacy are used a lot these days by different companies in various industries and verticals. But what does true customer intimacy look like in the real world? What is required for a company to be customer intimate?
For any company to properly execute on a customer intimacy strategy it has to be supported and encouraged one hundred percent by the CEO and executive team. The executive team is required to be completely committed to the strategy and willing to make the necessary investments to achieve customer intimacy.
In this article, we will cover the basic tenets of what a customer intimacy model requires.
A customer intimacy strategy requires a relatively flat management structure with decision-making authority being granted to the people on the ground with your customers. The people on the ground need the authority to make things happen for the customer quickly while still following a set of guiding principles defined by the executive team.
Relentless focus on operational excellence and efficiency is key to an effective strategy. This requires the executive team to define a set of core beliefs that guide the every-day actions of people at all levels of the organization. Processes and engagement models should be flexible enough to meet the demands of the customer, but stringent enough to ensure the WOW factor through service and superior quality.
An organization’s people are the heart and soul, and most important asset, of any company. Any company that is customer intimate is staffed with people who display the following characteristics:
- A true servant’s heart.
- Out-of-the-box thinking.
- Highly motivated.
- Character above reproach.
- Creative thinkers who are always looking for a better method.
- Teams that always keep one eye on the horizon while focused on the present.
- A relentless commitment to quality and superior customer service.
Organizational core beliefs are posted, talked about and reviewed at every opportunity. Staffing the company with rock-solid core teams that share these beliefs and live them out internally and with your customers is key.
WELL-DEFINED PRODUCT OR SERVICE
Companies that are customer intimate define a core set of offerings and become master practitioners of their craft. Having a narrow market strategy focuses the entire organization and allows the company to create higher customer expectations beyond that which your competitors can challenge.
Becoming masters of your craft has a host of benefits that become evident and drive growth including better product pull-through and product/service life-cycle extensions.
Thinking outside the widget is key. Focus the sales team on translating your true product/service business value at the executive level. This positions your company on a different playing field than the competition and allows for executive level discussions from the outset.
CLIENT INDUSTRY UNDERSTANDING
A customer intimacy model allows a company to anticipate the customers’ needs and ready value-based solutions that solve real problems. This readiness is only achieved through a detailed study of your customers’ industry, market drivers and needs.
Understanding your customers’ company history, their standing in the market, their product or service strengths/weaknesses, and overall charter is critically important. Historical- and fact-based research coupled with an understanding of your customers’ current market drivers will put you in a position to deliver real value.
The company should have a research group that performs this detailed research on your potential customers once they have been identified as target accounts. This data is collected over time and stored in an accessible place providing everyone in the organization an understanding of the value you are delivering.
Customer intimacy can’t be achieved remotely. It requires a constant presence at your customers’ locations with people that are focused on solving your customers’ most daunting challenges. You are seen as an extension of your customers’ workforce and an integral part of the team. In addition, your cost of sales goes down over time dramatically as you gain this trusted advisor status.
Customer intimacy requires a commitment to the account that goes well beyond the end of quarter or trimester. The focus is on solving problems and providing real value, long-term. When you shift the focus from being numbers-only driven to value driven the company realizes larger revenue gains and closes larger deals with higher margins over time.
Building brand equity one customer at a time results in a strong market reputation that will lower your ongoing marketing and sales costs. People discuss the things they like and people they trust with friends and business associates. This will serve the company well as new customers are engaged.
VALUE- AND TEAM-BASED APPROACH
Customer intimacy requires a consultative solution-based selling model. Consultative selling requires a sales force that does not look at the customer simply as a paycheck and a delivery team that is highly competent and focused on producing measurable results.
The team approach to selling allows everyone in the company to achieve more in less time and creates a natural checks and balances mechanism. Neither the sales force nor delivery teams can over-commit to the customer and fall short on expectations.
The job of a sales person in a team-selling model is to find the opportunity, qualify it, communicate business value, introduce the delivery teams, and step back. The sales person’s job shifts to looking across the customers’ organization and the horizon to identify other opportunities that have synergy with your current project or new opportunities that fit the company’s core offering.
At the core of customer intimacy is building relationships that are a win-win for both parties. Both the company and the customer want to know that each party has a stake in the project success.
The customer intimacy model will also present additional opportunities for creative relationships with customers, including exploration of various financial models which provide shared value.
Adopting a customer intimacy model builds long-term, value-based relationships that pay dividends for years. A natural byproduct of this model is your company will have a long list of strong reference accounts and be able to build momentum account to account.
Kevin Decker is the Senior Sales Director for Advanced Technology Group (ATG) and has a long lineage in both the sales and consulting arenas.