Three Awesome Tips to Improve your Client Relationships and Results

1. Spend more time thinking or executing on those higher-value activities with the client

This is where the give-to-get technique comes in. Think through your client needs. What aspects of your expertise are they missing? Where do they need to think about a new way of doing something? Where would they benefit from a new service you offer? What things should they be thinking about in six months that they aren’t thinking about now? With the give-to-get approach, you’re not trying to get married on the first date. Instead, you’re figuring out the next fun date you can go on. This has a much higher chance of acceptance and takes most of the pressure off you and your team. Once you’ve answered these questions, think about this: What two-hour working session could an expert from your company lead for the client – without extra charge – that would accomplish the following three things?

  • It’s relatively easy for you to prepare for and conduct the session.
  • The client would find it valuable and would be excited about it.
  • It would expose the client to the need for further exploration of the concept, thus leading to the next step.

Don’t focus on selling something to the client. Instead, worry about how you can be helpful to them. Tweet: Don’t focus on selling something to the client. Instead, worry about how you can be helpful to them. @SAMAtweet

If you do that, you’ll add value and create goodwill. And if the give-to-get idea is strong enough, you’ll elevate your relationships by getting higher-level clients involved with the meeting. For most of our clients’ industries, the give-to-get will lead to what we call a paid selling effort, i.e., a pilot or “test” rollout. The give-to-get concept should be designed to lead to the paid selling effort. And if the pilot goes well, the client will typically want to hire you for the entire additional solution, i.e., whatever your “Big Project” is.

Examples of Great Give-to-Gets:

Great give-to-gets vary by industry and service offering, but here are a few we’ve seen work very effectively:

Monthly new-idea meetings. Setting up monthly meetings geared toward the needs of the client and the ideas you want to expose them to, and including experts from your company, can set up what one of our clients calls “an annuity of goodwill.”

Training on a hot topic. Picking an area of expertise that your client wants to learn about that also creates exposure to new needs you can fulfill can be an awesome give-to-get. Billing the meeting as “training” can let you invite a larger number of people and elevate your relationships to higher levels.

No-cost analysis. Offering a detailed, technical analysis of a new process, service or strategic approach is a great way to help the client better understand what can and can’t be done with a new approach. Those who hold data have power and helping your client understand a complex financial scenario (with your data) can be very beneficial and can get the attention of those above your day-to-day contacts.

Networking. Introducing your client to people they’d like to meet can be a great give-to-get. It’s especially effective when you can introduce a client that is considering one of your service offerings to another client that is a raving fan of that service. Then, the prospective client will learn from the other client’s experiences, and they are likely to jointly talk about their success with the offering. Everyone wins in different ways.

Strategy setting. One of our large healthcare clients is rolling out a no charge strategy-setting process to their benefits department clients. This is especially helpful to the clients because they would typically have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for this process if they hired a major consulting firm. It’s helpful to the healthcare company because they can have a direct relationship with the decision makers and bypass the typical benefits-consultant community. By facilitating the strategy, the healthcare company will learn the needs and direction of their main buyer in a much deeper and more intimate way. This puts them in the driver’s seat to create demand.

Benchmarking. Another great give-to-get is benchmarking. We’ve had several clients collect data across their client base and play that data back to the clients that participated in the process. This activity positions SAMs as expert advisors. Helping the client understand the data can lead to all kinds of interesting discussions and demand-creation.”

SAMA Resource: Bunnell, Mo, A Different Approach to Winning Add-On Business and Retaining Accounts: Helping. Velocity®, Vol. 17, Issue 1, 2015.


2. Convey to the customer that there is a lot more opportunity for both of you than just buy-sell transactions.

Both sides have all sorts of different needs, priorities and stakeholders, each with different perspectives and expertise that need to be brought to the table. So the question becomes, how do we as the SAM and the SRM [Supplier Relationship Manager] come together to get the alignment in each of our organizations such that we’re working together more as strategic partners than as a vendor selling stuff to a customer who’s simply making a transactional purchase?

Set up a cadence for account management

What we’ve seen some of the best and most mature SAMs do is figure out a way to set up a cadence for their account management, though contract negotiations might be happening on an annual basis. What they’re doing is performing regular joint business reviews that don’t just look at their own individual supplier performance – i.e., “How well are we doing delivering what we agreed on?” – but look in a multifaceted way at how they’re delivering on the strategic objectives they had for this relationship; how they’re delivering the expected value; and how they’re doing in creating the kind of relationship together that enables the transfer of that value back and forth in an efficient and an effective sort of way.

