It Takes More Than One Great Relationship To Ensure Customer Loyalty

June 2019

Smart Selling: Distributor Sales Strategies From HIDA

By Elizabeth Hilla
Senior Vice President, HIDA

One of the great things about selling is the personal relationships you form. However, I’ve found that over-reliance on those terrific personal relationships can give me blind spots. I think to myself “I don’t need to contact XYZ company today – I just talked to Joe last month and he loves the work we’re doing.”

The risk is assuming that I can count on a long-term business partnership because my relationship with one key decision-maker is rock solid. And what happens? My big fan leaves or moves to a different role, and suddenly, a longstanding account is at risk.

We can help to inoculate ourselves against this risk by carefully building relationships with multiple decision-makers within the account.

I try to use this thinking in my work at HIDA. Maybe I know the VP of Sales who made the decision to join, and that person loves our resources. But do the experts in our research department know the member company’s market research team? Is their contract administration director engaged in our pricing accuracy work? If the answer to these and similar questions is yes, chances are the company’s membership doesn’t depend on my one key contact staying employed there.

The same applies in your world. If your customer is a nursing home, for instance, perhaps the Director of Nursing is your key contact and a huge fan of you and your company. But it’s no secret that DON turnover is high in post-acute care. So the smart rep, you’re working hard to get to know the administrator, the purchasing director, and other leaders of the team. By doing so, you ensure that if your biggest fan leaves the facility, you still have strong supporters who understand the value of your company’s services.

Here are a few ideas for increasing engagement at multiple levels:

  • Think about the people surrounding your key contact. Get to know your contact’s boss, direct reports, and peers. For example, say your big supporter in an important IDN account is the Director of Sourcing. Do you know the VP she reports to? How about the Director of Supply Chain Operations and the Director of Value Analysis? And don’t overlook the managers who support the sourcing director – they might be the next employee in that role!
  • Ask for introductions to other departments. For example, hospital materials managers sometimes aren’t responsible for certain areas such as lab or environmental services. If you offer products for those departments, ask your key contact to connect you with their peers in those areas.
  • Honestly evaluate how you spend your time. It’s easy to convince yourself that spending extra time with your key contact in an account is worth it, and it often is. But because it’s so much nicer to hang out with friends, it’s possible to devote too much time to the fans who already love you rather than doing the harder work of connecting with new contacts.
  • Don’t assume that everyone in the account is a contact. Maybe the primary partner in a group practice would never considering buying medical supplies from anyone but you – but what does the new physician think? Have you built ties with other influencers, and are they aware of the value your company brings?

The work of engaging at multiple levels within an account doesn’t have to fall on your shoulders alone. For your “A” customers especially, work to build connections at many levels – so that your billing person knows their payables supervisor, your operations leader works closely with theirs, and so on. Building a network of connections between your organization and your customer’s helps ensure that even if your biggest fan heads for the exit, the corporate relationship remains solid.