Your Customers Want More- and They Will Pay For It

Your Customers Want More- and They Will Pay For It

Blue Canyon LogoThis is one of the chapter titles from the book CoDestiny: Overcome Your Growth Challenges by Helping Your Customers Overcome Theirs, written by George F Brown, Jr and Atlle Valentine Pope. They are also the cofounders of Blue Canyon Partners, Inc, a strategy consulting firm that helps business-to-business and business-to-government customers develop and implement growth strategies. In this excerpt, they talk about the two lessons that YOUR customers want you to learn:

We started CoDestiny with a chapter titled “Your Customers Want More – and They Will Pay You for It”. Over and over, we’ve found that customers want their suppliers to be successful, to deliver more and more value. The adversarial relationships that we see so often in business markets are more often than not the result of the failure to deliver value, rather than a deliberate strategy on the part of customers to keep their suppliers at arm’s length. We’ve also learned that customers have some lessons that they want their suppliers to learn, ones that can help them to grow and be profitable.

An interview we conducted recently with an individual responsible for road and bridge projects in a mid-western state provides an example of two such lessons. During the interview, this individual told the following story:

“A while ago, we were holding the first public meeting on a new project, getting input from the community. That’s one of the early steps in a long process before any project becomes a reality. I noticed the head of one of the local construction firms in the audience, and was a little surprised to see him there. Anyhow, the meeting went OK, with one major concern coming up and a lot of minor issues. A few days later, this same contractor, who didn’t say a word at the public meeting, came by my office and said ‘I have a few ideas about [the concern that came up at the meeting]’. We talked for a while, and he did have some good ideas, ones we hadn’t thought of before. Now I won’t tell you that we’re going to award jobs just because someone shows up a public meeting, but I sure do want to have contractors that are on the same page, know the issues, and think it’s part of their job to help us solve them.”

This contractor did two things right. He got involved very early in the project life, long before the spec’s were written in stone, and he worked to understand the issues that would later define success. And he invested in his relationship with the customer, not just by being friendly, but by bringing genuine value – making the point to the customer that the relationship was one worth sustaining.

We’ve seen over and over that the firms that do these things – get involved early and emphasize the value they can deliver to their customers – are the winners, the ones that score more than their fair share of successes. They gain a “Relationship Advantage”, one that leverages their position with respect to product and service offerings and their bids. The Relationship Advantage doesn’t overcome glaring deficiencies in terms of poor quality work or uncompetitive prices, but it can make all the difference for firms that are solidly in the competitive mix.

The early involvement in projects often has a major benefit in terms of influencing spec’s. Over and over, we’ve heard quotes of the form “They just didn’t give us credit for [some idea or offering] because it wasn’t in the spec’s or part of the evaluation criteria”. In most instances, we learned that the spec’s and evaluation criteria had been written long before this firm got involved in the process. Their ideas may have been good, but they were late.

Bringing value to the customer is a critical art. We emphasize careful thought, building upon the knowledge gained from early involvement. Ask “What will make a difference? What will let this project be a success?” One key approach is to think about the measures that the customer would use to determine if the project was a success or a failure. Is it early completion? Is it no safety incidents? Is it putting a technical issue behind them? Is it budget? If you can identify the factors that are important to the customer, you’re well on the way to knowing how to bring value to them and knowing what to emphasize in order to win the job.

CoDestiny relationships are surprisingly common in business markets. All too often, the assumption is that procurement processes and competition will make it impossible to become part of a ‘win-win’ relationship, one in which suppliers and customers achieve shared successes. We think that assumption is wrong. We have never talked to a customer organization, in any industry, that couldn’t provide examples of “supplier success stories”, genuine CoDestiny relationships. What we find to be in short supply are firms that make the investments necessary to realize the benefits of such relationships. We encourage you to give the concept a try.

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