Over recent years, the number of decision-makers involved in a purchase in the business to business (B2B) space has grown. Back in 2017 a Harvard Business Review report found that the number of people involved in B2B solutions purchases had climbed from an average of 5.4 in 2015 to 6.8. In 2018 Challenger found it had reached a sizeable 10.2!
Stemming from the last recession, where businesses were more cautious about what they spent their money on, many started to incorporate more of their people into the purchase decision and this approach has stuck.
In some cases, the authority to sign off specific purchases has also moved higher and higher up an organisation. This can mean client contacts a business was previously focusing its efforts on may no longer be able to make the buying decision for that product or service.
Safety in numbers is still very much in evidence, which is why those businesses whose relationship rests with one individual client-side may be in a risky position. Businesses should expect to have to forge close relationships and win over multiple decision-makers and influencers if they want to repeatedly win the client’s work.
So to help keep up with changing dynamics in your clients and customers, here are 5 ways to ensure you remain selling and nurturing your client relationship with the right decision-makers:
1. Keep in regular touch with your client/customer contact(s)
– In addition to the conversations you have with your client about the work, order or project on the go for them, it helps to explore broader issues relating to their organisation.
For example, exploring how things are going and what changes are happening (not just in the organisation but also in their own job) can help to alert you to planned changes of personnel in their area, tough targets they’re facing or any changing systems or approaches internally that will affect how they use your products/services.
Find out who they need to impress in the organisation, who they’re accountable to and give help and support wherever you can.
2. Ask your contact(s) who else you should get to know in their organisation.
This isn’t to undervalue your relationship with them; it’s to help improve your understanding of their organisation as things evolve. It will help you to offer even more relevant and valuable products, services, support and insight.
3. Conduct your own research
It also helps to conduct your own research to monitor who currently has the power to buy, who may influence decisions and who may be lining up to gain the power tomorrow.
- Speak to your contacts in the customer/client
- Ask the opinion of other suppliers who also work with this client
- Watch out for the announcements of new appointments, promotions and redundancies in the trade press and on the client’s/customer’s website.
- Look on LinkedIn at other contacts in the organisation and how far you’re removed from them.
- Call on your allies in and outside the organisation to make introductions so you can get to know other key people in the client’s business.
4. Align your team members with decision-makers according to best fit
Having identified key people in the client you need to strengthen your organisation’s relationship with, align your team members accordingly. In particular, and if you feel someone in your own business team is more likely to ‘click’ with a specific individual, then let them forge the relationship.
Make sure everyone in your business is in regular communication with each other so you are all consistent in what you say and do. Ideally, create a plan which maps out this customer/client relationship and all the approaches you are taking (and plan to take) to protect it – so everyone is clear and working seamlessly and harmoniously towards a common goal. Share what you learn along the way so your team can adapt quickly and positively to any fresh insights and key points uncovered.
5. Plan a series of relevant interactions to your key client contacts
These interactions must be interesting and of value to them (you might need a separate plan for each person). The purpose is to remind each key contact that you…
- value them as clients
- are a good source for helping them achieve whatever it is they want to achieve.
Consider opportunities to bring key people in the client organisation together with your own to foster a sense of collaboration, and position your company as a business partner rather than supplier. Different decision-makers will reflect different viewpoints and agendas in the business. A more collaborative approach will help to ensure your solutions reflect and support all these. Think of how you can co-develop with your clients, rather than merely ‘sell’.
It really pays to invest time to keep up to date with your customers/clients and what’s going on. The more positive relationships you can forge with individuals in that organisation; the greater your chances at being able to retain their business.
Also, do be sure to support client contacts if they leave that particular organisation to move to another. The goodwill and positive reputation you’ve forged may be valued by them in their new role and this can be a highly effective and low-cost way of acquiring new clients.