Client/Supplier Relationships – Exploring the Client Side of the Supplier Equation

With experience, broadly speaking there are 5 types of client/supplier relationships:

  1. We Love Each Other
  2. We Love Them
  3. We Don’t Love Them, But You’re All The Same
  4. We Don’t Love Them At All
  5. We Don’t Have One

Looking at what each means from a sales perspective:

We Love Each Other

This is a difficult sales road and you’ll usually find your most desired prospects in this space (and your top existing clients should sit here as well).  These are customers whose supplier is a partnership – enscounced in their business providing more than just product/services – but helping the business proactively, supporting the business.

Of course, things change, here you spend time trying to get to know them, where they’re going and endeavouring to add value on the way waiting for a catalyst to deepen your relationship. 

As this is the type of loyalty you wish to engender with your top clients, you need to respect that loyalty and be the top of the list in the event something changes.  Sales here tend to be long term – relationship and trust based.

Success here is getting to talk to them and regular contact.  A very good client won’t even let you in the door – seeing you suggests they’re open to maintaining a relationship but doesn’t give you the right to hard sell.

We Don’t Love Them At All

At the other end you have the entirely mobile clients – those who have signalled their desire to move.  Here you need to be careful.  A good client will seldom find themselves in this space unless something has seriously decoupled in their relationship with their supplier.

You need to determine if this is due to an issue with the supplier or the business.  You do run the risk of inheriting another suppliers problem if you don’t scope what the dissatisfaction is about.  This process is often compounded by the fact that clients in this type of position typically wish to move quickly.

Sell cautiously here and make sure you understand what is driving the need for change or dissatisfaction.

We Don’t Have One

Some sales people have a unique job – selling a process or service to a client where they don’t have an incumbent supplier in this space or, while they do, what you offer is a seachange in process/product/service to them.

Here, sales becomes more about education.  People typically like what they know.  Cloud and SaaS are an example where, despite being around for a while now, some clients are only just accepting them as an option for their business. 

This becomes a strong conversation – not just about cost/time savings, but other internal issues and objections like fear of the unknown, business risks etc.  Testimonial clients are an invaluable source of influence here – especially if your testimonial is from a client who was similarly minded.

Now we’re in to the last two types.  This client type and the next are by far and away the most enjoyable to work with when you’re on the top of your sales game

We Don’t Love Them, But You’ll All The Same

‘Ouch’ says the sales person.  Unfortunately as a good sales person or company, you can be measured by a clients poor experience.  Industries where there is a ‘neccessary evil’ to the relationship (eg Accounting, Insurance, Banking/Finance) lend themselves to this.  A poor experience becomes normal for a client and they learn to accept it – worse, they assume ALL other providers of the same service/product are similar – so why change.

Selling here is about proving them wrong.  Demonstrating to them the relationship they should be getting.  This isn’t about saying it – no doubts they’re heard all the rhetoric before (which makes things worse!).  It is about doing it – showing them.  Show them your clients who have benefited from your relationship, show them what you can do for them.  Actions, in this case, certainly do speak louder than words.

We Love Them

The subtle difference from the last one and this one, is above the client knew the relationship wasn’t special – here the client thinks they have a great relationship with their supplier, but you know it is less than optimal.

How do you tell them they’re wrong?  Again, you show them.  For many clients here – the issue is their definition of a ‘great relationship’.  Like the above, often this frame of reference is limited by prior experience. 

Take a PowerCo for example and ask a client.  Most people will have an ambivilent relationship with their company.  Good service to them is the power stays on and the bill isn’t stupid.  Sound like you?  How many times in the past 5 years has your power company rung you to suggest they could optimise your bill as they think you’re on the wrong plan – heck, this now sounds familiar.  Some have started doing this haven’t they?

Selling here is about showing them what they don’t know they should be getting.  Resetting their expectation of a great relationship – helping them realise the supplier equation was unbalanced and they were being under serviced. 

Questions To Ask Yourself

With Your Prospects – knowing how they think about their current supplier, how should I adapt my sales process?

There is no surprise, how well you like working with a client directly affects the above – so when prospecting ask yourself – will we love working together?

With Your Clients – what do they think about us and is this what we want them to think?


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