Remember King of the Hill? I don't mean the animated TV show, but the game we played as kids where a hill, jungle gym or any definable area could be declared the sole domain of the "king," until a new king with more power (i.e., bigger, stronger, more aggressive friends) pushed the incumbent off the hill and declared himself the new king. Then, the game switched for the new king, as the struggle to acquire the hill morphed into a struggle to retain the hard-won ground. How long the king held the ground was directly related to how well he managed his team and fought off the competition from gaining a foothold on his turf.

Sound familiar? It should because we play the same game on a daily basis with our sales and marketing channels. Like in the game of King of the Hill, we focus our channel effort on acquiring new customers by either finding an unoccupied hill to conquer or by endeavoring to push the incumbent king off his hill, so we can reap the rewards of victory. Unfortunately, the process of unseating an incumbent is a lot more complicated and difficult than pushing them off the monkey bars. The would-be king must not only provide a service or product with better value but also has to break through the defensive layers of an established relationship and the expensive infrastructure and process changes that a vendor change causes.

To acquire that new prospect requires weakening the foothold of the incumbent. The more symbiotic the established relationship is, the harder it will be to accomplish this goal. The prospect has to be convinced that the expense and effort of changing what may be a perfectly satisfactory existing relationship will create more profit and grow their business with less effort. To do that, your channel activities have to be already geared toward building your credibility in the target market. If your channel prospects already know who you are and have a sense for what you've done for similar customers, the acquisition process will require less effort to convince your prospect to open themselves to a new relationship.

So, the game begins for the successful challenger long before the direct assault. Reaching out through your marketing channels to these targeted prospects means anticipating their needs and defining how your organization can fulfill those needs before actually engaging. By taking the initiative and preparing for your assault on the hill in advance, you have already established the germ of an idea and have created the glue that will eventually cement the long-term relationship you need.

Of course, once the new king has established himself, his first order of business is to retain what he has won. The former incumbent may or may not make an effort to retake what was once his, but certainly, there will be other would-be kings coveting your new customer. Maintaining those relationships and cementing their permanence is a topic for another time. Right now, it's time to gather the troops and start working on the next hill.

DAVID MARTINA [] is the vice president of systems integration for NEPS, LLC of Salem, New Hampshire, a firm that provides solutions for the automation of document-intensive business processes.


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