Market Forces

Face Value: 5 Reasons Partners Should Visit Their Customers

As one Microsoft systems integrator has found, having regular face-to-face meetings with customers can really pay off -- sometimes literally.

Everybody's busy. So busy, in fact, that we never seem to get around to setting up the meetings with current customers that we committed to in January. One partner leader, continuing an eight-year commitment to client meetings, is reaping the rewards with information that improves current operations and drives the strategy of the company.

In her role as VP and COO for Quality Technology Solutions (QTS), a 20-person systems integrator based in Parsippany, N.J., Christine Bongard doesn't have the regular contact with clients that she did when the company was smaller. With her responsibility over operations and the consulting team, she uses client meetings to find out first-hand how QTS is doing.

"You are never done making your business better. There is a big difference between what sounds good on paper and what works for the customers," says Bongard.

1. Honest feedback on service delivery and processes. During the meetings, Bongard asks questions about the customer's experience with QTS from end to end. "I use the meetings to get our customers' point of view on their overall experience with us," explains Bongard. "I have found that customers love to be asked for their feedback. I make it clear that I want to listen to what they have to say."

2. Competitors are calling your customers. More than once, Bongard's customers have let her know that competitors are actively contacting them. "One customer said they were getting five calls a day," she remembers. If you want your customers to know you care about their business, there's no better way than telling them face-to-face.

Recently, Bongard has been taking the QTS technical director to meetings to support some of the deeper conversations that are surfacing around the cloud. With so much information -- and misinformation -- being thrown at businesses, these meetings are a great opportunity to educate and build trust with your clients.

3. Customers have short memories. Monetary reward from customer meetings is often about timing. At a recent visit Bongard mentioned System Center and the customer said, "I didn't know you do that." A common experience to which every partner can relate. Based on Bongard's "reminder" that QTS is the region's go-to partner for System Center, the meeting led to a $100,000 project.

No matter how carefully you craft your marketing messages, or how often you send them, customers have short memories. An in-person visit can unlock opportunities. While you will alienate customers if visits are simply veiled sales calls, asking them detailed questions about their technology plans are conversation starters that can lead to opportunity.

4. A reality check on your strategy. The current evolution of partner business models makes customer conversations even more important. "As a business leader I want to know what our clients are really thinking. You can read the reports from Gartner, but do they reflect reality?" notes Bongard. "I have to make hiring and training decisions based on predictions. By talking to my customers, I get my own sense of trends in the market. The more data points that I can get, the better decisions I can make for our own future."

5. Demonstrates the depth of your business. Your customers likely see a limited number of people from your company on a regular basis. The salesperson and the consultant probably have great relationships with the office team. But, as companies grow, they want the support of vendors they know have depth.

Bongard usually takes at least one QTS team member to each meeting. In addition to the show of depth, giving an inside sales or marketing person exposure to the real world builds their knowledge and confidence. A support person can also take notes while you focus on the conversation.

To earn the position of trusted partner with your clients, you need to show them you are genuinely interested in their business and your relationship. A management team that takes the time to regularly meet with customers, getting first-hand feedback, will make better decisions about operations and the strategic direction of the business. Those are some pretty good reasons to pick up the phone now.

About the Author

Barb Levisay owns Marketing for Partners, a marketing and service delivery leadership firm for Microsoft Dynamics, SharePoint and ISV partners. She serves as the event chair on the Board of Directors for the Washington, D.C., chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners.