A Consultative Approach to Customer Management

Relationship

Increased globalization, changing customer preferences and tougher competition are forcing organisations to have a hard look at the way they acquire and retain customers. Towards this, organisations continuously seek ways to address new markets, reduce sales cycle and maintain long term relationship with their customers.  In this pursuit, customer management takes centre stage and organisations that structure their processes around customers, anticipate the demands better and rally their employees to provide value at every stage of customer interaction achieve a higher degree of success. Such an effort cannot be a passing shot instead should become the DNA of the company and acquire the ability to self-adjust itself to varying business environment.

How can organisations that seek to improve their customer management skills approach this issue? One method is to learn from companies that have been successful in this art. Professional firms such as consulting companies can provide some lessons. Consulting companies have always followed a diligent process in acquiring customers and once acquired, they tend to retain them for long. For some, as much as 90% of their revenues come through repeat sales. This would mean that their cost of customer acquisition is low and the revenue and profitability are more predictable.  They achieve this by standardizing their processes across geographies and divisions, employing time tested tools and techniques and training their employees through well-structured programs that are customer centric.  Others, especially those in the service industry or those in the business of selling solutions than products, can suitably adopt some of the practices followed by leading consulting companies towards managing their customers.

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Acquiring such a capability across the organisation can be a long drawn out process, but companies can make a beginning by training customer facing professionals on consulting competencies that include some hard and soft skills and mentoring them on an on-going basis. They can further expose these professionals to consulting methods, tools and techniques that can be applied in their work to bring an appropriate level of standardization and higher impact in customer management.

One way to approach the learning process is to look at customer management in three stages; customer acquisition, fulfillment and on-going customer relationship and design appropriate programs with required emphasis across these stages. In customer acquisition, some of the processes that are perfected by consulting companies include conducting due diligence on customer through research, understanding their requirements through structured interviews and drafting appropriate responses through presentations and proposals. Learning the consultative selling process and tuning them to the respective businesses situations can help organisations improve their sales conversions. In the fulfillment stage, for instance, methods of assessing customers’ issues and recommending solutions through problem solving techniques can be looked at along with up-sell, cross-sell techniques.  A key competency that cuts across stages of customer life-cycle but lays a lot of importance on relationship aspects is stakeholder management. Assessing the stakeholders and taking appropriate steps in managing them can aid in establishing a healthy relationship with them.

To conclude, evaluating the merits of adopting such methods and skills can be a first but important step for companies that are yearning to manage their customers better. However, such interventions cannot follow a generic approach but need to be tailored to specific requirements.

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About Raghuram S

I am a Management Consultant with over 25 years experience in the industry and run my own firm called Cohere Consulting since 2008 focusing on business strategy, IT advisory and program management. Prior to this I was with some of the top consulting firms in India including S.B. Billimoria, PricewaterhouseCoopers and IBM. I have participated in a number of strategy and IT delivery engagements across a wide range of industries including manufacturing, consumer products and IT Services. In addition to my consulting assignments, I also spend considerable time in industry research and teaching at premier management institutes. I am based out of Bangalore. I have an MCA from Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Ranchi and an MBA from XLRI, Jamshedpur. I can be contacted at raghurams@cohereconsulting.com
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