Customer Categories

Quick Summary: Take time to understand your customer relationships.


Realistically assessing your actual relationship with prospects or customers is a key component in developing strategies to improve those relationships and making them long-lasting and resilient.  Focusing on what those relationships are from the customer’s perspective, and not what you think they are or wish them to be, is critical and takes an objective analysis.

In the article in this collection, “One Question: Multiple Parts,” and the related articles, the seven parts of the question, “Who is the Customer and what is their Single Most Compelling Reason to Buy Now from You?” are examined.  Understanding who the customer really is must be well understood.  It is equally critical to understand what your relationship as perceived by the customer truly is.  That current relationship should impact your approach to the customer and how you can further strengthen it over time.

It is part of the DNA of any successful sales rep to think positively about their role and their relationship with prospects and customers.  Prospects and customers generally try to avoid conflict with sales reps.  The result of these two factors can lead to significant mismatches in understanding the actual vendor-customer relationship.  To surface this potential mismatch in order to develop a more meaningful relationship and craft an appropriate sales strategy, a clear assessment of the situation must be made.  It is not easy.  To help in that process, below is a list of possible customer categories. 

  1. Anonymous Supplier

You may not even know who the customer is or they may not even know who you are.  Examples include products purchased at a retailer or from a large distributors catalog or online.

  1. Selected Vendor

You were the selected vendor based on objective criteria as set forth in an RFQ or past positive experiences that result in customers actively searching for you, moving away from the anonymous supplier category.  However, another vendor may come along and displace you with no warning.

  1. Contract Supplier

You were selected because your products are listed on the GSA or a state contract or similar approved vendor list.  This category is based on past successful efforts to meet the stated requirements.

  1. Preferred Supplier

Based on your previous track record of performance, customers would rather work with you than others.

  1. Business Partner

You are a key element in the customer’s business and work together for your mutual benefit.  Price, in and by itself, is no longer the determining factor for future purchases.

  1. Trusted Advisor

Your customer relies on you for your objective advice and suggested alternatives that are beneficial to the customer in the long run.

  1. Indispensible Partner

Your product or service has become a critical element in the customer’s continued success and relies on your strategic advice.

These categories form one variable of a three dimensional matrix array.  The other two dimensions are associated with the nature of the relationship for both the customer and supplier.  For the customer dimension, is the relationship with a specific individual or is it a commonly held feeling across the organization?  Similarly, for the supplier, is the relationship based on an individual’s reputation or it is based on the supplier company?   Even if great progress has been made in progressing through the seven categories listed above, one change in either of the other two dimensions can have a quick and significant impact on the entire sales process.

A fourth dimension to the puzzle is time.  Moving from one category to the next or establishing personal or company relationships can take a considerable amount of time. Understanding where you and the customer are today and estimating how long it will take to move forward are key elements in defining a customer relationship.

Taking the time to carefully categorize and assess each prospect or customer opportunity will reveal some key tactical and strategic initiatives that can help you develop mutually beneficial, long-lasting customer relationships.  You have to clearly understanding your current position before you can chart a course to your final desired destination.


Article Number : 5.030202   

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