Build a Contact Plan for Managing Enterprise Relationships

This is part of a growing and ongoing series of videos and transcripts intended to help Ulu founders develop their sales skills and improve their sales outcomes.

Early stage companies selling in the enterprise usually live and die by their ability to turn a handful or fewer early “lighthouse” clients into long term clients paying meaningful recurring revenues. That growth in contract scale, scope, and value is a function of many things, not the least of which is successfully identifying and building relationships with a growing group of potential buyers inside a single enterprise.

For young firms, this is a massive exercise in balancing time and resources against business requirements and opportunity to achieve four objectives: Win pilots, convert pilots to licenses and agreements, increase adoption, utilization, and renewal over time, and expand your footprint across organizations and supply chains

Over many years of working in and around enterprises and the organizations who successfully sell there, I have found two tools especially helpful in shooting the gap between too much and too little structure for young sales organizations.

  • Client Contact Map
  • Contact Blueprint

On our way to those tools, let’s start by creating a simple buyer taxonomy and evaluating where you stand with each buyer in your client’s organization.

Who Are the Buyers?

For any given opportunity, initiative, or relationship, there may be a variety of decision-makers and influencers. It doesn’t really matter what you call them as long as you do the following:

  • Agree on your terms and classifications: Everyone in your organization needs to use the same words.
  • Account for the different roles people take in enterprise decision making

In large organizations, the typical buying roles are assumed by unique people, sometimes several per role. In smaller organizations, one person can perform many roles. We’ll describe them genetically as the following:

  • Power Buyer
  • User Buyer
  • Advisor Buyer
  • Evangelist

Power Buyer

Executive or manager who has functional or P&L responsibility for a department, division, or company. Sometimes called the Economic Buyer.

Watch . . .

  • Has authority to make the purchasing decision
  • Doesn’t have to clear decisions with anyone higher in the organization
  • Able to resolve internal conflicts and differences of opinion with other buyers

Watch out for . . .

  • May not have good instincts into the day-to-day reality of the company
  • Often has a completely different agenda from those of users
  • Can create resentment by overriding all other buyers

User Buyer

Person who will use what you sell to do the work of the organization.

Watch . . .

  • Will receive a direct benefit from your solution
  • Has a primary responsibility for achieving a specific objective you need to effect
  • Will work directly with vendors to implement the solution

Watch out for . . .

  • They know their job better than you do. Don’t make them remind you.
  • May find admitting problems threatening; may find advocating outside help threatening.

Advisor Buyer

Person with relevant knowledge likely to be called upon to evaluate your proposition. Technical Buyers, Purchasing, and Legal all fall into this category.

Watch . . .

  • Credible to the user and/or power
  • Can become an important advocate and champion
  • Will push for full implementation if they become believers

Watch out for . . .

  • May or may not have relevant and/or up-to-date experience or credentials
  • Point of view typically tied to protecting the company; are you a threat?

Evangelist

Person providing the emotional energy that will move the buying decision to the next phase.

Watch . . .

  • Change agent who keeps attention focused on the problem or solution.
  • Is thought of as a “visionary.”
  • May be designated to sponsor new ideas.

Watch out for . . .

  • Don’t confuse apparent lack of formal power with weak influence.

Grade Your Relationships

Over time, the nature and intensity of the relationships your team has with your client will change. It can be useful to characterize the relationship individual team members have with the various people with whom you interact at the client along these lines.

Here are some general rules of the road.

  • You have to allocate resources to maintain clients in any of the top three levels: satisfaction, open, or trust. In most cases, the right mix is a small number at “Trust,” the people you really need to move something forward at “open,” and everyone else at “satisfied.”
  • You can generally only move a client up one level at a time. We’ll talk about how to do that later.
  • Gravity will over time feed client relationships towards “indifference.” It usually takes something specific for a client to fall into dissatisfaction or motivation to change.

Let’s look at each of these levels in order.

Trust

Definition: Your advice is actively sought

Criteria

  • Within your area of expertise, your input is always, or almost always, solicited.
  • You’re consulted when problems are discussed, rather than brought in to implement a solution.
  • It’s almost always the case this occurs when you’re in the midst of an implementation, assignment, or project of significance to the client.

Your Opportunity

  • You have a virtual first right of refusal on any opportunity within your area of expertise.
  • Help frame important decisions concerning your area of expertise.
  • You’re the sole source for assignments and projects in your area of expertise.
  • Cross-sell and up-sell services with relative ease.
  • Client refers work and contacts.

Once your buyer stops being Satisfied–or before they have enough experience with you to be Satisfied — they are Indifferent.

Open

Definition: Satisfied and willing to look at new ideas, proposals, recommendations, etc.

Criteria

  • Gives you ready access to themselves and their people.
  • Will consider unsolicited proposals.
  • Is interested in your critical insights.
  • Will provide air cover when needed.
  • Will share credit for successes.

