We have all been there. As roving young account managers, we have entered negotiations with complete confidence in our product as well as our own skills, only to be shot down by our potential clients. We lost to other account managers with lower skills and worse products. After having wondered what went wrong, we finally blamed our luck and moved on. For some of us, relationship mapping was not even a thing.
But I am sure you, experienced account managers and key account managers, now understand the multitude of reasons for which a B2B negotiation can go wrong. Most of them are outside the realm of hard skills and product features. I am talking, of course, about the strong and complex relationships within organizations. It is more important today than ever to identify the purchasing process and stakeholders within your potential customer’s organization.
Key Account Management is all about going the extra mile for 20% of your customers who bring in 80% of your revenue. It is in your best interest to maintain good relationships within the company so that you may achieve either of the three goals:
- Generate more revenue from the existing set of clients
- Win new clients
- Protect your existing clientele
As per recent research, in a company with 100 people, 7 people will be involved in the average purchase decision. This number is 6 more than the number of decision makers a salesperson had to deal with 40 years ago. With the increase in a number of decision makers, increases the complexity of making the sale. You now have to sell to and appease 7 different individuals from different functions of the organization, and you have to be extremely mindful of the kind of professional and personal relationship they share amongst themselves.
As the head of sales for your company, it is your job, and in the company’s best interest to equip your key account managers with the necessary tools and weapons to generate more business with their existing clients. Getting buy-in from 7 different individuals with different personalities and belonging to different functions can be a daunting task for even the most experienced key account manager. You must create a system of productivity and efficiency.
You can make the lives of your key account managers and their client servicing teams a lot simpler by using a commonly used technique called Relationship Mapping.
What is Relationship Mapping?
Relationship Mapping is a visual representation of an organizational chart of the client. It gives you an idea of the kind of connections and influences each entity has over another. A relationship map is the ideal business tool in the hands of an expert account manager.
This map helps account managers arrive at the best possible outcomes in negotiation. It helps identify newer and fresher opportunities of revenue generation while strengthening the older streams of revenue. This tool goes by many names in the industry – Entity Relationship Diagram (ERD), Organizational Context Diagram, Organizational Relationship Map, and Business Interaction Model.
A World Without Relationship Mapping
The world of key account management is one of cut-throat competition. Even when we are assured of converting a lead with a potential client, some other party with opposing interests might come and derail the entire deal. B2B account management is a constant tactical challenge. In a world where we do not know key stakeholders, decision makers, or influencers within the target client’s organization, we often fall down to the levels of BATNA.
For the uninitiated, BATNA stands for Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement.
It is the least desirable position you would want to fall to, before walking away from the deal. Unfortunately, in the cut-throat world of key account management, the bargaining power of your sales and account management teams falls way short of your expectation, leading you to keep lowering your stand till you hit BATNA.
Now, it goes without saying that BATNA is not where you want to be. You want to be in a position of power, where you get to not only sell your products at the terms you are comfortable with but also be in a position to push out other products to your clients.
Why Is Relationship Mapping so Important?
# Retain Your Customers
Many a time, you would have seen your key account manager leave the organization and also take your key clients away from you. Having a relationship map ensures that you are always on top of your key clients and can retain them in the face of employee churn.
By having good working relationships with the key decision makers and influencers, you can also get to know early about competitors. This will help you prepare for fighting it out head on so that you can always retain your key clients.
# Win New Clients
It goes without saying that sales are not made just on the basis of your negotiation skills and good products and services. Sales are made because you create good relations with the people who matter the most within the client organization. Identifying the right stakeholders, identifying their preferences, and winning them over is the hallmark of a good account manager. A relationship map is the best way to get there. A relationship map can help you identify the most probable-to-convert points within the target organization. It can give you the exact sequence of people to target to get the most out of your deal.
# Sell More to the Same Clients
Acquiring a good client is an expensive undertaking because you have to spend a lot of time, effort and money in the process. Everyone knows that true value and revenue in sales lies not in the first sale made to the client, but in the up-sells and cross-sells made to the same client. Frankly, that is exactly why you are paying the big money to your key account managers. A good key account manager will keep his clients happy and in the system. A great key account manager will keep growing the revenue from the same customer year on year.
This can be done by continually identifying the needs of the customer’s organization. Identifying the need gaps within the client company is made a million times easier by a relationship map. You can easily identify the key people who can give you the inside developments and also point you to the correct individuals for decisions.
What Outcomes Should One Expect out of a Relationship Map?
Creating a relationship map is only “Step-1” of your journey.
What you need now is to structure your thoughts and goals for a relationship map. From any relationship map, you should expect answers to the following questions:
- What am I trying to achieve from this client partnership?
- Who among the clients and my organization would be affected by it?
- How can each one of the stakeholders or entities from the client’s organization help or hurt my objectives?
- What can I do to leverage the entities that are helpful for my cause?
- What is the path I should take for any possible damage control in the future?
