Engaging your customer ecosystem: Five rules to live by

Meeting your customers’ increasingly complex challenges requires new way of working, and in many cases this starts with recognizing that your company can’t possibly have all the answers in-house. This reality will require you to embrace an ever more expansive definition of your customer’s ecosystem to include not only your customer but your customer’s customer, their other suppliers, your own suppliers, and even your competition.

This is bound to make people in your organization uncomfortable. Jim Ford, the global head of client development at the Netherlands-based engineering, architecture and business consulting company Arcadis, offers five rules to live by as you begin (or continue) to expand your customer ecosystem paradigm.

  1. Decide what you want out of co-creation. It is critical to choose with whom you want to engage and how. Developing this type of inclusive ecosystem requires massive effort, so it’s critical to (a) have management buy-in and (b) decide which markets and which customers warrant the investment. Once you’ve done this, you have to ask these questions: What’s the strategy? What’s the client experience look like? What do you want the output to look like? How are you going to assess whether the mutual value you create justifies the investment? “If you don’t answer those questions,” Ford says, “you’re going to be DOA.”
  2. Position yourself and your company as the ecosystem captain. When you take on the role of assembling and leading the ecosystem, you get to define who’s “in” and who’s not, what the goals are and the role that each participant will play. Most importantly, the client’s perception of your value goes up immeasurably.
  3. Develop a strategy to leverage and connect talent across all the organizations. It can’t be just you, a technical expert and your executive sponsor. Do not underestimate the knowledge, expertise and creativity of people in your organization who have nothing at all to do with your customer or even your customer’s industry. The more expansive your view of who’s “in” from your organization, the better you’ll be able to “zip up” with your customer’s organization. The strength of the connective bond comes with each tooth that connects you to the customer, and the power of having a different perspective is huge.
  4. Recognize that you can’t have all the solutions in-house; think of yourself like a broker. We stipulated at the beginning that you won’t have all the answers. You have to think of yourself as the idea broker, reaching into other organizations — even your competitors’ — for expertise you may not have in house. This is the part that’s going to make you, and others inside your organization, the most uncomfortable. “That’s OK!” Ford says. So long as you’ve cemented yourself as the ecosystem captain, you’ve got nothing to worry about. This expanded group of problem solvers will allow you to come up with much more robust and impactful solutions.
  5. Make sure you have a mechanism for scaling your solutions. The best solution in the world is next to useless if you don’t have a plan for scaling your new solutions and platforms for other customers, markets and priority sectors.

Do you have the right blend of skills and competencies to thrive in this ecosystem leadership role? Here are Ford’s top three competencies for 21st-century SAMs:

• Understanding the needs and key drivers of your customer and market trends driving their orientation.

• Combining that knowledge with knowledge of your own organization to create an actionable plan.

• Having agility, leadership skills and ability to translate plans into action.

Want to know how you compare to your peers in these (and other) critical SAM competencies? SAMA has conducted close to 2,000 individual competency sessions, offering SAMs and extended account teams a data-driven snapshot of how they’re performing and a roadmap for improvement.

Learn more here.


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