In this episode of The KAM Club podcast we’re diving into the world of client-supplier relationships to uncover the top 13 things clients won’t tell their suppliers. From hidden agendas to unspoken expectations, get ready to discover the secrets that could transform your business partnerships.
Remember, often it’s not what your client’s say—but what they don’t say—that matters.
Find out why clients may not be eager to share information with their suppliers, and why it’s important that you find out. Knowledge is not only power, but helps you make important decisions about how to best work with your client to help them get maximum results from your partnership.
Unless you ask, clients are not going to tell you:
Listen to the episode as I explain why clients are reluctant to share this type of information and what you can do about it.
Welcome to the latest episode of The KAM Club Podcast. Today, we are diving into the world of client supplier relationships to uncover the top 13 things clients won’t tell their suppliers.
From hidden agendas to unspoken expectations, get ready to discover the secrets that could transform your business partnerships. So sit back, tune in, and get ready to hear the truth that your clients might not want to tell you.
Welcome back, heroes. This is the KAM Club Podcast, a show that is on a mission to help busy key account managers get results. I’m your host, Warwick Brown, and together we’ll explore tips, tricks, and trends to help you grow client revenue, crush customer retention, and build a successful career in key account management.
So look, I’m sure that we all would like to think or imagine that we have open relationships with our clients, that we’re completely transparent, that there is trust and commitment between us.
And that may be true.
But it is also true that your clients may not share every last piece of information with you because ultimately, this is about a business relationship. No matter how personal your relationships may become or how friendly your relationships may become.
Clients do not want to give away things that may give you a competitive advantage or that may disadvantage them or demonstrate some weakness or some dependency.
So that’s why I thought it was a good topic for us to explore. And there’s 13 that I came up with, not an exclusive definitive list, but these are definitely interesting. And some things for you to think about as you navigate your client relationships. And depending on the situations you find yourself in, remind yourself that there is more lurking underneath the surface than you may first imagine.
So the first thing they may not tell you, and look, this is in no particular order, but number one on my list, is your client’s budget and cost expectations.
Now, they may not share this with you for a number of reasons. First, they will lose potentially one of their negotiating tactics, negotiating tactics, and they would rather keep their cards close to their chest to get the best possible deal. They might be concerned that if they disclose their budget to you, you’ll just inflate your prices to match the budget rather than offering the best possible price.
And finally, some clients may not even have a budget in mind. They’d rather hear first from you what your proposal is, what your value proposition is, what the features and benefits are of working with you before deciding on a budget. So keep that in mind that there’s either flexible budgets, there’s budgets they’re going to withhold because they’re worried that you might inflate prices, or that they’ll lose a potentially negotiation advantage. So it’s important during the process of trying to sell a solution to a client that you really zero in on their expectations, what they want to achieve, what pain is currently being created by the problem they need solved to make sure that the proposal meets their requirements, even if you don’t know quite yet how much money they have to spend.
Number two, they’re unlikely to let you know who their other suppliers are or how much those other suppliers are charging them.
Now, obviously, there’s some areas related to confidentiality, or they may be protected by nondisclosure agreements. But as a client, why would I tell you who else I’m working with? I may want you to think you’re my only supplier, so you give me better deals.
I may be thinking of moving more business to one of your competitors, so I don’t want you making things messier or complicated for me. Or I may know that it’s a small industry and people talk, and I just don’t want suppliers colluding behind my back. Lots of different reasons, but definitely something that can be a real challenge to get your clients to reveal.
The third is their true level of satisfaction with your performance.
Clients may not provide honest feedback on your performance either. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. I mean, they are people, too. They may be afraid of damaging the business relationship. If they give you some truly honest feedback and it’s not great, they may think that you will react badly or take revenge, I guess. Not quite the right word for them, but suddenly not offer them the level of service that they would like because you feel like they don’t appreciate you. There could be some other internal factors that the client is not able to disclose, like conflicts within the client’s organization or unforeseen circumstances that are affecting their satisfaction with your performance.
