A Customer Ambassador Approach to Building and Maintaining Relationships
By: Jochem van der Meer – Global Operations Lead, Strategic Customer Program
Businesses in Yaletown, one of Vancouver’s hippest areas, place an emphasis on the relationship with their customers. SAP Labs Canada’s Vancouver office is no exception. Since its installment three years ago, SAP Vancouver’s Executive Briefing Center (EBC) has provided an opportunity for customers to meet with and build relationships with SAP thought leaders as well as industry and business experts based on the business strategy of their organization.
Having worked in back-office type of roles for my entire career at SAP, and currently as the global operations lead supporting the SVP and global sales leader for SAP’s top customer segment, the opening of the EBC in Vancouver provide the opportunity for someone like me, to get in front of the customer as a Customer Ambassador (CA).
The role of a CA is to facilitate customer meetings and listen to and express the voice of the customer. In Vancouver, the Ambassadors are all volunteers, something unique with SAP but due to its success, adopted in other EBCs across the world. The CA also helps to organize the meeting with a sales colleague and to build the agenda accordingly with the right balance of customer needs and SAP’s driven agenda. The process of reaching out and building the agenda with the customer helps to form trust before the meeting and to ensure customer value during the meeting.
I have facilitated several customer EBC events and on thing they all have in common is that no two events are the same and that every customer is different. My first EBC event was for example with a partner who provided a multi-tenant Business Intelligence environment for their customers. A sequence of events had damaged the customer relationship with SAP and the account executive wanted to bring the key stakeholders into the EBC to reverse the trend. After meeting the account executive to understand his needs and desired outcome for the two-day event, we put together a high-level proposal and started securing some speakers. I then reached out to the customer to also understand their needs and desired outcome of the event. Based on the customer’s skeptical feedback regarding the proposed agenda, it became apparent that the customer relationship was indeed not very strong. In response, I changed my approach and asked the customer’s CIO how he would like to change the agenda to fit his needs. A few discussions later we had the agenda close to final and I had one more request. I asked the customer to take one hour in the agenda to present to a room full of developers to demonstrate how they use the BI product, since they were having some technical challenges, to the developers in the Vancouver office who made the product.
Having reached out and worked with the customer’s representatives on the agenda before the meeting, it was apparent in their conversations and tone of voice that a trusting relationship had been generated at the first handshake. The morning consisted of going through a few agenda items to set the tone, explaining SAP’s strategy and specific product roadmaps. The afternoon portion was all setup as the partner wanted and we brought in the experts and developers of each of the areas requested. Lively discussions were brought to the table and the partner started to understand that their perception of the product functionalities was different then what they initially thought. It was discovered that an upgrade from one BI version to another didn’t go as planned and had caused frustration with their IT management. With the issue on the table, we slightly changed the next agenda items to focus on how we can help the partner succeed with this version upgrade. Although we didn’t solve the issues the partner was facing during the event, we did get to a roadmap on how SAP and Vancouver’s development team can help the partner succeed.
Finally the last agenda item, the customer presentation to the developers onsite. The presentation, although voluntary and took place over lunch, garnered the attention of over 100 developers. Throughout the presentation the developers were asking various detailed questions on the customer’s usage of their own build product. For the developers, the presentation provided them with an opportunity to hear feedback first hand and for the partner it was a great showcase on how they run their business.
At the end of the full event, the customer raved about how this was the best time they had ever spent with SAP. They even made a special note in their feedback that they would love to present again to the developers the next time they are in town! Both the partner’s goal of getting to a solution for their issue and the account executive’s goal of revamping the customer relationship had succeeded. Overall, the event was a win for the partner, the account executive, the EBC, and SAP Labs Vancouver.
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