How to Be a Customer of Choice?

CPO Agenda recently ran an article on how to be a customer of choice that merits some thought. If supply is limited, or a supplier innovation could shift the balance of power in the marketplace, you want to make sure that your organization is first in line to get it. And, since the size of your wallet, while still a hugely important element, may not in isolation be sufficient to guarantee your company receives preferential access to scarce resources, latest innovations or the best people, your organization wants to be a customer of choice. So how do you do that?

Becoming a customer-of-choice may not be as easy as one thinks because Key Account Management (KAM) is much more widely established and practiced than SRM, which means that, in terms of account management, your suppliers have a leg up on you. Plus, you can bet the average sales organization puts a lot more effort and investment into account management than a supply management organization does today.

According to the article, which quotes KAM experts Malcolm McDonald and Diana Woodburn, there are three (3) main elements that companies use to select key accounts (customers of choice):

  • Financial Outcomes
    past, present, and potential future income streams as well as “wallet share” (on the basis it can cost up to five times more to capture a new customer than grow a relationship with the existing one) over the next three years
  • Customer Needs
    and how well the supplier’s visions and objectives are aligned with their needs
  • Customer Attributes
    factors and behaviours that signal to the supplier whether “trusted partner” status is a reality

However, in some cases, key account status, which should be reserved for only a handful of accounts (15-35 is considered optimal by some), does not, by itself, guarantee preferential treatment. In practice, only a third of key accounts, on average, are given access to cost and productivity improvement resources, access to reliable sources of critical materials/services, and breakthrough innovation ideas.

Based on this, the authors proposes the following definition for customer of choice:

      a company that, through its practices and behaviours, consistently positions itself to receive preferential access to resources, ideas and innovations from its key suppliers that give it a competitive advantage

And the best way to become one, according to the author, is to see things from the supplier’s perspective. The typical pain points of a supplier are:

  1. Willingness to Engage
    suppliers want a customer open to external ideas and willing to listen to what they say
  2. Information Sharing & Communications
    lack of openness makes a supplier worried about customer commitment and affects allocation of resources
  3. Getting Things Done
    suppliers want a customer that will make decisions and implement them
  4. Approach to Business
    is the supplier treated fair and respectfully by the customer and can it expect to be treated so in the future
  5. Paying the Bills
    customers do not like late payments or unfair payment processes

And these are all good points. In fact, as far as I can tell, all that is missing is the following:

6. Long Term Commitment
All of the above is a good start, but what a supplier really wants from a customer of choice is a long term relationship that is likely to be profitable.