Your Opportunity

  • Take business away from competitors.
  • Win business currently performed by internal resources.
  • Propose new ideas to buyers that are related to business you already do or control.
  • Cross-sell related and unrelated services/products.
  • New profit opportunities at full/premium rates.

Satisfied

Definition: The buyer is happy with what you’ve done for him or her.

Criteria

  • Has good things to say about you when you asked.
  • Can see and articulate a benefit/payoff to what you’ve done.
  • May share some credit for successes.
  • Expresses a desire to keep working with you, your methods, etc.

Your Opportunity

  • Keep the existing business.
  • Have an inside track on renewals and similar assignments or projects in other areas of the organization.
  • Good referral source to other organizations.
  • Modest price increases.

Indifferent

Definition: Buyer sees no compelling benefit to working with you.

Criteria

  • Has very little to say good or bad about you.
  • Doesn’t return your phone calls in a timely fashion.
  • Makes it difficult to get an appointment.
  • Makes guarded comments.
  • Grants limited access: Your dealings are with underlings.
  • Usage levels off/declines/never gets going even though Need is there.

Potential Danger

  • You will not hear about other opportunities in the organization.
  • The work you do have may go out to bid, be taken inside, or terminated.
  • You’ll lose them as a referral source.

Dissatisfaction

Definition: Buyer is unhappy with what you’ve done.

Criteria

  • Phone calls are not returned.
  • Contact is brief and unfriendly.
  • Buyer openly expresses displeasure.
  • People who previously supported you begin to distance themselves.
  • Buyer blames you.
  • Buyer looks for ways to distance himself or herself from results of project, bury it, etc.

Potential Danger

  • You will lose the relationship you have when the project or assignment is done.
  • You may have trouble getting paid in full.
  • Your phased projects will be cut short.

Motivated to Change

Definition: Buyer is taking active steps to remove or replace you.

Criteria

  • Buyer starts communicating with you in writing.
  • Previous supporters stop returning your calls.
  • Competitor activity at the client/target increases.
  • Contact is exclusively with underlings.
  • Buyer indicates they’re making a change.

Potential Danger

  • Your project, assignment, or subscription will usually be terminated immediately.
  • Your reputation may suffer.
  • Buyer may take steps to discredit or damage you.
  • Fees will often be arbitrated or unilaterally reduced.
  • In extreme cases, you may be sued.
  • It is almost impossible to rescue the relationship.

How to Create a Client Contact Map

The Client Contact Map is a simple two-axis analysis that displays your relationships with your clients using the grading scale we previously discussed. It looks something like this:

Grade the relationships

Once you have the names and roles across the x and y-axis, grade the relationship at each intersection as you think the client sees it. When in doubt, grade down. Where there is no relationship, don’t use Indifferent, put nothing.

Interpret Coverage

There isn’t a set of hard rules, but you might want to consider the following:

  • Anything less than an S is cause for concern.
  • Senior people need relationships with senior people.
  • One relationship per buyer is usually insufficient. More than three is probably too many.
  • A large number of T’s is almost always an unrealistically generous assessment of your relationships.
  • More than anything else, you want lots of O’s.

Mark Key Intersections

In any given period of time (think in terms of 30, 60, or 90 days), you’ll really only need to focus on a small number of intersections in your Client Contact Map. Using a colored pen if you’re working on hard copy, or shading if you’re using a spreadsheet, mark the relationships that merit specific attention. In doing that, keep in mind the following:

  • Dissatisfied, Indifferent, and Motivated relationships probably need attention. You can either try to improve or change the existing relationship.
  • Trust and Open relationships can often be leveraged to improve other relationships on the Client Contact Map. You might want to visually link those on the map.
  • Look for columns in which you need more depth. Circle blank intersections you think need to be filled.

The next step is to identify ways to move people to a desired relationship state. To do that, it helps to understand how people are influenced.

How are People Influenced?

We’re all too busy. As a result, we filter out and/or ignore a large portion of the messages that pour over us on a daily basis. We do not have time to look at most of this input, much less seriously analyze it.

The mechanisms we use to navigate the signals blasting us daily are often referred to as “heuristics,” “rules of thumb,” or “social norms.” These automatic filters help us make the thousands of decisions we must make in order to get through the day.

Unlessyou can get past these filters, your messages won’t get through to your buyers.

The good news is that these automatic filters are predictable.

In his book Influence: the new psychology of modern persuasion, Robert Cialdini identifies six universal influence channels that make excellent starting points for getting past your customers’ filters. You can read a good summary of his ideas here. Following are my interpretations:

Which strategy you use, who does it, and with whom, should all be governed by your Client Contact Map analysis.

Let’s look at each strategy in turn.

