Friday, October 3, 2014

Strategic Account Planning Part 5

What value do you bring to the customer?

Several months ago, I had the opportunity to “ride along” with what my client described as “one of our promising new sales guys.”  Because I wanted to just get a snapshot of the quality and quantity of this guy’s work, I didn’t do much to brief him on our objectives for the day.  Instead, I emailed him, "I just want to ride along and observe your work."  A few days later he texted coordinates of a greasy spoon where we would slosh down a cup of coffee and brace ourselves for the day.

After a handshake and a few social niceties, we dove into the day ahead.  I was pleased.  He had real live appointments at three accounts and plans to drop by another couple if time allowed.  Demos and literature were well thought out and carefully stored in the back seat of his meticulously clean company car.  He had invested in timely topics to explore with the various people scheduled to see us.  I could easily see why this guy impressed the boss.

During our 30 minute drive to the first appointment, we talked about his company; locations, people, size, products on their line card and lots of sundry details.  These folks were on the move.  About midway into our drive, I asked, “What kind of value to you deliver to the customer?”  The answer was both typical and scarey; something to the effect of, “We have the best service in the whole area.”  And, in spite of a couple of unfocused pushes, the best I could get was “better outside sales”, “great customer service” and a “willingness to listen.”

This is an all too common response.  And it’s epidemic in our industry.  For knowledge-based distributors it could be a fatal flaw.

What should have the sales guy responded?  A detailed list of services (which translate into value) provided to customers would have been a nice start.  Here are a dozen examples:

Policy of stocking emergency inventory to assist customers during emergency and downtime situations.
After hours access to inventory and staff in emergency situations.
Ongoing customer training sessions including one-on-one training for new engineers, maintenance personnel and others.
Ability to handle blanket orders and provide summary billing which drives down the customer’s administrative costs.
Inventory services to assist customers with managing consumable parts.
Willingness to join customer in tri-lateral negotiations to improve costs on high volume purchases.
Salespeople with technical backgrounds capable of assisting in the selection of the best product for the customer’s application.
Highly trained Product Specialists who assist with product concepts and layouts.
Troubleshooting assistance with technical products.
In-house value add group with capabilities to provide complete sub-assemblies ready for installation.
Engineers and Specialists who work with customers to “value engineer” existing designs in search new technology and/or products with better fit with the goal of driving down unit costs.
Willingness to source hard to find parts which drive up administrative costs at the customer.

Is this a complete list?  I doubt it.  Most distributors we work with can come up with 20-50 more things they do to provide value to their customers.  The point is you have something to sell above and beyond the products shipping from your warehouse.  And, a good strategic plan pulls from the list.  Why?  Because not all of your services match up with every customer, but you need to have a very solid grip on what’s available before you can proceed with your plan.

On to the plan…
Way back in the 1970s, Feature/Benefit selling was the rage.  You detailed your product one feature at a time; matching corresponding customer benefits to each feature.  Average performers simply reiterated each feature/benefit set in every customer presentation.  It sounded like the drone of a skipping record.  Great salespeople, on the other hand, worked to only stress the features and benefits of importance to the customer they were speaking to at the time. 

The same thought process must be used when matching your company’s value to each account.  Additionally, care must be taken to closely match values presented to the right person at the account.  For instance, in example 5 above we noted the distributor had the ability to assist the customer in managing consumables.  No doubt, the customer contact charged with the task of inventory may see this service as a potential threat to his job security.  At the same time, a facilities manager concerned with driving performance at that same account may see this as very valuable and as the key to reassigning the inventory guy to something more productive. 

Thinking more deeply...  In most instances, it pays to bring your values to the customer in an order which is well thought out.  Some values are expensive.  Others may actually be less well defined (a nice way of saying "worse") than an incumbent competitor.  This dovetails back to the power of a strategic plan for each major account. 

Where might you easily demonstrate your ability to provide value?  Once that value has been demonstrated, how can you expand into other areas of increasing importance?  Are there competitors which could easily be displaced and their business rolled into your cart?

A final couple of thoughts…
It’s never enough to just provide value.  Get feedback from your customers.  Customer emails detailing how you helped solve a problem open other doors to sales.  Ask the customer if they will send an email you can share with a supplier or your boss.  And even if the customer hesitates to send you some documentation, create your own log of actions, values provided and other milestones at the account.

Never try to introduce multiple values at the same time.  While they do make for a great capabilities presentation, too many choices confuse the customer.  Instead, work to understand the customer’s own priorities.  Gather the kind of data we spoke about in Part 3 of this series.  Ask additional questions and introduce your value; one step at a time.

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