This week in-Cumbria's Business Doctor shares tips for building a good relationship with customers, and creating long lasting business partnerships.

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Would you like to secure your core business during 2017 and beyond?

Securing and managing Key Account customers within B2B organisations is one way to protect yourself against the competition.

Do you have a relationship management strategy? Because if you are successful it can be very difficult for your competition to steal your key customers.

Start by being clear who are your best customers, then ensure you spend time understanding their needs and building trusting relationships thus creating everlasting business partnerships.

Sounds simple, however many businesses tend to neglect their key customers, due to being too internally focused, busy fighting fires and continually chasing new business as a growth strategy.

An old adage states, “It can cost 8 times more to obtain a new customer than to deal with an existing customer”.

So what are the key steps!

1. Know who your best customers are!

From your accounts or customer management system, grade your customers by revenue spent and rank by margin generated over the last 12-24 months. Using Pareto’s Law, (80/20 rule) you should find, 20 % of your customers generate, 80% of your sales margin. Identifying Key Accounts isn’t just about sales revenue though, rank and rate your top 20% of customers by; Gross Profit generated, trends and growth potential, industry sector growth potential, payment terms, hassle factor, values aligned to yours etc. Then understand what current share of their business you have, i.e. their current spend for the services and products you sell, do you have 100% of their business? Is there further potential? Are they buying from your competitors? As a management team, finalise your list, picking 6 – 10 of these top customers who are strategic to your own business growth plans going forward.

2. Invest in a Key Account Manager (KAM)

Select someone either from your business, or consider recruiting externally for this role. Note; a good KAM isn’t necessarily your best sales person but is about introducing organisational change. This is a key role and will be someone who is seen and respected as a senior manager and involved strategically in management meetings and decisions. Therefore to be successful and part of your long term business strategy, it’s about aligning your business, your team, to your key customer’s needs. You will also have to get buy in from the rest of the team particularly the existing sales team and managers.

3. Invest in training and development of your KAM

This role is about building trusted relationships with your key customers. It’s about managing multiple relationships, not just the business owners, or key decision makers but also all the influencers within their organisation. Your KAM needs to understand and build relationships with these influencers, who may not be able to say “Yes”, but can certainly can say “No” or block access to the key decision maker. One tip is create an organisation chart and portfolio for each key customer. Understand the linkages and which influencers do you need to nurture relationships with? Don’t underestimate who can influence the decision makers.

4. Set targets and goals for each key account customer

Create metrics and a KAM dashboard. As a management team you should review these at every management meeting. Measure positives, negatives and understand what the trends, opportunities and threats are and agree actions going forward. Whilst initially you won’t obtain all opportunities from these customers, you need to understand why you didn’t and what you can do to secure these opportunities in the future. It also good practice to benchmark your customers, by industry sectors and know their financials and credit score.

5. Get out there and build trusted relationships

Don’t underestimate how much time this may take. Ensure your KAM meets your key customers face to face on a regular basis. Say for a quarterly review, not to sell but to obtain information and build trust. Get to know your customers, not just their business, but personal interests, hobbies, family and what they do in their spare time. If feasible invite key customer contacts to events, shows, exhibitions, dinner or even sporting events. As I have always found, getting customers out of their own business and introducing them to other key customers creates free flowing dialogue and actually increases the trust and bond they have with you or your KAM. Then by naturally getting more involved supporting them in their business, such as on projects, you will actually understand their business challenges and their customer’s demands better. Over time you will help them find solutions, hopefully resulting in you becoming a preferred supplier and trusted business partner for years to come.

Finally - review your key account customers each year and be aware and highlight the smaller businesses you currently trade with which could become your future key accounts. By continually understanding and getting closer to your key accounts customers, you will deliver your future business aspirations and goals.

“The business of business is relationships; the business of life is human connection”.

Robin S. Sharma

If you are looking to grow your business, Business Doctors Cumbria offer a free business health check where we can help you to set a clear vision and understand the steps you need to take to fulfil your aspirations. Contact us for more information on 07966 686 112 or email

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