If you rely on one big customer for much of your trade, it is critical to capitalise on the relationship to retain their business and win future sales. Emma Allen finds out how to manage your relationship with a large buyer
Maintaining a good relationship with your biggest customer is about more than just retaining their business. By going beyond their expectations and providing added value, you can boost your reputation and increase your chances of winning new contracts and generating referrals.
"Ideally, you want your most valuable clients to view your business as an extension of their own, but in order to create a good relationship, you must get to know your customers and understand exactly what they want," advises marketing consultant, Anne Perret.
"Ask about their business and their priorities - when are their busy periods, for example, and when do they need to buy from you?" she explains. "Also, consider why they use you, rather than your competitors. Are they price-focused, or is reliable delivery or good customer service more important to them?
"If you understand your clients, you'll be able to give them exactly what they need and therefore sell to them more easily," stresses Perret.
Aside from individual client needs, there are a few golden rules to creating a solid working relationship. Always ensure communication is clear, whether it is checking that briefs have been fully understood by both parties, or making sure that the customer is satisfied with the frequency of day-to-day contact.
Honesty is also essential. "Never say you can do something if you can't as it will usually backfire. Instead, put forward a solution, such as recommending another supplier or offering to bring in external expertise," says Perret.
You also need to be cautious when choosing staff to represent you. "If your client is used to dealing with the boss, you could seriously put their nose out of joint if you hand over to more junior employees," warns Perret. "Changes need to be brought in gradually and with the client's approval."
It is up to you to manage the delivery of the project and make sure you meet, if not exceed, your customer's expectations.
Stay informed about developments in your sector by reading the trade press, networking and attending relevant conferences. If you can pass on useful information to your customer about technological advances or competitor intelligence, it will help boost your credentials.
"Weigh up how you could add value," recommends Perret. "It could be something small, such as delivering goods personally or even involving the customer in your own internal processes, such as IT, to create a more streamlined relationship."
Review the lessons you learn from working with a big customer. Ask them for their feedback and take what you learn into other projects.
Lastly, don't underestimate the importance of being easy to deal with. "It sounds obvious, but always be pleasant and courteous to your clients," says Perret. "Even small interactions will have an impact on your working relationship, so think twice before you send off a grumpy email and remember that people buy from people that they like."