It’s the same relationship ladder that every communicator wants to climb
By: Huynh Minh Ngoc (s3311659)
Building and maintaining relationship are ones of the most important things for any business. This is probably the reason why ‘Client Acquisition and Retention’ was one of the first topics that have been introduced since the beginning of our Client Management course. When studying about theoretical concepts of relationship management between agency and client, I realized the knowledge we’ve learned may also be applicable to other fields such as B2B marketing or in-house communication. To see if I can clarify my assumption, I went to meet Ms. Vi Nhu Hao through the recommendation from a friend.
It was on a late Tuesday afternoon at a café-house where I invited Hao and she was early. It was almost immediate for me to spot at an elegant lady sitting comfortably alone at a table near the news stand. As I stepped closer and about to ask whether she is the person I was looking for, she already gave me a welcomed smile and said hello. For a moment, I thought I was an invited friend instead of her being my interview guest. We started our conversation with Hao telling a little about herself. She is a formal Senior Marketing Executive who worked at Solex International Company, a lock manufacturer in Thailand.
Climbing the ladder from bottom to top
When I showed Hao the management ladder, roughly explained to her about the concept and told her my assumption about the agency-client relationship, she took a short moment, seemingly examining the illustration while at the same time recalling to her experience in working with international business partners during the past four years, then she said: “It’s pretty much the same, maybe a little different.” As if noticing my curiosity, Hao smiled and moved her fingers from bottom to top on the picture of the ladder and went on: “the same part is that we also climb the ladder in the same direction. In fact, I believe every business relationship would normally start from the basic (getting contact with customers/building up competition) to advance level (breakthrough/ develop and extend customer relationship).” While the different parts are instead of attending networking events, Solex mostly looks for new agents from joining International Exhibitions, which are supported and organized by Department of International Trade Promotion; and “we don’t call ourselves expert for hire, maybe…a suitable supplier,” she jokingly stated.
At this point, I realized Hao was just changing the terms to make the concept fitting into the context of B2B marketing. It totally makes sense since Solex is a manufacturing company and their clients are distributors who promoting Solex products in different countries across Southeast Asia and Middle East, therefore, joining International Exhibitions is probably the most convenient way to introduce the product to new clients. However, as international exhibition usually happened only twice per year in a country, Hao and her teammates needed to make sure that they have utilized the opportunity to its utmost so that they could attract as many new agents as possible, and thus: “catchy booth decoration and informative staff are very important for those events because they can greatly influence the first impression of Solex with new customers,” said Hao. Once the staffs get agent’s information and name cards, they will contact the agents via emails after the exhibition period to see if they are interested to become Solex’s distributors. If the agents are interested, they will automatically make orders and once orders are recieved, Solex and their distibutors will maintain and develop their CRM. Besides International Exhibitions, she shared that Solex also relies on Business Matching Program, which is a customized matching service dedicated to help export-ready companies search, identify and screen potential customers. Joining e-marketplace is actually very useful in helping Solex to connect with interested business partners all over the world (Bloch & Catfolis 2003). It also benefits companies in term of minimizing unnecessary spending for traveling or other expenses (Rask & Kragh 2004; Ferreira & Ferreira 2004).
Climbing the ladder together – mutual cooperation is essential
Hao believed that high level of mutual cooperation can make a huge impact on whether Solex and their agents can maintain a long-term partnership. “Compare to service business like advertising, the relationship between supplier and distributors tend to be more long-term oriented if the product can achieve a good sale in the distributor’s region” she shared. Therefore, marketing strategy needs to be carefully planned and implemented to help their distributors promoting Solex products in their home countries. Hao also noted that in setting up a strategy, she and the marketing team have to always refer back to Solex’s slogan of ‘think globally, act locally.’ I supposed this innovative and professional vision was what evolves Solex from the supplier to advisor level. However, after setting up the plan, the marketing team will have a discussion with the distributors on how they want the products to be marketed in their home countries. The reason was that “each region has its own distinctive culture and our distributors were the ones who directly deal with the end-users, which meant they know what they were doing or needed more than we ever did. And so listened to them and their ideas were never wrong.” – said Hao. The act of encouraging distributor to participate in the business plan allowed the company to develop a more respectful, mature and stable relationship with their clients (Chetty & Eriksson 2002). Additionally, involving business partners in the decision-making process could also help to enhance responsibility from both sides (Huxham 1996).
Climbing the ladder with sincerity – Be a supportive partner
After a sip of coffee, Hao gently continued: “but to maintain any types of relationship, it takes more effort than just merely good work or professional service. We need to show clients our care. Be a supportive partner. Be their friends.” The fact that Hao rarely met her clients face-to-face didn’t resist her from developing close connections with them as she always managed to send her clients informal greetings via emails, and once in a while she called to check how they were doing and whether they needed any help. She also visited her client’s shops and hanged out with them whenever she had a chance going to their countries (e.g: international exhibition, vacation…), “if I can show them how much I care about not only the business between us but also our personal connections, they will do the same. And that’s what makes a relationship last so much longer.”
Our conversation went on a little longer until we finished our coffee. As we were about to leave, Hao suddenly pulled out from her bag a marketing textbook and told me to keep it since she believed the knowledge from the book may be helpful to me. Needless to say, I was beyond surprised, not because of the textbook but more of the nice and supportive person she is. I’m not sure if it was Hao’s caring personality that made her to become a senior marketing executive, or could it be the experience working in client service that helped to build up her professional savvy. Either way, I thought I have learned so much more than the words Hao said in the interview. My assumption was clarified, theoretical concepts are indeed applicable in managing relationship with any types of client, yet only with practical experience and constant self-training that a person will become a better communicator, or a better relationship-ladder climber.
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Chetty, S & Eriksson, K 2002, ‘Mutual commitment and experiential knowledge in mature international business relationship’, International Business Review, vol 11, iss 3, pp. 305-324.
Ferreira, DR & Ferreira, JJP 2007, ‘Building an e-marketplace on a peer-to-peer infrastructure’, International Journal of Computer Integrated, vol. 17, iss. 3, pp. 254-264.
Huxham, C 1996, Creating Collaborative Advantage, SAGE Publication Inc, London.
Nhu Hao, Vi 2013, interview, 14 April 2013
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Timothy 2011, ‘The Economics of Cooperation’, Blog Spot, image, viewed 11 May 2013, <http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-cGqXpgypUlk/TfY-VaX1IyI/AAAAAAAAABU/HJ4Y7gkoiqQ/s1600/cooperation.jpg>.