Growing your business with existing customers is the cornerstone of sustained success. It was observed among the top 5 companies in IT services, the ones which did a better job of growing existing customers, outperformed their peer group in overall business growth and profitability consistently over a 10 year period. With the initial investments in customer acquisition, building relationships & setting up infrastructure, incremental business from existing clients is significantly more profitable than winning new clients, as it requires incurring all the initial costs again. This is the reason why your cable, phone or security provider will reduce prices for you rather than have you leave for a competitor.
- Deliver the first experience well: This is the time to build relationships. Your client is getting the first experience with you at a time when exit barriers are low. The quality of this initial experience can create significant stickiness for the future. Failure can not only shut future doors for you, but also open the door for competitors. Invest overtime, effort to engage and make a success of this first experience.
- Grow first in your existing program: If the experience has been good, existing relationships are significantly easier to leverage compared to building new ones. Focus your near term growth plans on the existing area, in which you are already engaged.
- Dominate your footprint: Be the key player and the trusted partner in your current area of engagement. Fractional players are easy to dislodge. Focus, perform and grow in the technology, process, or business area in which you are already engaged. Be the partner who your client turns to and one who is integral to their success. The more critical you are to their program, the more your clients are vested in making you successful, as their success is intricately linked to yours.
- Make your client a reference: Existing clients can be great sponsors, helping you grow business in other areas within their company. To enable that, educate your referrer on what you want to sell, to whom, and why. This will let them understand your proposition and speak with conviction, should they choose to refer you. Win the confidence of your referrer first. Make him your salesman!
- Create your budgets: Budgets, especially the “run the business” areas, are constantly squeezed to free up resources for funding new initiatives. Take the lead and drive productivity in your existing area, freeing up funds for your client. While it may cannibalize your existing business, it will significantly raise your standing. It will position you as a partner who is thinking of the client’s goals and as a preferred partner for opportunities in new areas of spend.
- Upsell and drive value: The essence of upsell is to make a bigger impact on your client’s business goals. Understand the goals of your client and what makes a difference to their business. As you build that knowledge, repurpose your skills and deliverables, to deliver a bigger impact to your client’s G&O’s and business.
- Cross sell contiguously first: Your reputation and track record are most relevant in the area where you are already performing well. It will carry most weight in the adjacent process or technology streams. If you have done a great job with ERP systems, aim to extend into bespoke development or maintenance. Chances are the buyers are likely to be connected and your track record in an adjacent technology will lend credibility. It will take longer to make the leap into say BPO or infrastructure management, even if you have strong company credentials there. The buyers and the work there are very different from the applications side work in which you have a good reputation. First aim to grow contiguous to where you have demonstrated success and spread systematically.
- Engage actively and be a good listener: Engage actively with your clients. Solicit opportunities to learn about their businesses. Get feedback about your performance and standing as well as insights into new opportunities. The more you listen, the more you will learn and identify opportunities to get better and new areas to grow in.
- Ensure continuous communication: You are your best spokesperson. Regularly let your key stakeholders know what you have accomplished. Look for forums beyond your existing touch points and message to adjacent and senior levels as well. Each of them can be sponsors, buyers or influencers in the future.
- Crises are opportunities: In the course of any relationship, things may go wrong. All mature buyers understand that. What’s important is how you deal with the crisis. Be responsive, constructive, engaged and focused on resolutions and results. If anything, take on greater ownership of than you are contractually obligated to. These are great opportunities to demonstrate that you stand by your clients when the chips are down.
- Keep your eye on the ball: However successful you are with a client, that success has to be earned every day. Keep your eye on the ball and ensure that existing programs and relationships get focus and you deliver consistently.
- There is always room to grow: Even if you have a dominant share of business with your client, there are opportunities to grow. Technologies change, processes change, regulations change, markets change, M&A’s and divestments happen. Your client is an organic, living, breathing entity and change is ongoing. Each change creates new opportunities to engage and grow.
Growing with existing clients is the secret sauce of the most successful companies. It is also the most profitable avenue for growth. To ensure success with your clients, focus on delivering to your promise and making them your references. Actively engage to understand where your client’s business priorities lie and how you can help in successful outcomes. Grow in your existing engagement first and then into contiguous areas. A track record of performance and constructive engagement opens up new avenues for growth in other parts of the business, new areas of spend, and as your client transforms their business.