“Maintaining” Customer Relationships is No Longer Sufficient

We all know that maintaining customer relationships is incredibly important in business; however, few businesses are intentional about monitoring and developing all of the relationships that are most valuable to them. Relationships between team members, customers, and valuable referral sources or “Centers of Influence” (COI’s) are all critical to long-term success, yet companies tend to focus quite heavily on customer relationships alone.

Monitoring and developing every important relationship may seem like a daunting task, but the process can be fairly simple and straightforward if you break it into logical steps… 

Step 1: Engaging Your Relationship Development Team

The first step is to engage all of the team members who are responsible for developing your company’s most valuable relationships (current and prospective) in this process. Institutionalizing the “development” of relationships over simply “maintaining” them is crucial today.

Step 2: Identify All Key Customers and Referral Sources(COI’s)

Ask each team member you have engaged in this process to make a list of the most important customer relationships that they are developing and then also ask them to make a list of any other referral sources or COI’s that have also been pivotal to their success.

A fairly comprehensive list of referral sources and COI’s might include, but not be limited to: other team members or departments, strategic partners, development partners, major suppliers, other local or regional businesses, charities and other non-profit organizations, etc. Team members will likely have very different referral sources or COI’s and this is usually healthy for and helpful to the business so long as proper focus is maintained.

Step 3: Try to Organize Key Relationships Thematically

Now that your team has a laundry list of important relationships, it helps to organize them. Most companies tend to group relationships quantitatively by revenues generated, order volume, etc., but an equally valuable exercise is to have leadership and relationship development teams think about relationships qualitatively by asking probing questions like:

Do we have customers who may not drive the top line directly, but who refer other customers that do? How are our customers and referral sources or COI’s related? Where have we found these referral sources and COI’s? How can we develop relationships other potential referral sources and COI’s? How can we continue to be more valuable to our customers and to our referral sources and COI’s? How can we better serve their needs?

These questions can lead to keen insights as to how to deepen existing relationships and to help forge new ones. Through this examinations process, patterns and themes will develop that will help to organize relationships into logical stakeholder groups.

Step 4: Document & Revisit Relationships by Team Member

Now that your team has identified all of your valuable relationships and has organized them thematically by stakeholder group, it is very helpful to talk about how each team member develops relationships. This allows team members to learn from each-other’s successes (and failures) and to ensure that experiences for customers, referral sources and COI’s are all consistent. In addition to these important discussions, it is also very important to document all of this periodically, by team member, identifying which team member is primarily responsible for the continued development of each important relationship.

Periodically revisiting this process will allow you and your team to discover new opportunities for growth and to develop deeper relationships overall (both internally and externally). In addition, it will provide your team with a much better understanding of the challenges that you face whenever there is turnover or whenever team members roles change internally.

This article was written by and provided courtesy of Vaughan Scott, MBA, CPWA®, Managing Director – Investment Officer with Axiom Financial Strategies in New Albany, IN. Visit our website at www.AxiomFSG.com.

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