If you have large, corporate customers sometimes that can feel daunting. Their huge size, relative to yours, may keep you feeling vulnerable. Culturally, the big fellas do things differently. They often have highly structured rigid processes, stringent quality control requirements, and policies that seem to control what you can and cannot do. These large customers often change the way you do business. Sometimes they change the way you like to do business.
It’s common for you or your salespeople to feel overwhelmed by your largest customers. Though they make your financials look good, their value can easily get lost when day-to-day demands and inevitable problems arise from the delivery of your products or services.
As a leader you have to choose the frame with which you talk about your largest customers. To what extent do you frame your firm as the beneficiary of your largest customers? And to what extent do you frame your firm as the “victim” of the corporate behemoth? The answer could be the difference between a long-term and growing business relationship and the need to search for a new source of revenue.
It is easy to fall into the trap of framing your firm as the victim of your largest customers. You use phrases like, “they made us do it this way.” Or, “they took advantage of us with that deduction.” Or, “their inflexibility is killing us.” These are the kind of comments that begin to frame your client relationship with a “victim’s” perspective.
In an odd way, playing the victim is seductive. Your people in the trenches are usually happy to commiserate about the tribulations they go through to sell and service the big customers. You’ll almost always find an audience eager to listen to your complaints (“at least the boss isn’t complaining about me!”).
If you haven’t been judicious about your use of the victim frame, this may become the de facto attitude that your team adopts. Once that takes hold, an unproductive spiral can begin. Slowly…or not so slowly…the victim attitude seeps its way into your relationships with your customers. Over time, customer relationships can become contentious, your responsiveness erodes, and pretty soon your staff acts as if they are somehow entitled to your customer’s business.
It’s only a matter of time before a competitor comes in and takes the business from you.
Your positive leadership actions can nip the destructive victim cycle in the bud. You need to constantly act as if you are the beneficiary of your customers.
You must encourage and use proactive language. Employ comments like, “they’ve (your client) helped us grow to where we are today.” And “their requirements may actually help us improve our processes and help us attract other large customers.”
You get the idea.
This doesn’t mean that you put a moratorium on complaints. Sometimes complaining can release tension, especially if everyone can share a (temporary) source of frustration. But it does mean that when those complaints surface, help your team deal with demanding and persnickety clients. Keep reminding them of the value that these large customers bring to your organization. You want your staff to nurture and deepen customer relationships, not whine about them constantly.
You want a virtuous cycle to take hold. One where you can reap the benefits of improved