On Thursday, March 23, during a Third Thursday panel discussion, alumni participants discussed a variety of topics and answered student questions around the value of client relationships in the business setting. The program was sponsored by the Dean’s Advisory Council, Pi Sigma Epsilon, and Women in Business. Dante Germano, chief operating officer, Nexus Properties, and Dean’s Advisory Council member, served as the moderator. The panelists were Mike Castoro ’04, director of IT, Adrianna Papell, Steve Johnston ’97, WW Cloud and Developer Programs, IBM Bluemix, and Rebecca Makely ‘05, manager, WithumSmith+Brown.
IT Isn’t Just For IT
As technology proliferates, the lines between marketing, sales, and information technology (IT) are getting blurrier. Increasingly, employees outside of IT are expected to incorporate tools like social media and industry software into their everyday B2B dealings. In fact, it is because of the importance of technology that, according to Johnston, developers are taking leading roles in their companies. “Developers have much more power in the organization than they used to…now they’re dictating strategy, platforms, and tools.”
Know Your Client
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to maintaining B2B relationships, even within a single industry. Service and communication must be tailored towards each client and their preferences. All three panelists agreed that in some cases, it is best to do things the old fashioned way: face-to-face communication. As Makely put it, “sometimes, relationships are maintained the old-fashioned way: go out to lunch, ‘let’s get a drink,’ invite them to an event we’re sponsoring.”
A student in the audience asked about the best way to approach and reassure clients who were previously assigned to different account reps. Makely advised the attendee to be “honest and straightforward” and determine, at the onset, what the client liked and didn’t like about their former rep. Johnston recommended that before meeting with the new client, you should look at internal information about the client’s background, communication and service preferences, and buying patterns.
“Consumerize” Your Relationships
Johnston spoke of the “consumerization” of B2B relationships. As he put it, business clients are increasingly expecting the same versatility and accessibility in information exchanges with their account reps that consumers expect of businesses. For instance, access via mobile devices is becoming an everyday expectation for business clients. In another example, Castoro discussed his use of the line sheet, a standard tool in the fashion industry, which has transformed from still image to an interactive PDF that allows multiple clients to leave comments and suggestions on specific items, effectively enabling dialogue through a tablet.
People Are at the Heart of Relationships
The panelists reminded the audience that at the end of the day, B2B relationships are about people. This is especially important to remember when considering relationships that span the globe. Johnston urged attendees to be considerate of a client’s cultural differences in terms of both customs and technological preferences.
Personal relationships are also at the center of effective forecasting and strategizing. Because of this, you need to determine ahead of time how you would like a relationship to grow. As Castoro put it, “plan a road map” for any relationship and make sure you stick to it.