IOU (Reciprocity)

Regardless of how you feel about someone, you are inclined to feel a sense of obligation once that person has done you a favor. This does not necessarily imply you will pay him/her back in kind, but you are pretty certain to repay the favor. As a result, unless you have a really nasty streak or you thoroughly distrust the other person, one day you will pay them back.

Some examples might be:

  • Providing information that is hard to access or in some other way special
  • Introductions to people of interest or importance to the other person
  • Invitation to something that is exclusive or desirable

In all cases, the key is that the gesture or offer has high perceived value and is offered without an explicit expectation of an immediate value exchange.

I Said I’ll Do It and I Will (Commitment and Consistency)

Most people want to appear consistent. As a result, once we make a commitment to a particular opinion, decision, or course of behavior, we want to keep that commitment. Like all the other automatic filters, this desire can also be activated without our conscious consent.

For example, people who view themselves as politically conservative (just to pick one simple example) are naturally attracted to information sources, politicians, and causes that describe themselves as conservative. Over time the individual is less and less likely to challenge his/her system of beliefs, or even think about his/her position at all.

The most obvious way to use this strategy is to leverage the power of incremental commitments. The first step need not be a big one to gain the Commitment effect. An example might be having someone sign up for a small pilot project or survey of some type. The act of signing up for the first small step is highly predictive of a future willingness to engage at a higher level.

Some examples might be:

  • Survey to highlight that the service they are currently receiving from their current provider is below the level they deliver to their customers.
  • Free trial or pilot.
  • Get them on record in favor of your solution.

The key is that the commitment is visible in some way.

Everybody’s Doing It (Social Proof)

People receive strong behavior cues from the actions of others. While the amount of value put on social behavior will differ from individual to individual, it is a potent source of influence.

For example, from a Japanese sushi bar to a blackjack table in Las Vegas, you can always tell the first-timers by the way they quietly scan the scene to learn how they should act.

Some examples might be:

  • References and testimonials from satisfied customers in peer businesses.
  • Results from client satisfaction surveys.
  • Press coverage of success with peer and admired clients.

Love Me, Love My Dog (Liking)

Most of us gravitate toward people we like and with whom we share common interests. In other words, we are more easily influenced by people who are similar to us, who pay us compliments, and who cooperate with us towards mutual goals.

Note: This phenomenon is the basis of our implicit and unconscious biases and worthy of deeper reflection as you think about every aspect of how you do your business.

Some examples might include:

  • Getting referrals from people you like and who like you.
  • Seeking social interactions (in the old days you might have played golf together!)
  • Sharing content about shared interests.
  • Increasing your awareness of ways in which you are similar to your clients.

Because I Said So (Authority)

When we were children, we depended on our parents and other adults for guidance on what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. Later, as adults, we respond and show deference to those in authority. Why? It’s usually easier that way, particularly if the decision being thrust upon us doesn’t appear to be especially significant.

In business, this strategy works in many ways. Educational and professional titles, special expertise, books written, notable experience, exceptional performance all have an impact on the degree of authority a person or an organization wields in the marketplace.

Some examples might be:

  • Publishing to establish credentials.
  • Speaking at industry events.
  • Sending copies of presentations or articles you have written to your clients.
  • Associating with third party credentialed experts.

The key here is, if you don’t have the personal credentials required, figure out how you can borrow the authority of another recognized expert.

It’s Going Fast (Scarcity)

We all tend to want those things that are in short supply. Our belief is that: It must be good if it’s selling like hot cakes and not everyone can have it.

In business, this strategy tends to play itself out in reduced, short-term availability, or other more chronic shortages of products or services.

Some examples might be:

  • Pending price increase.
  • Renewal dates.
  • Discontinued goods or services.

Client Contact Blueprint

In the final analysis, the key to a solid contact strategy is your ability to maximize the value of each touch. There are really only two ways to think about that concept. From the client’s standpoint, the contact must do the following to have value:

  • Raise an issue, problem, or opportunity he or she hadn’t considered.
  • Suggest alternatives he or she hadn’t previously seen.
  • Offer differentiated and useful solutions.

The tool we’ll use for developing an optimal contact strategy is the Client Contact Blueprint. You should complete a strategy for each relationship highlighted on your Client Contact Map. It looks like this:

For each field, you’ll want to record the following information:

  • Name: These names should be drawn from your Client’s Contact Map. In particular, focus on those names where your contact is weak, ineffective, or at risk.
  • Goal: Make notes on your relationship or influencing goal for that person. Think in terms of the TOS attitude taxonomy.
  • Influence Strategy: Name your Influence Strategy(s).
  • Tactics/Resources: Make notes on your tactics, core messages, and how you’ll get them across. List people and resources.

This module is on the topic of creating a plan for managing and improving relationships between your team and a large, complex organization to which you are trying to sell. The two tools discussed are as follows:

  • Client Contact Map
  • Contact Blueprint