Vendor Didn’t Have the “Bench Strength” to Satisfy Their Sophisticated Customer

Even a seasoned supplier makes mistakes. In this case study, an industry giant over-reached, won the chance to expand into a new market, then fell flat on its face. A formal candid feedback project gave the customer a chance to spell out his expectations. The vendor implemented improvements and escaped early termination.

This is one in a series of case studies highlighting “Key Questions and Course-correcting Quotes” taken from 20 years of B2B customer insight projects. All names are fictitious, but the situations are real. Case studies paint a picture of how important it is to learn what your B2B customers think–but aren’t saying. These are real-world examples of how soliciting and acting on customer feedback has helped companies hold onto customers longer, grow relationships bigger and pick up new business faster.

Case study: Vendor was “average.” Customer wanted “special.”

Key Question (asked of a CEO at a 7-figure account): “Is this vendor performing at a ‘partner’ level?”

Course-correcting Quote:

CEO: “No. The people in the top two positions are pretty impressive, but that’s the case anywhere. It’s at the next level down that we have found them somewhat lacking. For example, account management is weak and reactive. We need formal meetings, formal reviews, good follow-up, etc. We brought that to their attention. I’m not sure they would have gotten there on their own, and that’s disappointing. Our best vendors hire, develop and retain good people top to bottom. We can’t grow relying on average vendors. We need ‘special.’ These guys are average.”

The Client’s Quandary:

This was a cold glass of water in the vendor’s face. They knew their customer was frustrated, but they thought they had a simple communication problem. They thought they had overcome the worst of it but reached out for customer feedback just to be safe. After they read the customer feedback report, they knew they were still in trouble.


They were in over their head: Their customer was sophisticated, the market was unfamiliar to this vendor, and they didn’t have the bench strength or the strategic vision to deliver in line with their customer’s standards. They won the business based on a strong presentation by the senior executives, but the customer soon realized their account hadn’t been staffed with a seasoned team. In the end, their contract wasn’t renewed, but to their credit it wasn’t terminated early. This impartial evaluation of where they stood allowed them to make what changes they could to improve their performance over their final 15 months.

I categorize projects as assessments, investigations, treasure hunts or rescue missions. This project was an investigation because the client’s question started “why?” “Why is this customer so hard to please?” Customer dissatisfaction hadn’t yet escalated to the point of requiring a rescue mission. At that stage the question is, “Can this marriage be saved?”

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