In a previous post I outlined the 5 key questions to develop a relationship strategy and in the last two posts I explained #1: Who Matters? and #2: How Do They Think?
In this post I will help you to understand the current state of the relationship so that you know your starting position.
What Is Your Current Relationship?
Now that you have figured out who matters (the Key Players) and how they think (their Decision Orientation and Adaptability to Change), you next need to assess whether they will be on your side and supportive as you work to build a relationship between your company and theirs. Do they have preference for you or an alternative provider?
This is where it gets a little tricky. To understand your Current Relationship, and the Relationship Gap as illustrated in the next section, you need to consider the context. You need to differentiate between the relationship that you have as it pertains to the overall account, and your relationship as it pertains to a specific opportunity. They might be the same, but there are reasons to consider why they might be different.
In the previous chapter I discussed the Level of Relationship. With the exception of the Trusted Advisor status, you only engage with Key Players after the customer exits the Establish Initiatives stage of the Customer Decision Cycle, and is at the Initiate a Project stage or later. This means you are primarily involved in opportunity pursuit at each of the other Levels of Relationship.
If a Key Player perceives you as a Problem Solver on the Business Relationship Pyramid, then he is doing so only in the context of the problem domain in which he believes you have capability and competence. For example, even though you have demonstrated expertise in deploying a CRM system, and the customer values your ability to help solve problems in that specific area, you might not even make the list of potential suppliers when the customer kicks off an initiative for a HR management system. If you have not communicated your value in that area, there is no reason to believe that you will still retain the Problem Solver badge.
Because of your constant access as a Trusted Advisor you never exit the Decision Cycle and consequently the Trusted Advisor relationship status is the only position on the Business Relationship Pyramid that definitively transcends both opportunity and account activities. To faithfully record your Current Relationship, you need to understand your Preference with Key Players in an opportunity pursuit as well as your position on the Business Relationship Pyramid.
Preference is from the customer’s perspective and describes whether the customer has a greater liking for you than for alternatives. It can be defined as:
Subjective assessment by the customer of you as a supplier versus alternative providers.
Preference with Key Players can be classified into the five categories listed in the table below.
The following 10 questions will get your brain working to assess the level of support you might expect from an individual and to determine whether they are friend or foe. (Hint: You are looking for a lot of “Yes” answers)
- Does this person talk to others about the value your company can bring to their organization?
- Has he been a willing reference for you with other customers?
- Has he introduced / supported you in meetings with other senior influencers in his company?
- When speaking with others in his company does he refer to you as his chosen business partner?
- Does he share internal or competitive insights that can help you to strengthen your position?
- Does he proactively advise you when issues arise in his organization that might affect your position?
- Do you consider him a partner that you can count on to help you develop the value proposition for his business area?
- Does he speak with Key Players about the value that you have brought to his company?
- Does he look for your input on general issues that are not specifically related to your products?
- Does he proactively come to you with ideas that might help you win?
Documenting your current relationship
To chart a path to your desired destination it is always good to know where you are. Documenting your Current Relationship, both in the context of the account and any active opportunity, provides clarity on the current state. If you have selected your account well, using the Ideal Customer Profile framework, you know the typical roles or titles in an organization with whom you need relationships.
As you assess your current Level of Relationship in an account it is important to consider that the aggregate of the Relationship Status that each person on your team has with his or her counterpart in the customer’s organization is a representation of the Relationship Status between the two companies. For example, if you have just taken over an account, but the history between the two companies has been fractious because the customer perceives that your company has not delivered on its previous promises, then it is extremely unlikely that your initial Level of Relationship can be anything greater than Credible Source at best. This means that the account will only look to you as a source of information as it pertains to an opportunity that is already underway and will not look to you for strategic account advice. Conversely, if there is a Trusted Advisor relationship between someone in your company and a Key Player in the customer’s organization, then you will benefit somewhat from the halo effect. That gives you a better place to start and you can build on that foundation. The chart below – based on roles identified in your Ideal Customer Profile – provides an example of how to describe the current state.
I will follow this post in my next blog discussing the relationship gap so that can see what work you have to do. If you can’t wait :), or want more context; I’ve described my strategies in detail in my latest book: Digital Sales Transformation in a Customer First World.