Please! Sell My Stuff!
Many years ago, I was a “buyer” for a large west coast food and beverage retailer and worked with almost every Consumer Products Company (CPG) in existence.
Although the product lines changed, the selling story from almost every company was pretty much the same – “This is a great product, look at the Nielsen data. We need to put it into all of your stores.”
I Don’t Care If You Don’t Care
During my time in retail, I had over 50 companies “calling on me”; however, I only spent time with about 5. The reason was simple: those suppliers were the ones that took the time to understand MY business, including my goals and objectives.
These were true customer/supplier partnerships. It wasn’t about just trying to fill my stores with their new items and line extensions. It was about growing their company’s business by helping me hit my objectives.
Not of Your Land
When I interviewed with my current employer, one of the interviewers (whom I’ve since become good friends with) looked at me in the middle of the interview and commented: “you have a good resume and experience, but I don’t think you’ll do well here”. When I asked why he felt this way he elaborated: “you were not raised in our system”. I looked at him for a moment, smiled and responded: “that’s actually the reason I’m going to be so successful”. Puzzled he looked back and asked: “how do you figure that?”. I looked at him and the other interviewers and said: “I think like a customer.”
He loved it, I got the job, and the rest, they say, is history.
All These Years and Still The Same
It’s been a long time since that job interview exchange; however, I haven’t stopped thinking like a customer.
I point this out because after all these years I still see a lot of account managers acting like they did when I was their customer – it’s all about them and their needs.
The Toughest Way To Make A Sale
Account management is one of the most rewarding but at the same time one of the toughest sales roles that exists. Teams have to walk the fine line between growing their business and building the customer relationship.
However, it doesn’t have to be hard. If every account manager followed three basic principles, growing the business and the customer relationship would simply be the byproduct of the normal course of business.
Account Management Principles
Principle 1: It is your job to understand the customer’s business better than the customer.
This is isn’t some sales platitude, it’s a fact.
I’ll let you in on a secret that most customers will not talk about: when I was a buyer, I was so busy just trying to keep the wheels on my own responsibilities I had no idea what most of my counterparts were working on.
If you really want to add value to your customer and grow your sales, intimately know the answers to the following questions:
- What is my customer’s organization trying to accomplish?
- What’s going on in:
- Their industry
- The general business environment
- The world
- What consumer trends or attitudes are/could affect their business?
- What is their competition doing?
- What are the goals and objectives of my specific call point?
- What barriers are preventing the customer from accomplishing the items in #5?
- What is going on in other departments that could affect my call point?
- How has my customer been trending over the last three years in terms of sales, profit and market share?
Principle 2: You are a consultant, not a salesperson.
Based on the information you gather in principle 1; what products, tools, and insights do you have that can help your account accomplish their goals?
This is where you look across your product portfolio and ask: what products/solutions are the right fit for what they are trying to do?
This takes a tremendous amount of discipline and courage because sometimes the right product may not be the new one that you’re getting a lot of pressure to sell in. In fact, sometimes the best product might be a competitor’s.
I know this sounds absolutely ludicrous, but you need to look at it this way. If you can become so invested in your customer’s business that you’d recommend a competitive product, who is that customer going to come to whenever they need advice and help meeting their goals.
Successful account management is a marathon, not a sprint. If you can build up so much credibility that your account wouldn’t even consider calling the competitor to discuss business, then over the long term you will win and grow your business.
A final thought on being a consultant: it’s not just about your product line.
What insights, research, and resources do you have that you can bring to bear on the customer? For example, early in my tenure with my current company, I worked with an incredible category manager. We used our data analysis systems to help my account spot trends across various packages and categories. We ultimately used this system to build a custom reporting tool that my call point had access to.
It was such a powerful analytical tool, that for the first time the customer got an honest view of how each company performed across his system. He started making better product decisions based on each item’s sales and as a result we essentially doubled our sales.
Speaking of data…
Principle 3: Data is a story, not a club.
Most account managers I see pack product presentations with page after page of syndicated data showing industry trends, category trends, and all kinds of other data.
What’s worse, the information is laid out in a nauseating array of pie charts, bar charts, graphs and trend lines. It’s a visual migraine.
This approach is equivalent to using data as a club to bludgeon your buyer into saying “yes”.
Data should never be used as a “blunt trauma weapon”. Rather, it should be a paintbrush that allows you to paint a story about your customer’s business and what you can do to help.
The key to this is present the data in a visually engaging manner using:
- Picture based illustrations
The key is to tell a story in which your customer becomes a hero because of your solution. The data supports how this story will unfold.
Account Management Is A Well Choreographed Effort
Rather than just a glorified salesperson, true account managers are consultants that approach their job in a well-choreographed manner, that ultimately leads to profit and revenue growth for both you and your customer.
Here’s the best part: because so few account managers approach the business in this manner, dedicating yourself to these principles will help you and your company stand out in a relatively short period of time.
Go out there and be exceptional. In doing so, you’ll become your customer’s and your company’s most valuable asset.
Good selling my friends.
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I’ve spent my entire life in the Fortune 500, and I want to share everything I wish I knew when I was younger in the hopes that you can find success far faster than I did.
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