If you’re a typical B2B company, the chances are that you have good or excellent relationships with the majority of your clients. But there may be some clients where your relationship is not as strong. One of the things we do at Deep-Insight is to categorise your key accounts, based on the strength of the relationship they have with you, and the extent to which they will act as advocates for your firm. Here are the five categories we use:
The best, most loyal, category of client is the Ambassador. Ambassadors are the most valuable customers in the portfolio, because they identify with the company and have a unique relationship with it. They are so sure they have made the right choice that they recommend the company to others. Price is not an important consideration for them because of the quality of the relationship with the company. Typically, a third of your clients are Ambassadors.
The next category of client are known as Rationals. They rate the quality of the relationship positively, but do not see anything unique in the relationship. They will take their time to assess other alternative sources of supply and can become unstable in their relationship with the company, if alternative offers exist. Typically, half of your key B2B accounts fit into this category and generally they are good clients albeit not as loyal as Ambassadors.
But wait. That doesn’t add up to 100%. What’s the story with the others? Well, the answer is that in all B2B account portfolios, there are clients that don’t love you that much. We typically find that 10-20% of accounts will fit into the following three categories:
Ambivalents have often a “love/hate” relationship with the company. In some instances, they love the way you solve their problems, but hate the way you treat them. More often, you kill them with kindness but you fail to solve their business issues. You may think the relationship is good but you have failed to put yourself in their shoes, understand their problems and come up with a solution that helps move their business forward.
Stalkers are often only interested in price. Sometimes they can be large corporate accounts that continuously look for special offers and discounts. Other times, they are smaller accounts that view your services as extremely expensive for the value they receive. Stalkers do not see any uniqueness in the relationship but often have very high service requirements. They play different competitors against each other and do not generate a positive value for the portfolio.
Opponents have the poorest relationships with you. They are deeply dissatisfied and often highly frustrated by what they see as extremely poor service. Opponents have a negative relationship with the company and generate negative value. Opponents can sometimes be won back into the fold, if the reason for their dissatisfaction is identified and addressed properly, but in many cases the relationship has broken down irretrievably and they can not be won back.
So what do you do with these poorer-value relationships, particularly Stalkers and Opponents?
1. Decide if you want to keep them or fire them
It may sound strange to talk about ‘firing’ clients but sometimes we have clients that we can’t service effectively or profitably. Sometimes, their expectations are too high, or the fit between their needs and your product/service offering is limited. In such cases, it’s valid to ask the question “Would we both be better off if we ended the relationship?” The big advantage about firing customers is that it can free up sales and account management time for more profitable activities such as cross-selling and upselling to Ambassadors, or converting a few more Rationals into Ambassadors.
2. If the answer is YES, find a ‘beautiful exit’ the relationship
Clients who are Stalkers or Opponents have a corrosive influence on your company. They sap energy and consume resources that can be better used elsewhere. They also have a corrosive influence on your other clients as they spread a negative message about your capabilities and your services. Have that tough conversation with the client before the situation deteriorates, and help them move to a competitor. Do it cleanly and professionally. Find what the Finnish Business Professor Kimmo Alajoutsijarvi refers to as a Beautiful Exit to the relationship – a disengagement that “minimises damage to the disengager, the other party, and the connected business network.”
3. If the answer is NO, put a proper recovery plan in place
Many of Deep-Insight’s clients have a system whereby they put a Service Improvement Plan (SIP) in place for poor-scoring accounts, typically Opponents or Stalkers. These SIPs involve a significant increase in service support to that client but if they are to be successful, they also need an open and honest conversation between the Account Director and the most senior people in the client organisation. In large complex B2B client relationships, changes in behaviour are typically required on both sides in order for the relationship to be brought back on an even keel again. Don’t be afraid of saying to your client: “We’re committed to making improvements on our side, but we need you to do X and Y for this to work.”
The starting point for these decisions is an accurate and objective view of which category each of your major accounts fits into. Once you know that, you can start asking the tough questions, and taking the appropriate action.