Out of sight, out of destiny


As managers, we don’t tolerate employees who “call it that”. But, have we set up our systems to be so automated and less touching that customers feel our companies are “calling it quits”? If so, we’re creating opportunities for competitors who know how to balance efficient production-related systems with effective customer-facing processes. In this case study, a customer who is happy with his main supplier follows the path of minimal resistance and wisely orders a competing supplier who regularly shows up and requests for business.

This is one of a series of case studies highlighting “key questions and course-corrective quotes” taken from a 20-year B2B customer insight project. All the names are fictional, but the circumstances are real. The case study paints a picture of how important it is to learn what your B2B customers are thinking-but not saying. Requesting customer feedback and working has helped companies retain customers, grow relationships, and quickly acquire new businesses as real-world examples.

Case Study: Happy customers buy from competitors

Key question (a purchase manager was asked বিক the seller’s main contact in this 5-digit relationship):

Does “Remotevender” show the right amount of interest in their relationship with you? “

Course-correction quotes:

Purchasing Manager: “The remote vendor is hundreds of miles away. They need to understand that my local guy is here every week. He gets the business I consider. He earns it by maintaining a relationship with us. I haven’t actually met anyone. Remote vendor.”

My client’s problem:

This customer was full of praise for the quality, responsiveness, reliability, competitiveness and professionalism of “Remotevender” products. This is exactly what is expected of a remote vendor: How happy are our customers with our business practices? When the conversation turned into a discussion of where the gap was, this customer noted that, prioritizing skills, the seller abandoned all contributions to customer closeness. Customers notice when sellers work to build relationships, or fail.

In contrast, a sales representative from a small, local supplier prefers to regularly check what business he or she can do. If for any reason the customer is disappointed with the existing seller, he is positioning himself to accept this account. The attentive seller is definitely going to get an RFP if the customer ever decides to bid the business.


This is another example of how sellers put money on the table. This customer probably knew that the remotevender could fulfill his consideration orders, but the local supplier appeared and requested for business. It’s hard to see someone in your eyes and make you humble.

At some level we all know that the following rules are true: The order of effectiveness in building and maintaining relationships with B2B customers and prospects (minimum to maximum):

  • Electronic newspapers and mass e-mails.

  • Paper newsletter.

  • Customized paper mail.

  • Customized e-mail.

  • Phone call.

  • Face to face communication.

Caution: Everyone has a choice. Ask each customer or potential how they like that you keep in touch. Everything you need or want is a periodic e-mail newsletter to keep you on top of the mind. Others want you to call or e-mail them every two weeks. Ask, don’t guess.

Costs can cut budgets from travel to IT upgrades to head counts. Hold on to the rest of your staff cut at the head count. At some point, cost reduction starts to damage the customer experience and starts costing your revenue. When efficiency begins to decline, stop cutting unless you deliberately try to find a “new normal” revenue size that can be sustained by your small operational budget.

Remember, your customers are also running weak companies, which means they choose the least resistance when they can. If you can’t meet them, call and talk to your customers frequently. Build relationships. Ask for more business.

Take to heart: If you have a prospect whose main supplier is outside the area, you can set foot on the door with an offer to take on smaller projects. Just showing up regularly can help you displace a distant competitor. Let “out of sight, out of luck” work for you!

I classify projects as evaluation, investigation, treasure hunt or rescue operations. This project was an evaluation. The client’s question was “Are our customers satisfied with us?” The answer was “yes, and you’re missing out on easy business at first forgetting customers.”