It’s not uncommon for CEO to spend substantial part of their time with customers but is it really essential and healthy? The answer is a resounding yes but with lots of caution as wrongly done, it send the business southbound. Here are some of the guidelines starting with the don’ts first. Not being negative but mistakes can be very costly. We have substituted the term Sales for Account as better describe the function in current dispensation.
Business relationships are inherently B2B or B2C and not personal
Business relationships have three dimensions. The formal, personal and proxied.
It is important that to have a mix of the three to cement business relationships. If highly leveraged on the personal, key man issues might arise should CEO depart. Customers might follow CEO or competitors might chance upon such moments of vulnerability to pinch your customer and raid your business.
Whilst personal dimensions ( both directly personal or proxied ) are important in business, the core of business relationships are still formal in nature and ought to be conducted with such end in mind. The personal and proxied should be view as a means to the end and not the end in itself.
The ‘Buck Stops Here” Syndrome
This is a borrowed from a phrase that inhabits the desk of US President Truman in the oval office. If CEO’s involvement is beyond ceremonial to operational, should a major issue arise, it reaches end point prematurely as the CEO who presents the end point is there for the picking. The Buck Stops Here has it use ( and abuse ).
Product Centered Events
Man of Last Resort
Some business relationships are top down and forged at upper levels between the executives and executed thereafter. It would be an account team’s dream if most deals are constructed as such but in reality, most deals are fought tooth and nails at ground zero.
These connections are increasingly more important as silo vendor providing products and services are transforming into supply chain or outsourcing partnerships. Such engagement involves both extensive and intensive partnerships between the businesses. Sometimes to the extend of Siamese twins cannot happen without senior executive sponsorships. A good example is the relationship between Apple and Foxconn where Foxconn is treated as Apple’s production department but wearing Foxconn emblem.
It should be the account team function to cement the relationship between the businesses in generating engagements between the senior executives of both businesses. Questions prevail on how high the connection should be. The appropriate level would most probably be plus one or two levels above the working relationship. If the product/service is photocopying/printing solution, it will not be wise and appropriate to involve their CEO. The support/approving levels and the height of the organization structure are also key inputs on the appropriate level to engage to.
Account team must manoeuvre with care not to offend customer. Customer must be reassured that it is not to bypass them which can be disastrous. For this reason, it is best done with care and proper advisement. This is certainly not for the rookie or faint hearted.
Account team must manage the CEO engagement with customers prudently and CEOs have to go down hard on the account team with tough love and challenge them on the value proposition before agreeing to the meeting. Last but not least, CEOs ought not be above the law or rules in this case and observe the ground rules themselves.