As more companies pursue global business, their network of partners can expand to include a myriad of consultants, resellers, and suppliers. Meanwhile, companies still have to keep customers happy, whether the customers are buying directly, or through indirect sales channels. This can only happen if there is 360 degree visibility of customers from the company and also from its reseller and channel partners.
"What we're talking about is total visibility of every customer interaction with a company and its business partners, whether a transaction with the customer is happening in sales, marketing or customer service," said Mayank Bawa, CEO and co-founder of WorkSpan, which provides a business alliance network service that aligns companies with their resellers and business partners.
Networks like WorkSpan's do three things:
- Provide an open platform that any company can join
- Enable linkages between companies that are jointly partnering on marketing, selling and serving customers
- Provide an integrated information repository for everyone participating with a given customer to see who has the ball with the customer, and what the customer's present situation is
"What you get is a joint pipeline that links everyone involved with the customer in the marketing, sales and service efforts," said Bawa. "Everyone knows what the problems are, what the agreements are, what the customer has been told, and what action steps need to be taken."
This is especially important when high levels of coordination between various organizations are required, since you want to avoid generating pain points with the customer because of missed communications or an inability to execute promises in a timely manner.
Business alliance networks are exciting tools, but there are also critical steps managers must take on their own to ensure that customer interactions proceed smoothly and deliver results. Here are four steps:
1. Define the alignment between your marketing, sales, and service organizations that make the most sense for your customer
You want to minimize pain points for your customers. The best way to do this is to coordinate your marketing, selling, and service efforts so that everyone has a 360 degree view of each customer and is fully aware of what is currently being done (and by whom) for that customer. This includes marketing and sales understanding what the current service issues or problems are for a customer, and service being apprised in advance of the products that are being pitched so service can be prepared for post-sales work. If the process involves multiple organizations that are coordinating with your parent company, it becomes more complex. This is where it pays to have everyone enlisted in a network that all can share.
2. Change attitudes about customer service
Despite all of the rhetoric about customer satisfaction, customer service continues to regarded by companies as a cost center that drags down profits. "This is wrong thinking," said Bawa. "If companies want to stay with their customers throughout the entire customer journey and build strong relationships, they should begin by thinking of service as an integral function that is as valuable as the other go-to-market functions like marketing and sales."
SEE: Vendor contract renewal planner (Tech Pro Research)
3. Use dashboards to report on customer progress
If you are collaborating with multiple business partners who interact with customers, a picture is worth a thousand words. By using summary dashboards that show the status of each customer, and what items are being worked on, key individuals in all participating organizations can stay current and responsive with customers.
4. Set actionable quantity goals with your business partners
"Over the past few years, there has been a focus on quality of products and service, which is good," said Bawa. "But there should also be quantity goal setting that sets a vision for where you want to be with a customer in the next twelve months. A good way to do the is to set new sales targets that everyone buys into." An example would be a target that is agreed to by the company and its business partners to increase the dollar amount of new sales to an existing customer by 50% over the next 12 months.
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Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.