Help your most important customers to build their future

Identifying how we can solve a customer’s big gnarly problems forces us to think beyond our own self-interest. In doing so, we are engaging in an activity that is highly correlated with long-term customer partnerships: delivering meaningful innovation.

When you deliver complex services, and do so through long-term contracts, what you are striving for is just as important to the customer as where you are today. After all, they are buying where you’ll be in three years’ time (or more). And if you’ve already been working together for a while, your customer will probably also need help to navigate problems in their business or market that didn’t exist at the start of your working relationship. As procurement expert Adel Salman pointed out when we spoke for my new book, Winning Again: “suppliers need to put forward a solution that addresses what we are becoming, not what we were in the past when you initially secured the business.”

You are the expert, and the customer expects you to be able to build a picture of how their future will look if they continue to work with you. However, innovating with the customer in mind is different to innovating for yourself. Here, you are acting as a ‘tastemaker’ – an expert who knows what the customer wants before they do.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Vogue’s Anna Wintour and Apple’s Steve Jobs are all tastemakers who became famous for their innovations. In a long-term customer partnership, the role of a tastemaker is to innovate AND collaborate. You’re still the expert, but the process you follow is more like taking a friend to your favourite restaurant and guiding them through the menu. To do this without straining the friendship requires consideration of their preferences, and compassion for their point of view, and of course the conviction that your expertise will guide them towards a good result.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers http://www.winningwords.com.au/winning-again/