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Are You Important To Your Customer?

by David Brock on September 14th, 2021

I have to admit, and apologize to a few folks, I lost it in a meeting today.

We were talking about an account strategy. The sales person wanted to meet with the top executives of a very large corporation. I’d been asked to help strategize this and help figure out how they attract the attention to the top executives.

“How is what you do important to these executives?” I asked.

“Well they spend a lot of money on us,” replied the sales person, “They should be interested in talking to us.”

“I know they are one of our largest customers, but why would they be interested in talking to us?” I replied.

The sales person was getting frustrated. “Well they are important to us!”

“I know they are important to us, but why are we important to them?” I replied.

The sales person was getting frustrated, he just wanted to get on with the conversation to meet with a senior executive at the company and my questions were slowing him down.

While he was trying to respond, I happened to be looking at that organization’s 10-K.

“They spend a lot of money every year with us, so we have to be important to them,” he said definitively.

“Well last year, what they spent on us was less than 0.01% of all their spending. We’re a rounding error in their P&L, so why are we important to them, why should they want to meet with us?” I replied.

As you might guess, the conversation stopped…..at least for a few moments. The sales person was annoyed, I suspect he thought I was derailing his strategy and not supporting what he wanted to do.

This sales person isn’t unusual. Too often, we think that just because the customer is important to us, just because they may spend what we think is a lot of money, we may not be important to the customer.

We have to be able to articulate our importance, in business terms to our customers, not based on what they spend. The reality is our importance probably has little to do with how much the customer spends on us, but rather what we help them achieve.

In the case of this particular account, looking at the same 10-K, then looking at their most recent analyst report, we were critically important to the customer. As we looked at their top 4 strategic initiatives, my client’s solutions were on the critical path of 3 of them. While we were a small part of the overall spend, the ability of the customer to achieve their goals was entirely dependent on the solutions my client provided. (Think, “For the loss of a horseshoe, a kingdom was lost.”)

Sadly, the sales person never understood this. He never took the time to put the pieces together, or connect the dots. He didn’t realize, also, that he could dramatically expand the relationship by serving more of this organization’s needs.

The sales person should have been able to start figuring this out, but he never took the time. There was reason for the top executives of the company to meet with us. While what they were currently spending on us was small, from their point of view, it was important to what they wanted to achieve.

More importantly, the sales person suddenly realized, we could and should be selling much more to support this customer’s ability to execute their strategy.

The sales person was lucky in this case, it turns out we had the opportunity to reposition our solutions and grow quite substantially with the customer. We had figured out why we were important and why these top executives should invest their time in talking to us (plus we now knew what to talk to them about.)

But what if things aren’t so dramatic? We have to do the same thing. We always have to be able to answer the questions, “Why are we important to the customer,” and “Who are we important to?” We should always be talking to the people with whom we are important. But that may not be at the top. And trying to meet with people with whom we can’t create direct value is a waste of their time, and tarnishes our brand equity.

If we cannot determine who we might be important to and the value we create with them, we have no business selling to the customer.

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