While I’ve never been an ‘Account Executive’ I think it is safe to say that no matter what your role is in a startup (or small organization), you’re likely selling something everyday. Sometimes this may mean providing some sales-enablement in the prospecting and pre-sales process. Other times it may be a part of the post-sales, relationship building phase.
In the process of hastily closing as many deals as possible and adding customers, often times companies neglect to address what they want to do with their customers. Sure, your customers signed the contract and you’re getting the revenue you expected. However, the relationship shouldn’t end there. For this reason, it is important to build out your Account Management, Customer Success, Client Services, Engagement Manager, etc. team.
Whatever you call it in your industry and organization, the key thing to remember is that sales is more than just cold calling prospects and closing the deal. In order for a company to get the most out of a sale, it needs to invest other time and resources into that relationship.
Choose your Customers wisely:
When you are still in the growth phase, it is very tempting to close any and all customers. After all, how cool is it that people are willing to PAY you for something you built! Clearly that validates the market and demonstrates that at least someone is getting value out of your offering.
Turn customers away! Like many other things in life, in this situation, quality is better than quantity. Be very selective in which customers you work with in your growth phase. Why? You need more than just revenue at this stage of your company. Be strategic about which companies you work with. Think of it as a Partnership rather than a vendor-customer relationship.
You may end up spending more time and resources on support and services for a customer while not getting much in return (now that revenue number starts to look really small). On the other hand, if you carefully choose your customers strategically, they can help you be a lot more successful. You want to choose customers that are savvy, well connected and have plenty of potential to grow your relationship with (up-sell and cross-sell opportunities).
As mentioned earlier, it is very important to engage with your customer as a business Partner. The person handling this relationship needs to be an extension of their team. You must know all the key people at the customer organization. What are their goals and strategies? At the end of the day, how do they define succes as a company? This will help you understand how your products/services will enable them in reaching that goal. The mindset truly needs to be what can we do to help our customer be successful — NOT what is the best way to extract additional revenue from this account. Think about the long term, if your customer becomes rich and successful, that wealth will somehow flow back to your company. You just need to be patient in fostering that partnership.
Listen to your Customers:
As a result of the strategic partnership you’ve built with your customers, your company can reap many benefits. By choosing your customers, you’ve chosen to limit your time and efforts in working with the smartest people in your industry. This means they’ll provide you with the most valuable feedback that will shape your products, services and your company as a whole. Work with people that you can learn from. Constantly solicit feedback with everything you do. After receiving this feedback, act on improving your business and then thank your customers by showing your appreciation. Ask your customers what products/features will make their business successful — NOT what products/features will get their job done so that their boss is happy (this will lead to a happy customer in the short-term, but what about the health of that account when that contact chooses to leave the company tomorrow?).
Talk to your Customers:
You never ever want a customer to feel like they got all your attention until they signed a contract and then you moved on to closing other deals. That’s a terrible experience and you will quickly see your customer churn rise. In addition to the strong relationship you build by doing the things outlined above, you want to craft a bigger story for your company.
Pro-actively keep your customers updated on what you’ve been working on and new announcements you have to make. Your customers like to see you succeed and you want to remind them that they are actually a part of your success story. This makes them feel good and they will be more than happy to make referrals of others you should work with. Having this customer loyalty will help you retain them even when a new competitor comes along pitching a better product at a lower price.
Venturing into a new marketing or product category? Alert your customers! They will offer up their network to help you out with new partnerships and business development opportunities.
Make a Friend:
This might be the most ‘fun’ part of your role but it is surprising how many people fail to put in time here. Spend time with your customer getting to know them personally. Take them out to lunch/dinner/happy hour. It makes a HUGE difference interacting with someone in person versus phone/email communication. Sure it takes a lot of time, money and a big chunk out of your personal time. But, your customer will see you as a human rather than one of the many vendors they deal with. They are also likely to open up a lot more about their sentiment and inner workings of their organization in person after they’ve put a face to the name. This will also allow you to make more mistakes (as a young company, you’ll make many) without having a major detrimental impact on your standing as a vendor to their company. They are more likely to be lenient with you fixing things if they know what kind of person you are. That level of trust is hard to achieve without getting to know someone personally.
The thoughts outlined above are simple behavioral changes an organization can make and instill in their employees for prolonged success out of customer relationships. I’m sure there are additional practices out there that one can utilize. However, these are some that you should be implementing at the minimum in order to build a successful company selling to the enterprise market.