How Should I Create My Relationship Map?
Given key accounts numerous priorities, key account managers need to be proactive communicators. Regular follow-ups may seem unnecessary, but they are critical to the success of ongoing actions. Through regular communication, a key account manager may learn more about the key accounts needs and discover new ways to add value to existing services or upcoming products. Scheduling time to check in with each account allows you to stay on top of your game and promotes critical information sharing.
For your large clients, you would have a large team servicing them. Right from your pre-sales engineer, to your salesperson, to your key account manager to any on-field support executive. Every single person is a key member who has insight into how your client’s company functions, and what their current needs are.
In this scenario, it is extremely important to encourage everyone to contribute towards creating the relationship map. This is because most companies are too complex and are always undergoing changes, hence it is essential that everyone involved must be aware of it.
Here are two important points to keep in mind while designing a solution for a relationship map:
->Make It Accessible for Everyone
Each and every member of your team can have critical information on your client’s performance, preference, need gaps, relation dynamics, and so many more intangibles. Also, in today’s complex corporate atmosphere, you can expect high employee churn even within your client’s organization. Hence it is extremely important to keep your relationship map updated with the latest developments.
All these problems can be easily solved if access to edit the relationship map is given to your client servicing team. A good way to do this would be to have a cloud-based solution with adequate privileges given to your team.
-> Real-Time Data Is Absolutely Critical
It is a cardinal sin to work with stale data.
Make it a priority with your team to update the relationship map every time there is a tangible or intangible change within the client organization. This will help you stay up to date with everything happening in the client site.
-> Regular review of the relationship map
As the owner of the relationship map, it is the job of the key account manager to ensure that it stays up-to-date. Even though it is the job of the entire client servicing team to keep it updated, the key account manager must conduct a monthly or quarterly review of it to ensure the credibility of data.
What Is the Process of Creating a Relationship Map?
Creating a relationship map is a pretty straightforward and logical process.
Still, this is done wrong by many people I know.
If you follow the following steps, you are almost guaranteed to have a robust relationship map.
1. Clarify Your Own Interests
Before you begin the task of creating your relationship map, it is important to firmly state what your interests are.
Every client-side team will have various positions, which are demands made by certain individuals or parties. These positions stem from the multiple strong reasons that parties will have. This could be their needs, concerns, hopes, desires and fears. The closer your agreement is to the overall interest, the better the deal. Interests can be classified into three major categories:
* Short-term interests (e.g: giving a delivery that will only affect the next 2-3 months of the client)
* Mid-term interests (e.g: deliverables that affect the client for 1-3 years)
* Long-term interests (e.g: strategic thinking and systemic goals that require more than 3 years worth of effort)
Your interests may be extremely diverse, or maybe 100% streamlined, but whatever the interests, you must know how to prioritize them, and start working on them. Hence, the next step is to identify tensions among these interests and prioritize them. This will help bring clarity and flexibility into your negotiations.
Your interests could be as simple as up-selling a higher margin product to your customer, or as complex as designing a strategic overhaul of the company’s direction. In either case, knowing your goal beforehand will go a long way in defining your trajectory and future partnership with the customer.
2. Identify All the Relevant Stakeholders
The biggest task in this step is to ensure that no one who matters is left out of consideration.
The worst thing you can do is leave out the COO of your client’s organization out of the relationship map, and then no matter what you do, your map will be incomplete and wrong. Of course, this does not mean that you list down every single individual or group from the client’s team but do include any representatives who might be even remotely interested in the subject of the negotiation. This cautious measure will prevent “surprises” from happening in the middle of the negotiation.
The relevance or the pecking order of the individual or group is a subjective measure that will keep changing in the client’s lifecycle. This is why keeping this map updated is so important. Why this is helpful is because by clarifying your interests before a negotiation, you will be in a better position to define your goals for the negotiation. Using this list, you can create a diagram that speaks about all the stakeholder groups and the individuals within them. This diagram should give you a fairly good idea for everyone who is involved.
3. Identify All Their Interests
After having made a list of all the relevant players, you must now analyze them. You will have to jot down these client interests in the same manner that you made a list of your own interests. Identifying the interests of other parties will be a challenge.
To help out in this process, you should start out by listing out for each player, their needs, concerns, and fears. This will be an educated guess based on what you already know about them in their positions, professional body language and skill set. It also would be helpful to know what their expectations, perceptions of success and BATNA are.
The good thing about this stage is that based on what you see for other players, you can realign your own interests and priorities. Steer clear of cultural stereotypes and prejudices. Do not make any assumptions on the basis of the player’s gender, ethnicity, caste etc. After double-checking the assessment of their interests to avoid these stereotypes and generalizations, players’ key interests should be recorded on the diagram.
4. Identify the Relationship Between Each of Them
You now know who the relevant players are, and what each player wants from the agreement. Now you need to identify and analyze all existing relationships between the parties.
