Vendor vs. C-Suite: How Do You Prove Your Value to a Skeptical Client?
If there's one certainty in life that your business can count on, it’s being asked to prove your value. Sometimes that happens when you ask for an increased budget; sometimes it happens when it’s time to renew your contract. Other times it happens without warning on a Thursday afternoon.
Suddenly, a C-suite executive is looking for a faster, more cost-effective option and wants to know how you’re contributing to his or her company's bottom line. The exec wants you to prove that your work is moving the needle for the company. And, now, suddenly, boom, the fate of the entire account depends on your ability to offer up undeniable proof of your worth.
Intimidating? It doesn’t have to be. But, for many businesses, this is the juncture at which they lose accounts because they failed to prepare for it.
Some teams will put together a list of wins and consider it done. Others will try to rely on a personal relationship with the client. But top players know better: They know that great client management involves both emotional and analytical aspects. And they know that by building trust and using hard cold data, businesses make themselves irresistible even to skeptical stakeholders.
To plan for that day when your client decides whether to renew your contract, incorporate these five practices.
1. Set defined goals.
Clients may provide general objectives, but it’s your job to break those down into measurable targets. What does “increased revenue” mean, in terms of dollars and calendar dates? How will you know when “higher brand visibility” has been achieved? You won’t know what the client wants and expects until you ask -- and by defining "succes" in advance, you'll eliminate feelings of disappointment later.
2. Get aligned.
Your next step is mapping your efforts to the client’s goals. This means going beyond surface checklists. Immerse yourself in the client’s world and find out the jargon, priorities and rising trends in that industry. Join the conversation so you can be a trusted advisor fluent in the client’s world, rather than an outsider. By 2020, it's predicted, clients will regularly expect vendors to proactively address their future needs, which means you’ll need to create smarter strategies aligned with the client’s challenges.
3. Communicate frequently.
A common mistake is to assume that silence equals satisfaction. Instead of waiting for calls or complaints, proactively shape the relationship through consistent communication. Don’t reach out only when it’s time to renew the relationship; that says, “All I care about is your money.”
Stay in touch and show that you’re genuinely invested in the client’s ongoing challenges. Some 80 percent of businesses believe they deliver a superior customer experience, but only 8 percent of their customers agree; with clear communication, you’ll stay on a friendlier footing and resolve any trouble brewing before it escalates. Especially important is connecting with the decision-maker and making sure he or she is aware of your successes.
4. Measure and modify.
With all the great tools on the market, it’s easier than ever to monitor progress and performance. Use your data to set benchmarks, and you’ll soon have a map outlining sharper tactics, improved team management and stronger results. A recent Temkin Group study found that 84 percent of companies surveyed expected to increase their focus on customer experience metrics for this very reason.
How effectively are you spending your budget? Which strategies have borne fruit and which aren’t paying off? By continually refining your efforts, you’ll be able to rectify underperforming areas before you have to state your case during negotiations.
5. Be transparent with reports.
This is where you can really dazzle clients, but you can’t be lazy about it. Too many businesses will pull together a quarterly list of accomplishments and call that a report. It’s not. A good client report tracks your achievements, true, but it also shows your dedication and smart resource allocation.
Do your actions and results prove you listened to the client’s needs? Did you spend wisely to get those results? Be aware that 71 percent of leaders feel they lack enough meaningful data. With the right metrics, your report can prove you’re the most efficient, insightful team around -- even when you’ve been challenged to demonstrate that on a moment’s notice.
By preparing impressive proof of your value, you’ll elevate your status from a mere vendor to a partner committed to your client’s success. That’s an important difference when it’s time for clients to decide on renewing the relationship. Offer the right data along with the right communication, and you’ll grow your client relationships into profitable and positive long-term accounts.
Aly Saxe is the founder and CEO of Iris, software for agencies and in-house PR teams. She founded Ubiquity Public Relations, an agency representing high-growth B2B tech startups, in 2007.