I’ve had this happen before quite a few times where, well, one actually springs to mind, where I had the key contact telling me they were super happy with the service. Meanwhile, in the background, some of the executives have had a bad service, and they were telling my key contact to go find somebody else. So on the surface, I thought everything was fine. But behind the scenes, all the internal politics and the challenges with the senior executives having a few issues, instead of resolving them with me, they chose to go somewhere else, but they kept it a secret from me. So that was definitely challenging and didn’t feel real good either when they left, when I was assuming everything was fine.
So you need to be proactive about seeking feedback and also conducting regular performance reviews so you can have that continuous improvement lens and maintain a positive relationship. But also don’t just rely on your key contact. I say this all the time, I’ve been burned so many times by just taking at face value the insights and the feedback and the information given to me by one person when it’s turned out not to be true, or at least not the full picture.
Number four, that they may not tell you is about any internal conflicts or issues specifically related to you as a supplier.
Now, this could be things like just internal disagreements with their managers about how the relationship should be viewed, or the products they want to buy from you, or how much they want to utilise. It could be budget constraints, it could be changes in their business strategy. There’s a whole lot of things that might be going on internally that they just don’t want you to know because it may impact the way that you work together.
Things like even change of stakeholder. Maybe your key contact’s resigned, but you’re going to be the last person to know. They would rather wait till they have a new person appointed before they break the news. That kind of stuff.
Number five on the list of things your clients won’t tell you is the potential for future business opportunities.
Now, they may not share this with you because they’re not yet sure about their future needs, so they don’t want to get you excited about nothing. Or they may not want to make any commitments yet because they need to line up a few other things like their budget or some other factors.
But just because they’re not ready to commit and explore potential business opportunities right now doesn’t mean you can’t still be future focused. You can still think about the future, plan for the future, talk about trends, opportunities, problems, challenges that might emerge in the future, and how to anticipate and prepare for those.
If you focus on building relationships, demonstrating your capabilities, reinforcing your value proposition, delivering good quality products and services, an excellent customer service, being open in your communications, all that stuff is going to position you as a trusted partner. And when they’re ready, it’s going to increase your chances of securing future business with your clients.
Number six, on the list of things your clients are not going to tell you is their financial situation and stability.
Even if you have publicly listed companies who have to do earnings calls and who have to do annual reports, that information is passed. That information is often a year old. It’s not right up to the date in the moment information about their financial security, situation, stability, all that stuff. Now, in my experience, when clients are doing well, they’re usually quite happy to shout it from the rooftops. And there are also clues, even if they don’t directly tell you. They’re expanding into new markets, they are acquiring businesses, they are posting dividends to their shareholders.
They have cash to redistribute to investors. So they’re like good signals that they’re in good shape. But when it’s all quiet, that’s when they’re not likely to share with you specifically what’s going on. And that is for a number of reasons. One, they don’t want to shock you. They want to scare you off thinking they may be unstable, or that there is risk involved in doing business with them. And also, of course, some of that information might be protected by non disclosure agreements, might be considered confidential or market sensitive information. But yeah, no news, silence, signals that they’re not growing or expanding could indicate shaky financial ground. Now, that doesn’t mean that they’re not going to trade as much as they have in the past. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to start defaulting on their bills or paying late. It’s none of that. But those sorts of things can potentially impact your relationship and something that most people are not going to want to share with you upfront.
All right, number seven on the list of things that clients will not want to share with you is any changes to their business strategy or direction.
Now, of course, this could be because those changes are not yet finalised. They’re just thinking about these things and they don’t want to share sensitive information with you. It could be that it is going to dramatically impact the way that you work with them and they don’t want you to know just yet until all of the pieces are in place. It could mean that it is, again, market or competitive sensitive information and they don’t want this to be public knowledge until they’re ready. So definitely, something you need to be aware of is that people can present one strategy while in the background be looking to pivot to another one, and you may not know until the very last moment.
So again, important that you stay alert to news releases, press releases, what is going on in their business, their industry, what is happening in their space, because that way you can anticipate challenges, you can anticipate growth, and you can ask the right questions to find out what’s going on in terms of their business strategy and direction and where you fit into that.
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All right, we got five more to go, so let’s make it quick.
Number eight is their internal decision making process and key decision makers.
