When you look at a key account company for your business, and then look at the various members of the account, you can quickly see the necessity to have your top executive team involved in the contact process at a high level.
Don’t leave the contact process to just one person in your business, particularly with the larger company accounts. Get multiple people from your team involved at different levels. Certainly have one key account manager as the point of main contact and coordination, but recognise the need to have your top people talking to their top people.
The higher the level of contact that you make with a key customer the greater the amount of information that is likely to be gleaned. They say that information is a valuable resource and that is very much the case in Key Account Development and Management. Capture and interpret information from all of your clients and start a master file on your database so all members of your account team can be made fully aware of critical information and current orders. Develop a sales attitude to match the needs of your Key Accounts.
Here are some ideas to help you with your client contact:
- Put a member of your team into the clients business for a week to see what they do and how you can help further with their business processes.
- Seed some ideas into the client’s processes where you can identify advantages for them. A simple graph or a set of statistics may be all that is required to attract their attention.
- Many clients will have priorities that are complex and driven from their business model and plan. Every six months or so look at your performance indicators for servicing the client; ensure that you are meeting their business needs and expectations.
A well-managed key client will lead to more new business, other orders and potential referral business.
One successful negotiation skill to be practiced and used today is that of ‘elaboration’. When a client or prospect is in negotiation with you, any hurdle or challenge should be explored by ‘elaboration’. Ask more questions of the client and get deeper into their issue or problem. Get them to talk.
Ask or drill down on 3 or 4 levels of questions on any negotiation problem. Seek to know more about the client before you want them to consider your points of negotiation or the transaction. It’s a strategy that is well worth practice and refinement.
From this approach there is a special result that is quite common known as the ‘Freudian Slip’. By asking questions you are encouraging the client to talk about their perspective; soon you will see them open up on the potential for agreement and the ultimate outcome that they seek in final satisfaction. You then know what you can negotiate on and the way to do it. You have something to work with.
So what can you do in this process of ‘elaboration’? Try some of these:
- Get more facts about the client as they see the potential transaction, sale, or deal. Facts can be explored further. Ask the client to tell you more.
- Ask the client for opinions about the situation of the deal and how it could match their situation.
- Get the client to talk about their targets and help them compare those targets to the market conditions and the supply of goods or services from their perspective.
- Questions can be directed towards ‘minor closes’. In that way you take the client closer to the main negotiation result. Any major negotiation is a series of small agreements in a logical order. Structure your pitch or presentation accordingly.
- Some clients get lost in the complexity of a transaction, sale, or negotiation; perhaps the market conditions are new to them. Make things simple. Identify if there is any lack of understanding on the clients part that could have an impact on your ultimate outcome. You will soon know if they really do not understand the reality of your produce and service supply.
Simple skills like this can help you with the negotiation techniques and strategies that directly suit the product or service that you are offering. I go back to the main point here. Get the facts from the client and then drill down deeper.
It may seem a bit strange but you can use stories of ‘failure’ as part of your sales pitch. By ‘failure’ I mean situations where other clients and prospects really made the wrong choices and suffered as a consequence. That simple illustration can help your current clients see the advantage of fresh new ideas and perhaps the recommendations made as part of your sales pitch today.
Clients don’t want to make mistakes. A ‘failure’ situation is actually something that can help your current clients move ahead in a positive way and in doing so avoid any poor decisions.
So here are the rules to the process:
- Tell stories from the market and provide real life facts and information.
- A failure situation is actually a valuable lesson to someone. Your current clients may appreciate that knowledge.
- Make connections between your current clients situation and the ‘failure event’ so they know that it is relevant and real.
- From the failure you can work up recommendations and alternatives. Every client likes to have a few alternatives to consider.
- Put yourself in the solution and in the story. Show the client the timeline to progress as you see it and break it up into stages of action. Small simple steps are the easy way to move through a problem.
It is fairly easy to pitch on a sale situation if you follow these rules. It is simple sales logic. The client doesn’t want to make a mistake; they will listen to you. You become the solution process. The depth of your recommendations and solutions will help the client move ahead. That’s how you can close on a sales pitch.
What is the value of a client to you in business terms? What does a high value client look like and where are they located? These are simple questions but they have a lot to do with where you can take your sales career. When you know the answers to the questions you will know how to build client collateral. That can then give you the foundation for better sales over time. That then leads to market share.
I like to call this ‘client awareness’; it comes from a close alignment with your clients and in any business this can be done quite easily. Here are some tips to help you do that effectively. It doesn’t matter if you work alone or in a large team of salespeople; the relationships with clients always come back to the individual.
