Friday, October 10, 2014

Strategic Account Planning Part 6

Sometimes, it’s not just what you know, but who you know

...and how you treat them.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Sometimes, it’s not what you know, but who you know that counts.” Perhaps you’ve been on the wrong end of this old axiom. You did your homework, researched the products, built a killer presentation and followed up with amazing vigor; only to lose an opportunity to someone who already had a relationship with the customer’s top guy. These things happen and sometimes there is really nothing you can do about it. As salespeople, we can either shrug our shoulders and go on about our day, or do something about the situation.

Most salespeople focus on the technical users of their products. For automation sellers, it’s the engineering department. Industrial supply salespeople hit on maintenance. Janitorial and paper product distributor sales folks go to the head of facilities. I could elaborate on the list to nauseating length, but the point is, most frontline sellers focus on a narrow group of contacts at their customer. Strategically, this is a mistake.

Let’s fast forward, your efforts at an account are successful. Your company starts landing some meaningful orders. You find yourself harvesting some big dollars from the account. All of your contacts appreciate the service you provide. Somebody, somewhere is writing some big checks to your organization. Doesn’t it seem strange that you don’t know them?

But then something happens.

A new supplier does an end around and goes straight to the money guys, by-passing all the product knowledge, expert services and other goodies you provide, they deliver a compelling pitch on how they can save your customer money. Suddenly, you’re on the defensive.

Wait, you don’t believe this can happen? Let me reference you to Chapter 5 of The Challenger Sale, where authors Dixon and Adamson go step by step through the selling model W.W. Grainger unleashed on the Industrial sector. Basically, Grainger did an end around and created a new model for MRO purchasing which sent many incumbent salespeople scurrying to save their hard earned business.

Here’s my point, it is impossible to have a solid strategic plan at your account without covering the financial side of the customer.

Every account has a person who is compensated by bottom line profitability. It could be the profitability of the company, a single plant or (as is sometimes the case) a single production line or product category; but somewhere there is a person responsible for money. For the sake of our argument, let’s call this group of people Top Management. Ignoring this potential relationship with the upper level folks borders somewhere between stupidity and travesty in the making.

Here are three things to ponder on dealing with this type of customer contact:

• They are extremely busy. Be prepared to impress with the few minutes they give you.

• Financial folks really don’t understand your product. And, they don’t really care for a tutorial. Instead, they want to understand the financial impact of the ideas, solutions and services you bring to their organizations.

• Most of these people complain their technical people don’t truly understand all of the financial ramifications of their actions. So if you’ve been counting on others to share your high end value story, it probably is not working.

We need to establish a relationship with management. There are a number of strategies for setting up meetings with this type of person. We won’t go into all of them, but here are a couple of my favorites.

Set up an introductory interview
Note the word interview, as opposed to a sales call. In this meeting we quickly introduce ourselves as a supplier of critical goods and services to their organization. Then, launch into a few well selected questions on market conditions affecting their company, difficulty finding technically qualified new people, issues impacting their bottom line and their view of the future. That’s it. No selling, no elaborate product demos, no elaborate mission statement presentations.  

Set up customer satisfaction review

In this instance, you essentially thank the management guy for previous business. Let them know you are working to assist in getting the most bang for their buck and ask for feedback on how the whole thing might have worked better. Again, no selling.

But this is not a "one and done" process.

After these first meetings, find an excuse to arrange a similar type of meeting every few months. Being respectful of their time, these meetings should be short and sweet, with lots of opportunity for the customer’s top brass to give you their feedback. If possible, introduce your organizations leadership to the customer’s high ranking management.

We believe this management level dialog should be an ongoing part of your strategic plan. We’ve shortened the process for the sake of brevity.

Look forward to the details additional items in our upcoming book on strategic plans for accounts.

1 comment:

David Gordon said...

Frank - you are 100% correct re reaching out to management. Many salespeople feel intimidated with this type of conversation and this is a great way to get sales management / branch management / ownership involved into the account - helps on the relationship selling front.

Additionally, it's important to "follow the money" and identify each department that has funds that could be earmarked for "your" services ... safety, HR, training, maintenance, engineering, facility management, etc.