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Constant change, uncontrollable variables, and competitors on the prowl for new ways of eating your lunch: welcome to the world of sales. No, it isn’t a jungle out there, but it is a complex, fast-paced field of play.

Each company’s specific market position, competitive threats, capabilities and personnel are different from even its closest competitors. It stands to reason, then, that every company needs its own customer management strategy.

Our research and experience with customers demonstrate that developing your customer management strategy is the most important thing to start with, because that’s the foundation of how you run the organization. It’s the foundation of what you do as a business. Defining these customer management strategies is a crucial task for every sales leader.

When this task is left undone or incomplete, the usual result is that each salesperson handles customer management according to their individual preferences. Some approaches will be more successful than others, but even the top performers will be operating outside a defined customer engagement process.  In that situation, account continuity, funnel integrity and forecast accuracy all suffer. Customer management strategy is indeed the foundation of how a sales organization is run.

The essential elements of a customer management strategy are:  

1. Managing Relationships

For every sales professional, the sales culture in which they work shapes their understanding of what it means to manage customer and prospect relationships. Sales leadership provides a framework that accounts for cost of sales, market position, complexity of the product or solution and other factors.   

2. Creating Opportunities

Prospecting is hard and lonely work, and often it isn’t even time well spent. Marketing needs to get the right messages out—via the right channels—to generate demand that can be converted into qualified leads so that the sales team’s prospecting efforts actually lead to meaningful new conversations. Many companies are now encouraging their salespeople to be active in social channels, but this can do more harm than good if these individual efforts are not in sync with marketing’s messages.

3. Managing Opportunities

The first step in managing opportunities is to qualify them. Beginning with a proven strategy helps salespeople use defined criteria to determine which opportunities are worth the investment of their time and resources. The second step is to learn as much as possible about the customer’s decision dynamic—buying influences, customer issues and competitive positioning. That will form the basis of the next customer interaction. From there, at each step of the way, a good customer management strategy provides the guidance and insights to allow the salesperson to confirm that the opportunity is on track.

JoegalvinJoe Galvin leads the MHI Research Institute, formerly known as Miller Heiman Research Institute, as Chief Research Officer. (Miller Heiman has joined with four other companies to form MHI Global.) His mission is to continuously research, measure, and analyze the best practices, innovations, and emerging trends for complex B2B sales organizations to provide clients with the insights required to make strategic decisions.