The tips for building ‘client awareness’ are best summarised in this way:
- Start your day with client contact activities. Spend 3 hours interacting with your clients and prospects. The best way to do that will be by prospecting and by using a good database that feeds you information from the last contact cycle.
- Sell and service ‘upstream’ from current contacts. From your current clients there will be other levels of business to achieve or position for. Ask the questions at the right time and get to know the people upstream from your current clients and contacts. In major companies and corporations, relationships extend across cities and state boundaries. Have you asked the right questions to understand who the people are upstream? They will be managers, buyers, product controllers, sales managers, CEO’s, and similar key people. What can you do to get to know them?
- Understand the client experience and how it can be improved; this is especially the case with VIP clients. What do you do now to monitor your customer experiences? Can you create a ‘secret shopper’ strategy to see how a customer is treated in the business?
- Communication and timely responses are simple business practices, so don’t forget to do follow the rules accordingly. Many clients have stories of ‘being forgotten’ or ‘neglected’ in a sale or customer service situation.
- Know the clients business to a high level as well as all the people involved. It is remarkable just how relationships can frustrate a business deal. Without the ‘up line’ and ‘down line’ contacts under control, you will find the sale process slower and tougher. Whilst you may think you know the ‘key decision makers’ for a deal, understand what impact could occur through others involved in using or consuming your products or services. Your products and services will be assessed in a number of different ways by each of the stakeholders.
- ‘Seed ideas’ that can help the client move to a new level of results and service. One simple idea can open the door for better product or service coverage and performance.
- Bridging your ideas to the next level with new products and service – it is surprising just how much value the client can get from a simple display or product update.
- Benchmarking – this should always occur with clients in similar businesses and market segments. In this way you will know what you can do across client requirements and market segments.
- Tracking and measuring all aspects of the customer experience will help you see performance issues and changes. Over time you will want to find those problems before the client finds them.
- Comprehensive questioning of the client will help you drill down on the right information that affects your products and services.
- Keeping your promises on all orders and services will always be important.
So there are lots of things for you to do here. Get to know your clients in all ways and use that relationship for more leads and referral business. That’s how you will become a top salesperson
In sales today, many things will happen to distract your focus. Clients, market pressures, orders, seasonal changes in the market will all have an impact.
The only way to establish some progress is to track your sales results or ‘scores’. You don’t have to track a lot of things; only the ones that have meaning to your product and services. Small incremental increases in actions will compound your progress in sales.
So what can you track? If you have been working in a market or industry for some time you will already have facts and figures you can draw on. If you are new to a zone then you will need to develop assumptions based on real market trends; that will take research and investigation. Answer these questions in doing so:
- Where are the clients coming from?
- What are they looking for in obtaining service and supply of goods?
- How can you tap into the client segments in a regular way?
- What prospecting methods work better than others?
- How many prospecting calls are you making?
- What is the average unit of sale over the last 12 months?
- What is the average unit of commission or profit over the last 12 months?
- What is the volume of sales per person in your industry versus your business?
- How long does it take to connect with your clients and prospects at a level that you would regard as primed for new business activity?
- What’s your market share? How has that market share changed?
Questions like these help you move ahead. Success in professional sales today is a very personal thing. Results come from personal action and incremental improvements in doing so. Take action every day; that’s what sales success is all about.
When it comes to understanding your sales activity and opportunity you can learn a lot from looking back in sales history and forward in market potential. That then gives you the fuller picture of activity in your industry.
Let’s face facts; things do change. Your clients will have pressures, the economy will be fluctuating and the margins on your sales activity will vary. If prices can’t change, your margins are likely to. Constant tracking is required to stay ahead of the wave of sales and client opportunity.
Here are some tips to help you gather all the facts from the market:
- Define any problems that your clients could be suffering. Common problems are opportunities in disguise.
- Look into problem specific data to see what the impact may be on sales currently. A problem in any industry or market is likely to be the result of a number of things.
- Survey your clients to see and understand their industry and hurdles that they are struggling with.
- Identify what your competitors may be doing currently with their market share and their top clients.
- Find out what fellow salespeople may be experiencing with their clients and sales or orders.
- Understand any economic pressures that may be applying from the global and regional economy.
- Review the government pressures and legislation that may have relevance to your clients and their margins or operating standards.
- Are there any changes to consumer sentiment and if so how will that impact your industry and clients?
Top salespeople generally track and measure many factors from their area and industry. The history of sales and assumptions for the future can be very valuable as you seek to set your new marketing plans and territory targets.