How to Maintain a Bullet-Proof Relationship with Your Big Clients


How to Maintain a Bullet-Proof Relationship with Your Big Clients

One of your most important tasks as a Small Business owner serving a big company is to form a close and trusting relationship with your contact within that company.

Your contact must know that they can call on you for advice and assistance – even after hours – and you’ll get them out of a pickle. In return, you will be their first port of call when new work comes up – and you’ll have the incumbent’s advantage.

60% of incumbents win tenders, so the odds are certainly in your favour.

Then, one day, your trusted and valuable contact is no longer there. They’ve been promoted, or moved to another branch. All that time and care you spent building your relationship is gone, and you have to start building a rapport with the new person in the seat.

There is no way to avoid this, especially if you have done your job of making your contact look good. Your contact will be destined for bigger and better things.

Create a circle of influence.

Your defense is to be like a boy scout, and be prepared. One of the first tasks you should undertake when you first land your big company contract is to find out who else within the organisation is impacted by the service or product you provide. Is there a person within the same department? Someone further up or down the food chain?

This person (or people) should also be the target of your affection and attention. Let them know what you and your company do, how you fit in, and the value you provide. Include them in emails, and if possible, invite them into meetings. If you have sales collateral such as slide presentations and brochures, make sure that they have them all – and the latest versions.

People further up the tree are particularly useful to have in your “circle of influence”. There is a large probability that the person further up the pecking order has influence over the purchasing decision. This is particularly valuable when budgets are restricted, as happens in periods of economic downturn. The first reaction of large organisations in times like this is to cut spending, and move spending authority up a couple of tiers.

We have seen employees who previously had authority to spend up to $40,000 have their spending authority cut to just a few hundred dollars. One immediate effect of this is that decisions just don’t get made at all! If the person further up the tree who is now in charge of purchasing your products and services is already familiar with your company, you will be in a much better position.

Look at both sides of the coin.

Of course, the upside of your valuable contact moving on is that they will take their goodwill towards you and your company with them to their new position, or even to a new organisation. But this can also be a double edged sword. If you have a bad relationship with someone for whatever reason (either warranted or unwarranted), it can be very damaging to your prospects and potential to win work.

Another issue you need to be aware of is how your target customer’s reward system works. In companies and industries where people move around and change jobs frequently, how their KPI’s are structured can be vital information. The most obvious KPI is the eternal one of cost-cutting. If your contact is being rewarded for cutting costs, and this is their number one KPI, you could be in real difficulty.

Cutting cost by accepting lower standards, or even narrowing the amount of work to be done will make that person look like a hero – for the short term. But if they will be moving on and won’t be around to reap the consequences of accepting lower quality, there will be an enormous temptation for them to take the immediate reward offered by being a star cost-cutter.

In a large organisation with thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of employees, you have to expect that your friendly contact will eventually move on. If you’ve done your groundwork well, and cultivated a wider circle of influence, this doesn’t have to be a fatal blow – merely a speed-bump along the path of your ongoing relationship with the company.

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  • Anetta Pizag

    What a wonderful advice Bronwyn. I wish I knew all these months ago. I’ll make sure I don’t make the same mistake again.

  • Bronwyn

    I’m glad you found this valuable Anetta. From your comment, it seems that this has happened to you recently.

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