Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Strategic Account Planning Part 2

Knowing where you stand

The wizened and gnarly voiced singer on a scratched old 78 rpm disc said something like this to me this:
“If you want to get to Hollywood son, you better know where on earth here is.” I believe sellers must apply this advice to the first step of their strategic account plans.

Where are we with the account?

As reasonable as this sounds many sellers refuse to truly understand their importance with an account. Most don’t understand their strengths nor their vulnerabilities. Repeatedly salespeople tell me, “I get the lion’s share of the business at this account.” Yet, when I visit the account on joint calls with them, I see pallet loads of the competitive product coming in the door. Deeper research indicates whole technology segments which are supplied by the guy down the street. We see a long list of competitors signed in at the reception desk; many calling on people we don’t know.

How do we know where we stand as a supplier? Are we viewed as an important extension of the customer’s organization? Are we seen as the guy who provides a widget so complex that dealing with us justifies the pain of our idiosyncrasies? Are we one of many suppliers or are we important for some real reason?

We’ve got to understand this in order to build a plan that extends anywhere past next Tuesday’s call.

The first question is why sellers don’t simply ask, “Where do we line up with your organization as a solution provider?” I believe the real reason many don’t is fear. Sometimes the truth smarts. What happens if the customer responds with a negative answer? Sometimes, sellers ask the question of the wrong person. Your company may be “numero uno” with the one guy in maintenance, but viewed as a necessary evil by plant management. Other times, the evil ones in purchasing deliver misinformation to sellers to satisfy their own price-driven agenda. Understanding the real answer involves talking to
a number of people at the account. And, financially focused management types must be on the list.

In addition to simply asking, here are a half dozen sure fired ways to understand your position:
1) Do a plant tour/facility tour with an eye for competitive products in use.
2) If your customer maintains a store room or parts crib, look at products kept in stock alongside those you are providing.
3) Drop by the customer’s receiving area to check on service levels. While there, look for shipments coming in from your competitors.
4) Analyze your sales to the customer. Look for gaps in purchases. Think about what other products might be used along with those you are selling the customer.
5) Ask your key contacts who else is a supplier and what they like about their service.
6) Ask someone and be prepared to listen not argue the point.

None of this tells you precisely where you stand with the customer, but it will give you a better idea of the landscape you operate in competitively. In addition, it will take you to the point of being able to identify precisely who competes in your favorite customer. Your strategic plan will make use of this information to determine how to approach the customer.

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