Now, clients will typically consider this information, I don’t know about confidential, but the explicit detail of how decisions get made can be something they want to keep close to their chest because they’re worried. They’re gatekeeping. They’re worried that you might go behind their back to build these relationships or circumvent the process, try and take shortcuts. There may be people that have to rubber stamp buying decisions that may not be involved, may not want to be involved.
There’s a whole complexity and political things. Let’s call it that, that you need to be aware of when it comes to decision making. Now, of course, you’re going to understand because, to an extent anyway, because you’re obviously dealing with certain people that have reached out to you, you’ve been introduced to them. You understand who people report to in the organization, so you can make assumptions about who might be involved. However, it’s not always clear who is influential in the decision making process.
So the more that you can grow your networks, the more that you can build those relationship maps, and the more that you can proactively nurture and contact people within your client’s organization, the more you’re going to become a trusted partner, position yourself as somebody that’s influential as well, and provide the right materials and the content and the answers that help meet their needs.
So, yeah, important that you don’t just assume that they’ve said, “Oh, yeah, this is who’s going to sign off on this.” Often it is not just that person, there’s a whole lot of people in that decision making orbit that you don’t know, and that can undermine everything that you’ve tried to achieve if you don’t know who they are and you’re not actively working on building those relationships.
Number nine, your client is not going to tell you their true priorities and preferences for product or service features.
Now, you may have the rare few that are very vocal about what they expect and what they want, but many clients usually are unlikely or don’t feel comfortable telling you what they want. They may feel like you should know, or they may not even have a clear idea of it themselves, or they may not want to limit your creativity, so they give you a blank canvas. They prefer not to give you direction and guidance because they want to see what you can come up with. There’s lots of different reasons why they just might feel uncomfortable saying, “This is what I want.”
Not everybody is vocal and truthful and willing to share advice and feedback that may be uncomfortable for somebody to hear. And that is the challenge. So as a supplier, as a key account manager, you need to be asking the right questions. You need to be conducting that research. Doing your benchmarking, there’s nothing clients like better than to know what other people are doing.
So many times, my clients haven’t really known what they wanted, but then they reply back, “So what are your other clients doing to help them make decisions or figure out what’s a priority?” So be aware, just because they say everything’s fine, or because they say they want this, maybe it’s not what they really need.
Number 10, they are not going to tell you why they didn’t select you for a particular project. Not the true reasons anyway.
They may say, “Oh, because of this or because of that.” But rarely have I found the excuse they gave me to be a genuine one. I feel like they were just throwing me a bone just to keep me satisfied when I’ve pressed them for details on why I didn’t win a piece of their business. Now, it could be because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, or they don’t want to damage the business relationship because they still need to work with you.
However, what you want to do is make sure that even if your client doesn’t give you all the information you want, you conduct that regular post mortem analysis, that win loss review. Why did you win the business? Why did you lose the business? What were the factors that you think? You can really start to make some educated guesses if your client isn’t forthcoming about why you weren’t selected for a project. And I think that’s such an important thing to do.
If you are a member of The KAM Club, check out the document section because there is a win loss review template checklist that you can download and that will help you identify areas for improvement so that you can make changes in the future because it’s all about learning from past mistakes.
Number 11 is their internal policies and procedures that may impact the supplier relationship.
Now, clients don’t necessarily want to tell you what these are because, A, they could be confidential. They don’t normally share internal policies with external parties, but there’s obviously exceptions to the rule.
For example, I used to work in business travel, and they would often share, or I would certainly ask, they didn’t usually volunteer, but I certainly asked to see their travel and expense policy because I wanted to understand what their per diems were, how much their meal allowances were, how much they were allowed to spend on telephones and travel and taxis, the quality of the accommodations, the nightly rates, the class of travel. Those are all really important things for me to know. But not everybody wanted to share those things.
But they may not want you to know because they don’t want your opinion, they don’t want advice, they don’t want you to have too much influence over these processes. Or they want to avoid conflict of interest or legal issues. Potentially, sharing that information with you could then give you an advantage. And when we’re thinking about ethical procurement and codes of conduct and all these sorts of things, supplier frameworks, introducing or sharing internal information might not be appropriate, even if it is relevant to the category that you’re in.
