Article: John Rosling – The World is Changing.

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The World is Changing – Do Corporate Sales People Now Need a Micro-MBA?

Recently interviewing the CEO of a highly successful mid market business I asked about the relationship with the Bank. ‘Very good’ she answered. Surprised, I asked her about her view of the strategic value her banking team offered her. ‘I’ve no idea’ she replied ‘I’ve never met them. That’s my CFOs job’.

This simple exchange cut to the heart of the fundamental problem most large service providers face in creating sustainable value-based relationships in the mid market. Technical, product-focused relationships with operational management client-side are fine. Strategic relationships with owners and CEOs that offer real value often don’t exist.

It’s a huge problem when, from the perspective of mid market customers, the services of banks, accountants, technology businesses and even lawyers look increasingly commoditised. If all the client is getting is product and no value what is to stop them switching? Where is the sustainability of a real relationship?

Corporates have done a great job at giving their client-facing teams technical training. They know their product. Yet there is little competitive advantage in that any more – and less sustainability. The neglect of broader human intelligence and critical business intelligence skills in those who seek to service the mid market is increasingly telling.

Those who realise this and upgrade their relationship teams to have the knowledge and confidence to offer genuine strategic insight to customers will clean up in this market place.

They will find a ‘mini MBA’ for their relationship teams will yield dividends.

I know this not just from experience of sitting on the customer end of these relationships but in coaching banking relationship teams on basic human and business strategy. These managers who come back time and again flushed with excitement having had a customer email to say ‘thanks, that was the single best meeting I have ever had with a bank’.

Yet there is an even bigger problem for corporate suppliers who persist with a product/technical focus in client relationships in the mid market. Fast-moving, converging markets mean that in 3-5 years’ time most ‘relationship managers’ will be talking about products that are not even on their radar today. And in that world, a reliance on ‘rapport’ over relationship and technical knowledge over strategic advice is simply not flexible and agile enough to adapt.


John Rosling is author of ‘The Secrets of the Seven Alchemists’ (Harriman House 2014), CEO of Contexis, a serial entrepreneur, speaker and lecturer on entrepreneurship with a passion for helping corporates think more entrepreneurially (and transform how they connect with SME customers and partners). He started his career in Unilever and Diageo.