In a previous post, we discussed the importance of having relationships in place at the management level with your business-to-business (B2B) customers and partners.
While many B2B relationships utilize some sort of customer representative to manage the day-to-day relationship, it’s also valuable to have established relationships at more senior levels to assist with maintaining the friendliness of the frontline relationships, to address potential need for escalation, and to provide a framework for more senior leaders to work on big-picture initiatives and opportunities.
According to Gallup research, “only 31 percent of B2B customers believe their supplier understands their needs, and only half [sic] of B2B customers (54 percent) strongly agree that their sales or account teams are trusted advisers.” That certainly opens up opportunities for more senior leaders to get involved in these relationships.
But how do you go about establishing those relationships? Here are some tips.
Start from the Beginning
Whenever a new B2B client relationship is established, plan to share with your new partner the portion of your organizational structure relevant to their business and ask him or her to do the same.
For example, it could start with the client rep you have assigned to the project, and then reach outward to include connections with that employee’s manager, a director, etc. It’s easier and more proactive to establish the who’s who and how to reach them from the beginning rather than waiting until there’s a problem.
Establish and Respect Escalation
You don’t need to have a one-to-one relationship between every level of your organization and every level of your customer’s. Some organizations are “flatter” than others with fewer levels of separation from front line to executive. Some are much smaller than others.
In either case, it’s important to establish and respect a formal escalation chain so everybody knows his or her roles and responsibilities. You don’t want to be perceived as going over someone’s head or around his or her back when reaching out to another organization. You also don’t want to be put in a position of having to scramble to determine how to handle an emergent situation.
Plan Regular ‘Face’ Time
Depending on the business relationship, it may make sense to have periodic in-person visits with B2B leadership counterparts. Or, it could suffice to have a monthly or quarterly “leadership call.” Again, you don’t want to be reaching out only when there is a problem, so it makes sense to establish and maintain rapport on an ongoing basis.
It isn’t going to be every day or even every quarter, that your senior leaders will need to engage with the management of key B2B partners. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be planning how to develop those relationships. They could come in very handy down the road. Taking this step also serves to send a strong message of how much value you place on the relationship.