Are you plugged in to your customers’ goals?

Here is a dystopian future scenario for you.

No longer content with making suppliers respond to tenders and sign complex service level agreements, customers have now implemented a new, far-reaching regime to test how well their suppliers are performing.

Supplier performance testing can take place at any time, and take almost any form.

In the next 30 seconds, you will get a pop quiz in your inbox from one of your biggest customers. The quiz asks you to name and describe the customer’s top three goals for their business over the next 12 months.

Earlier this morning, all publicly available information on this topic was temporarily removed from the internet, so a quick Google search is not an option.

Would you pass the test? How many of the customer’s goals could you name without checking, and how many could you explain back to them in detail?

When I put this question to people who are hoping to retain and grow their major accounts, many of them find it hard to answer.

  • They have never read the customer’s annual report or strategic plan.
  • They haven’t checked out the customer’s website to find out what is new in their world.
  • They aren’t in the habit of asking their direct customer contacts about what they are personally responsible for, or what they will need to deliver over the next 12 months.
  • That’s a pity, because customers not only appreciate it when we know this stuff, they actually expect us to know.

According to Bain & Company, originators of the Net Promoter Score (one of the most common methods for assessing customer satisfaction and loyalty), these are the top four questions that business and government questions are asking about their suppliers:

  1. Do they create economic and strategic value for our business?
  2. Do they simplify our daily operations (and my own work life)?
  3. Can I trust them?
  4. Do I like working with them?

This also fits with what we now know is the most successful approach to business-to-business and business-to-government sales.

Five years ago, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, authors of The Challenger Sale, were interested in finding out why some salespeople were still making their targets during the global financial crisis, while customers were shutting their wallets to everyone else.

They found that customers will award business to salespeople who they feel can help them to compete better or do business better. This makes intuitive sense, but in practice, it’s not easy to achieve.

To win more work with your existing customers, you first need to appreciate what it will take to be their preferred supplier.

If you don’t know what their goals are, or what they are on the line to deliver this year, just ask them – before they decide to ask you.