Take ownership of your customer relationships

Who owns prospects and customers in your company?  Do you know?  Just as importantly, would folks in other departments give the same answer?

You need "yes" answers to all those questions or you'll mismanage your customer relationships.

To get to "yes," your customer-facing teams need good definitions of your company's Customer Life Cycle and Rules of (Customer) Engagement.

Let’s dish on strategies to propel your company's business success by spring boarding on well-defined customer relationships  – and then layer in the technology tools for managing the customer.

I’m inspired to raise the questions to you because of a discussion I participated in this week with my S/CRM Gang (and a wonderful bunch of folks) – Mitch LiebermanJohn MoorePaul Buchtmann, and Glenn Ross (and more might  have continued to join in after I published this article).  Click here to read the full conversation (and thanks to Mitch for setting up a place to congregate the discussion). 


Customer Life Ownership

Defines who “owns” the lead or customer

Who owns the customer  at any given time depends on their placement along the Customer Life Cycle (CLC) continuum.

As a rule of thumb the CLC flows like this:

  • Leads >> Owned by marketing who nurtures a lead along until he’s ready to start discussions with Sales, at which time the lead transitions to… 

  • Prospect >> Owned by Sales who engages the person in the sales cycle through win or loss of the deal.  If won, then the prospect transitions to…

  • Customer >> Owned by Account Management or Customer Service/Support who continue to support the customer’s ongoing needs, upsells, provides support, etc.

Sounds simple, right?  Except the lines blur in the real world.

This is why you want to go beyond generalities and get specific about your company’s life cycle.  Pull together a team with members from all customer-facing departments to jointly define a holistic view of your company’s customer life cycle.

In your life cycle, pay attention to all the entry points for all leads.  For example, while Marketing may have primary responsibility for lead generation, many sales reps will generate their own leads as well.

Additionally, consider the transition points along the life cycle and include how departments will hand off the lead or customer to the next departmental owner.


Rules of Engagement

How to manage the customer relationship

As part of the Customer Life Cycle, your customer-facing team should define your company’s Rules of Engagement.  These rules will set the expectations  for

  • The experience that your company wants to give to its leads and customers,

  • Lead scoring (which signals a lead’s readiness to begin sales discussions), and

  • Roles and responsibilities of Owners and Influencers so everyone works in tandem and not at cross-purposes.


Technologies role in managing the customer

It won’t surprise you when I point to a CRM solution as the technology tool best suited to manage the customer relationship.

The good news about CRM solutions is the ability for your company to track lead and customer activity throughout the Customer Life Cycle.  CRM solutions will also allow you to collect and analyze actionable intelligence.

The not-so-good news is using a CRM solutions don’t always earn high happy quotients from some folks.  Sales folks come to mind.  

One of the big reasons is that CRM solutions are so doggone process-oriented and demand structured thinking – and yes, that’s exactly their strength .

However, many of the best sales folks are unstructured in their thinking – and that’s a strength for sales reps because it allows them to be flexible in dealing with prospects and their objections.  The problem is, though, the sales reps' strength is often at cross-purposes with the CRM solutions exacting demands. 

Add into it corporate demands for Sales folks to be out there selling, selling, selling.

So if you want your sales folks to use your company’s CRM with smiles on their faces, then give them good reasons to -- and make those reasons be personal, all about them.

First integrate, automate and simply so reps spend a minimal amount of time on data or activity entry.  Second, give sales reps valuable assistance or intelligence that will help them close more deals.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Automate as much of the proposal or sales letter generation while still giving reps flexibility to edit.  

  2. Make it easy to find pricing information and to pull together pricing estimates. 

  3. Show reps hard data on the types of historical opportunities they had the most success in closing. At end-of-month crunch time, they can use this valuable intel to focus on those types of opportunities in their pipeline. 

  4. Automate triggers so reps spend little or no time chasing down management approvals or assistance from other team members.

And just so you know, it’s not all about Sales. Find ways to simplfy data entry for other teams too.  Customer Service comes to mind.  Integrate, automate and simplify for them as well so they spend more time actually helping customers than doing data entry.



To successfully manage your client relationships, start by defining your company’s Customer Life Cycle and Rules of Engagement.  Revisit the definitions as often as needed but certainly once a year via a team compromised of members from all customer-facing departments.


Thanks to the S/CRM Gang for inspiring my article today.