So just think about, I really like to know what those procedures are. I think it can be really helpful to make sure that I reduce friction and that I optimize the way that we work together because if I know what their processes are, if I know what they do with the information I share with them, then I can make it easier. I can make sure that I package it up in a way that’s going to make it simpler to interpret or easier to share, whatever it might be.
But just be aware, not everyone’s going to want to share that information with you. You might have to ask or dig a bit deeper to find out that information because often they may only disclose it when absolutely necessary or when pushed.
All right, we are down to the final two.
Number 12 is the potential impact of your services on their business operations.
Now, the reason they might not share that information is they don’t want to reveal too much about the internal operations or processes. They would rather just say to you, “Hey, I know what we need. Don’t you worry about what I want to do with it. I know I need this. Just give it to me and mind your own business.” There are plenty of clients that don’t really want to let you in behind the curtain. I don’t know why, but I guess it’s because they think they know better, or it’s private, it’s sensitive. Other clients I’ve had, more than welcome, they’re very proud of their organization. They’ll take me on factory tours and warehouse tours. So it can be challenging to find this stuff out.
The other reason they may not want you to know the impact is they’d like to downplay the contribution you make to their overall business. They’d rather that you thought that you’re not that important because if you realise that you are vital to the supply chain, if you’re vital to delivering successful and profitable outcomes for them, obviously that gives you an advantage. It gives you an advantage when you’re negotiating contract terms. It gives you an advantage in pricing and negotiations. So again, that’s why they may want to downplay the impact that you have.
And obviously, other things that might be going on around other suppliers and confidentiality, blah, blah, blah, blah. We talked about that a lot. That pretty much applies to all of these, that confidentiality element. But one of the things I am very focused on, I recommend you are too, is to quantify the value of your relationship, not just from your perspective, but in terms that your client uses. In terms that they understand and that are meaningful on their P&L. Cost reduction, cost avoidance, even things like quality, efficiency, whatever you can do to quantify it can help you articulate the impact, even if your client isn’t clear or doesn’t want to share what that is.
And lucky last, the true timeline or urgency for the project to get started or for the new supplier to be implemented, all that stuff.
Clients are not going to really disclose that timeline of urgency because they don’t want to appear desperate. They want to maintain leverage in the negotiations. Imagine if you hear from two clients, one of them says, “Hey, I need to have a new supplier in place by the first of June. The other supplier is out of business and we’re at a loose end and we’re stuck and we’re going to have big issues if we don’t have you in place by then.” Versus another client that comes to you and says, “Hey, we’re looking for a new supplier. We’re really happy with the supplier that we have, but we’re looking to see if we can find some efficiencies or some price savings.” Which client do you think you are going to have more power in the negotiations over? The client that’s desperate, that needs to start on the first of June or the one that’s telling you they’re in no rush, they’re pretty much happy with who they have already and whatever?
So yeah, that is the primary reason they’re not going to share their true timelines because they know you’ll have them over a barrel if they express any weakness in terms of urgency or critical process that might be damaged with their current situation.
So of course, it’s important that you have a really solid understanding of their timelines, the current pain points, the reasons why they need to solve this problem, and why they need to solve it now, so that you can make sure that you are clear on the timelines and you can align with their requirements and make sure that you increase your chances of winning the business without taking advantage of their situation and without you being taken advantage of as well.
That is it, my friends. That is the wrap on today’s episode. I hope you enjoyed learning about the 13 things clients won’t tell their suppliers and gain some valuable insights to bring to your own business relationships. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast to stay up to date on all of the latest episodes and leave me a review if you enjoyed the show, go ahead, I would love that. That would be greatly appreciated. It helps the show’s visibility. Let me know what you think.
Thanks for tuning in. I’ll catch you on the next episode. Bye for now.
I was tired of hearing stories about great key account managers losing their way, left stuck and let down.
I wanted to create a space where key account managers could thrive and be their best. To give them the right tools and mindset that gets results. And to eliminate overwhelm.
And so The KAM Club was born – the world’s most amazing community of key account managers.
I’ve spent more than 20 years in the field as a key account manager. So I know what works, and what doesn’t.
I’m now on mission to share the knowledge I’ve gained, to inspire and help key account managers everywhere reach their potential.
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