These mature SAM organizations are demonstrating tremendous value through regular business reviews, and when negotiation time comes, there are no questions about the value they’ve provided. It’s about, “How can we deliver more of it?” And then they use that momentum to drive a level of joint business planning with the account and to jointly find more opportunities for collaborative innovation. Organizing in this way, and creating this sort of cadence activity, makes driving customer-supplier collaboration a systematic process rather than simply ad hoc one-offs.


3. When a sourcing department is acting as a gatekeeper, address the root cause of a customer’s resistance.

Sometimes you run into a procurement organization – and it’s usually a less sophisticated, less enlightened one – that sees its role as that of a gatekeeper. You could try to work around that group, though doing so carries its own risks and, ultimately, that is not the best approach. And realistically, you may indeed have some customers that are just not ready, willing or able to engage in a strategic partnership – at least not right now.

But often, when a SAM perceives that a sourcing department is acting as a gatekeeper, the sourcing people feel they’re guarding against what their supplier is trying to do. They say, “They’re talking about all the value they’re going to deliver, but they’re not willing to be held accountable.” A lot of times, that resistance on the customer side is, at root, a lack of trust between parties. And if that’s the case, you need to address the root cause. If there is initial resistance, it may have more to do with how they’ve felt taken advantage of in the past.

Don’t give up or get defensive. If you are really confident in your value proposition, put your money where your mouth is. Explore with your customer what kinds of KPIs and commercial terms you might jointly define and implement to increase their confidence that you can and will deliver the value that you’re promising.

SAMA Resource: Hughes, Jonathan and Chapnick, David, You Say You Want Collaboration? A Discussion with Vantage Partners of Key Trends in Customer-Supplier Partnerships. Velocity®, Vol. 18, Issue 1, 2016.




5 atypical places to find SAM talent

hand writing business success diagram

Outside of C-level engagement and account selection/deselection, it is probably fair to say that talent management has the biggest impact on the success or failure of a SAM initiative. In the words of SAMA’s President & CEO Bernard Quancard, “Talent is a war.” The difference between a superstar SAM and a run-of-the-mill one is like the difference between an NBA player and that guy who puts up 30 points a game in your Sunday night rec league.

So when it comes to finding those “1 percenter” SAMs — the best of the best – where should you be looking? SAMA research has shown, again and again, that the best SAMs do not necessarily come from the sales organization. A person with the magical combination of listening skills, financial acumen and leadership abilities could be a senior buyer, product manager, plan manager or technical expert. While this is all fine and good, you still have to go out there and actually FIND those people. Here are a few tips on the search for SAM talent in “unusual” places.

1. Boomerang employees

While re-hiring a former employee may have been frowned upon once, in this age of job hopping, companies have started to look more favorably bringing back past top performers. Why? For starters, they’re already familiar with (and presumably attuned to) the company culture. And secondly, their time in another company or even industry has inevitably left them with new experiences, new skills, new contacts and new a fresh point of view.

2. Employee referrals

This should probably be the first thing you do when you’re looking to hire a new SAM. It’s cheaper, and it’s faster and – most importantly by far – more often than not it leads to a better hire. Recruiting SAMs through existing employees also creates “stickiness” – both the referrer and the referral tend to stay at their companies longer than outside hires.

3. LinkedIn

The social media platform allows you to proactively create a larger network than you ever could in real life. You can do a keyword search for key skills and attributes you’re looking for in SAMs, filter by current or past employers and also seek out referrals from among your LinkedIn network. The key is to work on building these relationships, whether virtual or face-to-face, proactively — not just when you have a need to fill. And when you come across someone with great skills and experience, start building the relationship – even if you don’t have a job to fill at the moment.

4. Customers

Since your SAMs function like the CEO of the customer relationship, doesn’t it make sense to ask for your customer’s input when you hire a SAM? In rare cases, your customer might actually recommend someone from the account team, like a functional expert or another key cog. While that might be asking too much, your customer can certainly let you know what specific skills, attributes and working style they value in the person who’s going to serve as their most important liaison with your company.

5. “Meet now, hire later”

We touched on this in point #3, but whenever you run into someone with qualifications you value – at an industry conference, professional development event or the gym – give them a card and start building a relationship…even if you don’t have a job to offer them at the moment. It’ll come in handy when you are looking to bring someone in.

Remember: None of these tips has any value if your organization doesn’t have a very good idea of what you’re looking for in your SAMs. (SAMA can help with that!) But assuming you’ve got that part of the equation sewn up, it will behoove you to spend some of your time hunting for talent in more out-of-the-way places.

For more information on finding and selecting the right SAM talent. Check out our Pan-European conference session #17: Finding and Selecting the Right Talent for Strategic Accounts and register to attend today.