A client expressed frustration about the fact that they had some customers who complained about product problems. Yet other clients, who used the same series of products, had no complaints. Why the difference?
As I was considering the possible answers to this riddle, I sat on a plane beside a self-described ‘CEO Consultant.’ He showed me an article he was writing on ‘Why CEO’s Fail’ – which I subsequently saw published – based on researching about 30 CEO’s who had failed in the last 10 years. One of the most persuasive things he said was that once a failed CEO resigned, many of the organizations quickly rebounded under a new CEO. It would seem the CEO was the difference.
Why CEO’s Fail
The consultant’s study of this phenomena lead him to a fairly simple conclusion. CEO’s don’t fail due to lack of strategy or a grand vision. They fail in execution: the mundane day-to-day details of how to get it done.
You are the CEO of Your Territory
The same is true of sales professionals and their account relationships. I was recently doing interviews for a client to determine why some customers had defected to the competition and others hadn’t. Many of the sales people at the company made reference to prior problems with the product. My investigation showed the only correlating variable to be (can you guess?) – the account manager. The difference between an account set with no history of product problems and those with enough dissatisfaction that they had gone over to the competition was – not the problems – but how the rep had handled the problems – the mundane details of account management.
Continuous contact, including contact after the sale:
1. Ensures satisfaction – the sale is done when the customer’s pain is gone.
2. Gives you the chance to address problems as they arise.
3. Provides warning of competitive attempts to penetrate.
4. Helps you find new opportunities.
5. Lets you take advantage of windows of opportunity, when the competition is vulnerable to displacement due to dissatisfaction.
Digging a Hole with a Bowling Ball
Why isn’t it done more often? The most common thing I hear is, “I don’t have time. I have to make this month’s number.” It’s the same reason people don’t exercise. It’s a false economy of time. It makes selling as hard as digging a hole with a bowling ball.
Here’s How to Make it Work
Triage your accounts into A, B, and C customers. I suggest using an estimate of potential lifetime value as the basis of the triage. The top 20% are “A’s” – the middle 60% are “B’s” – the bottom 20% are “C’s.” Then develop a contact plan for each tier – and put it on your calendar to do.
Dig Your Well before You’re Thirsty
A’s – Meet or call your main contact at least monthly. But don’t let a key account relationship dangle by the thread of a single relationship. Set goals to expand your contacts both vertically and horizontally. Map the account. Get an organization chart and put it on the wall. Highlight who you know in green. Pick new people to meet – especially senior people in new departments or divisions – use gold to highlight these people. Initiate and maintain executive relationships a level or two above your current contact level. Develop a personal plan to increase your value as a trusted advisor to these senior people. Read their trade press – know something about their business. Read their Annual Reports – know their company. Go to Google and search on their names – you’ll find most senior people on the Web – know them. In the end you should have breadth and depth in your personal relationships in the account and you should engineer relationships between your technical people and theirs and between your executives and theirs.
B’s – Meet or call your main contact at least quarterly. Develop one new contact in another functional area this quarter. If you call mainly on IT, then develop a contact in another department. Also set a goal to make a contact at least one level higher than your current contact.
C’s – I suggest taking a good look at these customers. As tough as it might sound, it’s often best to either fire them (burning bridges isn’t necessary or desired) or promote them to the next level.
The best reps learn there’s no use winning new accounts if you don’t retain them. They know they have to wisely spread their available time and attention across both new accounts and existing customers.
I think this is what Vince Lombardi meant when he said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” He was often chastised in the NFL for having a thin playbook. He wasn’t considered very creative. But he won.
Maintain a relentless focus on the fundamentals and a maniacal focus on the customer.