Professor James Sebenius of Harvard Business School has propounded three classifications of relationships. These are:
This is the relationship where player A will most definitely do whatever player B thinks of or announces. This deference could be because of hierarchical authority, respect or simply the knowledge that player B is a subject matter expert. Each form of deference carries different weights and must be treated differently.
For example, an authority has a stronger weight than that of pressure. In your map, it is important to define who defers to whom, and also for what reason.
Influence is a relationship pattern where player A is likely to follow player B’s lead, or do what player B advises, asks or directs player A to do. Influence can also be because of many reasons. Some of these reasons include – best intentions, a trust of judgment, shared interests etc.
Please remember that the sources of influence need to be weighed separately from the sources of deference. These sources can be identified by asking questions like ‘who can help secure the agreement with others?’
Antagonism is a relationship pattern where Party A will not follow Party B’s lead or do what Party B advises, asks or directs Party A to do. The sources of antagonism could be past squabbles, political fights, conflicting interests etc. An extreme form of this relationship would be if player B disagrees with anything and everything that player A says even if the stands taken by player B are contradictory to each other. These kinds of situations become highly sensitive ones for client servicing teams.
There is a high degree of flexibility and subjectivity in this stage of relationship mapping. The differences of a political or a business multi-party complex negotiation will be better taken into consideration using the flexibility of this relationship mapping tool that would be the case with a more rigid or structured model.
5. Identify Coalitions
Identifying coalitions within the client organization can help you immensely in your agreement.
You will exactly whom to bring in, and whom to leave out of your negotiation efforts. Obviously, the coalitions that increase your BATNA are the desirable ones, and the ones that reduce your BATNA should be handled more cautiously.
For this identification, there is a simple exercise. Ask the following questions, and you can easily bucket players into coalitions:
Who has the capacity to directly or indirectly further your interests?
Who has the capacity to directly or indirectly hinder your interests?
Bring the aligned ones closer, and handle the non-aligned ones with kid gloves.
6. Attack the Map with Strategy and Tact
After the map has been created, it is up to you to make a clear plan of action for you and your team.
There are overall 3 strategies that you can employ for this:
In this strategy, you move from ‘easier’ parties to ‘harder’ parties. The idea is to start small and keep building up support for our cause. You are expected to exploit your personal and professional relations to finally arrive at your desired outcome.
The ‘easier’ parties are usually your natural allies or people that defer to you. The ‘harder’ ones are the ones whom you cannot influence very easily or need more reinforcement from within their organizations to be swayed.
# Backward Mapping
Identify to whom the decision-maker defers. Then identify the person to whom that player defers. Keep doing this till you identify a player who you can influence easily, or have good relations with. Pay attention not only to individual relationship patterns but also to the joint value that your coalition might have on influencing the final decision-making process.
In essence, this strategy is the opposite of bootstrapping. You must begin with the players who are hardest to influence. Often these parties are the ones who exert most influence within an organization. This strategy allows you to ally yourself with parties that have so much influential power over the others that once you have them on your side, you are almost assured that you will have no opposition.
Org Chart: An example of Relationship Mapping
There are many tools that you can make use of to create your very own relationship map. One of the most popular ones in the industry today is the Org Chart tool. It is a phenomenal tool that is completely intuitive, easy to use and has a very short learning curve. What’s more, choosing the right partner for your Org Chart tool will ensure seamless integration with your existing CRM systems. This will ensure quick and universal adoption within your teams.
A few things that the Org Chart tool helps you identify are:
- Power and influence of the contact
- Type and strength of relationships between various contacts in the network
- The influence each contact exerts on the other contacts in the network
- Knowledge and information symmetry/asymmetry amongst internal teams
This visual tool can come inbuilt with various features that help in keeping your relationship map updated. Some of these very crucial features are:
- Drag and drop feature to create and update hierarchies so that everyone has autonomy and ability to update the relationship map
- Easy to update and delete contacts from a relationship map
- Ability to sort and filter through contacts based on name, function, designation, knowledge, influence etc
- Ability to earmark and segregate the ‘easier’ contacts from the ‘harder’ ones
- The ability to create heat maps for every negotiation and deal to plan strategy
- Complete security to ensure that data leaks do not happen
- Everything is stored on the cloud so that there is no dependence on local machines or storage drives
The Way Ahead
Building a relationship map is frankly not rocket science. It is in fact, one of the most logical tasks for building good relationships within an organization.
But make sure you remember that even though you are building one relationship map for your client’s organization, it is against your interests to let them know about its existence or the strategies that you are forming on its basis. The presence of productive working relationships prevents you from having to use the relationship map in ways that may harm both your relationships and your personal image with the various parties.
A relationship map is sometimes the only tool that key account managers need to make their mark and be successful in every negotiation they enter. If you think of your key account manager as a superhero, then think of the relationship map as their cape.
The relationship map you build is only a tool, the relationships you build are the assets.