Top Priorities for Managing Top Customers

By Dawn Harger

All of us have key clients.  They are the ones who bring in a good chunk of revenue each month and the ones we certainly don’t want to lose.  They are critical to the business, and need a high-touch level of care. When it comes to managing top tier customers, I have come to believe that there are two areas of focus:

  • Building the relationship
  • Acting as a consultant

Relationship-building is key.   Without it, you won’t know where the customer stands and the leave the door open for them to leave before you can do anything about it.  With it, you have a better chance getting the information you need to retain them and help them grow.  So, how do you build the relationship?

  1. Be their advocate!  Let them know you are there for them and go to bat for them internally.  At the end of the day, without customers, a business can’t survive.  So why wouldn’t you stand up for them and fight for what they need?
  2. Gain trust.  First and foremost, follow through on what you say you are going to do and don’t ever promise something you can’t deliver.  That could be a deal killer.  Also, when it comes to selling or upgrading your customers, put them in a plan that is in their best interest.  If you sell them something they don’t need, chances are they will figure that out and take their business elsewhere.  Finally, if there is bad news to deliver, then do it.  A customer will appreciate your candor, and trust will be strengthened, if you are honest.
  3. Know your customer.  In order to have a quality discussion with your customers, you need to know them!  Know their product and know what is going on in their space.  Think about signing up for Google Alerts so you know if there is something relevant going on.  This is a good way to start a conversation, too, and will impress upon your customer that you are investing time in them.
  4. Know the competition.  On top of knowing your customer, it would be good if you knew your own top competitors.  Maybe your marketing department has provided some documentation for comparison?  It’s always good to know who is close at your heel, so that if your customer happens to bring them up, you can be ready to sell yourself!
  5. Personalize the communication.  How many times do you get an email and know immediately that it is one of hundreds that has been sent out?  I usually choose to delete before even reading.  With that said, keep a level of personalization with your top customers.  Bring in something relevant to them and get their interest.  You will have much better luck in getting them to open and read…and even respond!

With the relationship built, it’s time to become a strong consultant for your clients.  Here are a few pointers:

  1. Become the expert.  In order to help your customer, you need to know your stuff.  Take the time to really learn what you’re selling.  Work with your product and marketing departments to grow the depth of your knowledge.  Believe me, the more you know, the more your customers will come to rely on you. 
  2. Focus on the value to the customer.  How many times have we heard about ROI?  That’s a key component to keeping a customer.  Be able to show them the value they are receiving from your product or service.
  3. Challenge the customer.  This may sound counterintuitive but it actually works!  Your client is looking to you as the expert.  Provide them with new ideas and opportunities to grow their business.  Just don’t forget that, in order to challenge your customer, you must first have the trust to do so.

Focusing on these 2 areas – building the relationship and acting as a consultant – will guide your day-to-day activities and make sure that you’re prioritizing those that will have the greatest impact.  In addition to keeping these customers around for your company you’ll enjoy positive working relationships with these clients and maybe even make a few friends along the way! 

Need help creating strong relationships with your top-tier customers?  The Success League can provide advice and business plans to prevent churn and drive expansion revenue.

Dawn Harger - With over 10 years of managing account management teams, Dawn has found her niche in defining and implementing measures that equate to customer success.  Her passion is creating teams of customer advocates and consultants, while mentoring those that cross her path.  Her prior background in operations also allows her a broader picture of the business, thus giving her additional insight into a company’s strategy in retaining and growing their customer base.  Dawn works for VerticalResponse, holds a BA in Marketing from San Jose State University and MBA from St. Mary’s College.