Selling to Complex Accounts: Your Customer Coach Relationship Strength
When navigating a large, complex sales opportunity, one of the most important relationships a sales rep can cultivate is the "customer coach." Customer coaches are people within the client’s organization who like you, your company, or your solution. These supporters can help you understand and navigate their organization's dynamics, including the buying process.
A great customer coach can explain their organization’s needs and how buying decisions are made. They also can help you understand what's important to each high-level decision maker, which is critical information.
More importantly, customer coaches often help reps access senior-level executives who have budget or contract-signing authority, which can mean the difference between winning and losing a deal.
Building a relationship with a customer coach is important (see here), but how do you assess the strength or quality of that relationship? Ask a sales rep about the strength of the relationship with their customer coach, and they'll answer with something like, "Sarah’s great. She likes us and wants us to win.”
People often confuse rapport with relationship strength. A more objective way to assess the quality of your customer coach relationship is to use these five criteria:
My customer coach …
- Has authority: This criterion is less about the strength of the relationship and more about whether you have the relationship with the right person. Is your customer coach somehow involved in the decision-making process? If not, you may need to expand your relationship footprint at that organization.
- Shares information: You know you have a strong relationship with your customer coach when they discuss opportunities beyond the current one, alerting you to future sales possibilities in their department or another one. They also share reliable information about their company’s plans and personnel.
- Is accessible: Is your customer coach willing to help you customize proposals or presentations to prove the value of a solution? A great customer coach makes themselves available to answer your questions and provide feedback.
- Makes introductions: This is a big one. If your customer coach is willing to introduce or refer you to other key stakeholders at their organization, that’s a sign you have a strong relationship. Conversely, if they aren’t willing to make high-level introductions, you have more relationship building to do with that particular customer coach.
- Takes the initiative: How much does your customer coach believe in you and your solution? Do they take the initiative to further the current opportunity, or are they merely a spectator? How much political heat they’re willing to take for you is a good indicator of the relationship strength.
As an experiment, think of one of your current sales opportunities and consider the person at that organization who you think of as your customer coach. Now rate that person on a 1-5 scale (1 = Never and 5 = Always) for each criterion. Assume that a score of 20-25 means you have a strong relationship, 15-19 means a good relationship, and anything in the 5-14 range is fair or weak.
How’d you do? If your relationships wasn’t as strong as you thought, you may need to spend more time creating value for your customer coach or cultivating other relationships at that organization.
About David Jacoby
As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, David helps large B2B sales organizations improve sales performance. Previously, David was a Principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm providing sales strategy, sales operations, talent management, and interim management services to emerging growth companies. In the past, David has served as Vice President of Business Affairs of Xylo, Inc., where he was responsible for the Company's business development, sales operations, legal affairs, and financing activities.