If you refer to your software company as a ‘vendor’ or ‘supplier’ to your customers you may limit the potential of your relationship right from the start! Rather, present yourself as a ‘Technology Partner’, ‘Industry Solution Provider’, or even better, a ‘Strategic Partner’.
For all the following reasons:
- The more senior the level of the relationship the more likely it is to be strategically important to the customer
- The more strategic the relationship the more likely it is to be long-term (higher revenue), the less likely it is to be price and discount sensitive (higher margin)
- And typically the more strategic the relationship the earlier you’ll learn of new sales opportunities.
In contrast, a supplier or vendor providing product or service solutions is usually not seen as a partner, solution provider or strategic partner important to the customer organization. For these reasons sales people and companies should try to become a Strategic Partner with their customers. But, that is easier said than done!
So how can you become a Strategic Partner to your customers?
First let’s define 4 customer relationship levels. then we’ll talk about how to find out where you (and your competitors) are today in your relationships with particular customers and what you need to do to move up the pyramid :
- Software Tool Vendor – Customers just use the product or service, and otherwise do not have much interaction with, or product customization by, the vendor.
- Technology Partner – Products are somewhat adapted to customer needs/workflows/industry and supplier has more interaction with the customer.
- Industry Solution Partner – Suppliers offer a complete range of products/solutions for many industries and are involved in implementing solutions for customers.
- Strategic Partner – Vendors are involved with customers, have a special relationship that delivers high value to the company management team, work together on developing solutions, devising strategic direction; partner in sales and business development
Market Research is the answer,
But the research needs to be done in a specific way that will give you key insights into how your company and its competitors are viewed by customers today. This gives you a starting point to work from and benchmarks your company against its competitors. It might look something like this:
- Select the list of target companies (customers of your company and your competitors) you want to research – the sample must be large enough to be statistically significant
- Select the short list of competitive suppliers that you wish to research – likely your company plus your top competitors
- Produce your detailed questionnaire
- Arrange and conduct interviews with the target customer companies
- Analyse and develop an action plan
Of course the research must deeply understand how your company is viewed in multiple categories – for example “Reputation” which may include elements such as communication, trust and responsiveness or “Credibility” which may be measured based on elements such as industry knowledge, support or use of a consultative approach.
The research must also…
Discover what your company needs to do to move up the pyramid to Strategic Partnership and the end result is a list of specific recommendations for future actions your company can take.
How far you move up the pyramid with each customer depends on how well you can help each customer achieve their strategic goals. That will be the customer’s choice but your knowledge and behavior will influence it. If you talk only about the product and service level of your software solution you may only gain access to front-line employees and supervisors. But if you can show how you can help them achieve their strategic goals you will gain access to the C-Suite and start to build a ‘Strategic Partner’ relationship.
To serve your customers as a Strategic Partner you have to know them very well – from their current product and business needs to anticipating their future needs. That process starts with the research outlined above and ends with the relationship you build that makes your business an integral part of theirs, makes them see your employees as an indispensable part of their team, makes you see their problems as your problems and when they call you, it’ll be for advice, not a better price!
If you’d like discuss this kind of research give us a call or send an email to Chris Turner +44 (0)1689 873636, firstname.lastname@example.org for EMEA or Bill Gordon +1 650 558 8870, email@example.com for Americas and Asia Pacific or please comment below and we’ll respond.
Lastly if you are interested in these related types of market research follow the links for more information: Competitive Analysis Research, Image and Awareness Research, Usage and Attitude Research, Buyer Persona Research.