With the way the economy has been going for the past several years, I have heard many sales people say that their strategy has been to focus on their current accounts and do everything they can to maintain their current levels of business from their established accounts.
This strategy is based on a fallacy; that these are not good times to pursue new business. I have recently heard many sales people say that they have 100% of the business from a particular account. That is their goal, and they have accomplished it. I have heard them say, “Sales from this account may be off this year.” “They are not buying as much because they are cutting back.” “There just is not as much business available from this account.”
Really? I always get nervous when I hear someone say they have 100% of the business from account X.
Let’s evaluate the possible problems with this reasoning. First, what does 100% mean? I know this sounds silly, but have you really thought about what it means? Do you get 100% from the individual person in the account with whom you are working, or from that division within the account? You should have a full understanding of just how deep the account is, as well as, how high in the account you are calling. How many different people are you working with in this account? If it is only one or two, you may be setting yourself up for a big surprise one day when your trusted friend within the account leaves, gets laid off, or reassigned to a different area. Y
ou may find that you are starting all over again with an account that you thought you had under control. Are you really calling at the right level within the account? Research has repeatedly demonstrated that sales people typically call two levels lower than they should. Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that you really do have 100% of the business, but you are working with the person within the account at a level below where the decision is made. What happens when your competitor calls at the higher level? You may find yourself in a bidding war where you are not the favorite. Your competition already has a head start, even if they are new to the account because they are calling at the higher level. Remember, your 100% is always at risk. Never slow down. Andy Grove, former Intel CEO, repeatedly stated that you have got to be paranoid. You have got to understand that even if you actually have 100% of the business you can’t take your loyal accounts for granted. Treat them as if you never really have them established. Always ask yourself the following questions:
- Why is this account buying from us? Who decides?
- How are we providing unique value?
- How can I add and reinforce the value?
- Do I truly have 100% of the business from this account? How do I know?
- What can I do to maintain my status as the favored supplier?
- Who else should I be working with in this account?
- What is happening in this account that could jeopardize my relationship?
These are just a few of the questions you should constantly ask yourself. There are others. Please send us any of your favorites not mentioned here. Treat every contact like it is your first call. Ask questions. Confirm assumptions. Above all, keep your eyes and ears open. Remain flexible. Be alert. Then, one day you may find that you actually do have 100% of the business.