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November 28th, 2017

The Top 10—A Customer Model to Uncover Disruptive Opportunities

We’ve all been in THAT meeting. The one where your world gets turned upside down in a matter of minutes. A few scything sentences delivered by your client’s team boss and you feel cut off at the knees. “What just happened?”

It’s then you realize that even though you studiously examined the project brief and probed your client for all criteria, not all the pertinent information was disclosed. Invariably it’s not the project team’s fault. There was information at the top, above their pay grade, that never trickled down. It usually stems from a strategic insight, known only to the executive team, but suddenly relevant to a day-to-day situation unfolding before their eyes. So now (finally) they speak, and the project is torpedoed.

Bad news, right? But also, a great opportunity. Especially relating to your disruptive innovation process and how you can improve it to sharpen your competitive advantage.

In every organization, there are levels of information, knowledge, and understanding about strategy, operations, goals, and finances. Dissemination of this information from the top through the ranks happens in an intentional way. A need-to-know basis. However, it’s this guarded information that can be the gateway to disruptive innovation for your company.

So, how do you unlock it? The key lies in how you structure your customer relationships and the mutual value inherent in your purpose. If you can help your customers solve their problems, overcome their challenges, and achieve their goals, then your value goes up commensurately. If you can help them achieve more than they expect from you, your value skyrockets.

At the start of my career in the UK, I worked in a national sales organization for a global product manufacturer / marketer. They implemented a customer-relationship sales model called The Top 10 Model that drove extraordinary results. I’ve used the principle of this model ever since. It reliably unlocks opportunities that can disrupt not only your business, but often your customer’s. Here’s how it works:

The Top 10 Model

As a New Business Executive (NBE) I was responsible for about 50 existing customers, as well as new business acquisition in a territory. I was one of six NBE’s in my district. There were five districts in our branch. Two branches in each region. And four regions in the UK.

Out of my customer base and territory, I was required to identify my Top 10 accounts based on existing business and future potential. Each of my NBE colleagues did the same. Out of the 60 top accounts in our district, our District Manager had to identify his Top 10. Out of the 50 top accounts in our branch, our branch manager had to identify his Top 10 …. you get the picture.

At each level of management, we had to establish a strategy for each of our Top 10 accounts and develop goals and tactics to achieve them. I recall talking with one of my NBE colleagues in London about a year after this model was implemented. In her territory, she had identified a multi-national oil company (a non-customer) in her Top 10. Because of its potential, the account made it into the Top 10 of not only her district manager, brand manager, and regional manager, but also all the way to our company’s executive suite! In that year, the account became a customer, signing a national purchasing agreement. My colleague became a top producer nationally.

The important lesson for me from this was the effectiveness of a tiered approach to customer relationships and customer account management. At her level, my colleague was still doing the footwork, but at the executive suite level it was business strategy and growth, politics, PR, and the Directors Box at European Cup Final matches (soccer).

Our purpose transcended the sale. It was all about mutual benefit, derived from a source of knowledge and insight unavailable to my colleague, but accessed and disseminated from our customers’ executive management by our executive team. The idea was to seek and supply solutions to our customers that moved the needle in their favor. That helped them win. It proved to be disruptive in our marketplace. And our competitors never saw it coming.

This is one reason that for every BOLTGROUP client there is a Principal-In-Charge responsible for working at the highest level within our clients’ business, to discuss and uncover guarded insights. The ones that lead to on-target, disruptive innovation that is always welcomed, and often praised.

My current name for this model is “Horses for Courses.” If you know me, you’ll know why!

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