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Who Owns The Customer Relationship?

by David Brock on August 29th, 2016

We often talk about relationships in sales, saying relationships matter.  There are all sorts of phrases like, “people buy from people,”  which ascribe the importance of building relationships with our customers.

Yet, it seems that too much of how we actually manage the customer engagement life cycle seems to ignore the importance of developing relationships with our customers.  Instead, we focus on our efficiency in handling the customer.

It almost seems that we have an assembly line that we pass our customers along—we try to attract attention, building a relationship through our digital presence–web sites, blogs, other materials.  We complement that with the right content, theoretically nurturing the prospect to a certain “score.”  That’s followed up with a conversation with a SDR/BDR.  We have one or two conversations with them–certainly not enough to build a relationship–though they are well trained in asking “bonding questions.”  We are then passed to an AE who “knows us” based on the records in the CRM system.  This AE manages us for the next few steps–discovery, presenting the solution, closing.  The AE may bring in other resources to do demos.

Ultimately, we become a customer and customer success takes over.  Depending on what we have purchased, it may be a website with FAQ’s, it may be a team to help us implement–then another team after we have it installed and are using it.  Through their use of the product, the “relationship” gets passed from one person or department, to another.  The customer seldom deals with the same person very long, which leads one to ask, “what kind of relationship is being built?”

At some point the customer has to renew, or we want to sell the customer more, so other individuals, each specialists in their function work with the customer.

It all makes sense, it’s perfectly predictable, it’s very efficient–at least from our point of view.

In many cases, this may align perfectly with what the customer wants.  After all, they may want to minimize their engagement or relationship with us.   Hmmmm…….

This seems to work as long as things are working, but what happens when something goes wrong?

Yes, we’ve mapped out (hopefully) where the customer should go and what they should do if they have problems—“Call this number, go to this website, enter your customer id……  everything will be OK…..”

But what if it’s not?  What if it’s a problem not with just one person at the enterprise, but challenges the enterprise is having?

We may have that covered, we may have a team that works with them.  A specific number or micro-site to support them.  We create a customer experience—but somehow the “relationship” seems to be lost in many of these customer experiences.

And when these customers aren’t getting what they need, who do they go to?  Who, ultimately owns the customer relationship?

Or it works, the customer is happy with this process, they don’t need a relationship with us, they just want to get their work done.  We’re ecstatic, it matches the efficient transactional flow we have optimized our organization’s work efforts.

But still, the question remains, who has responsibility for the customer relationship?

Who’s ultimately responsible for making sure things go right?  Who’s responsible when they aren’t happy or need something different?  Who’s responsible for maximizing our opportunity to grow with the customer?  Who’s responsible for developing and managing the relationship–not just with the enterprise, but with people?  How do we build trust across our organizations?

It seems we and our customers–particularly, our most important customers are on divergent “relationship” paths.

We design processes that are efficient for us.  We worry about the customer experience in building these processes, but we don’t seem to think about the customer relationship.

We train our customers to think this is right, they learn not to value the relationships with us, consequently, they are open to any other relationships that may catch their fancy.

If relationships matter, if people do buy from people, how to we account for this in our design or our total customer experience (pre-post sale)?  Can these relationships be transferred on the assembly line, or do we have to look at individuals dealing with individual–preserving those links over time?

As you look at your customers, particularly those who you value the most, who ultimately owns the customer relationship?

Afterword:  Hank Barnes wrote a terrific piece on the same concept:  It is Time to Eliminate Hand-Offs in B2B Customer Management, Think “Leadershift”

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