Developing Accounts

Acquiring clients is one thing, but continuously developing the business with them is another. A systematic account development plan that incorporates the sales team, sales tools and sales fi gures is not only useful for customer relationship management but also provides clarity about your own goals.

What do we want to achieve with this particular account? Until when? What value does the account provide? In which segment of the market is it? These are among the questions every sales organization has to ask itself while planning the business with existing clients.

Customer development plans are not usually systematic but, rather, intuitional and action driven. They are made to fulfill short-term goals. A more strategic account development approach — which should be the task of every company manager and sales manger — could combine marketing tools, basic market data and precise customer analysis figures. A strategic customer development plan provides a sound platform to guide cooperation with existing (and potential) clients; simultaneously, it defi nes the framework of sales/marketing activities of the sales team.

I recommend openly discussing the account development plan with the account. The plan can help facilitate agreement on business targets and develop long-term perspectives with the account. It provides an understanding of the customer’s environment and what could be done to strengthen its position in the market or a particular market segment. By doing so, the sales position is strengthened.

Honestly, I believe a plan like this won’t work unless it is done with the client’s input. Seven simple but detailed steps of customer development provide a road map (Table). The plan takes a lot of work and needs to be done where the return on investment is highest. This is especially useful for A-clients (or key accounts), where the outcome of this strategy can be predicted more precisely.

Surprisingly, very few companies do it. Mostly, a general marketing campaign is rolled out for the year, and all sales tools and activities are sprinkled randomly over the market without any knowledge of market data or individual customer needs. Much energy is lost on the B and C levels. To be successful, the customer development plan must follow the win-win principle where both sides profit from added value concepts. These added values must be demonstrated to the decision-makers who have the most infl uence on the account’s purchasing behavior. Decision-makers not only infl uence the “buying aspect,” but they also know the needs and internal values of the account best. They also influence the “value aspect.”

Close communication with decision-makers helps answer the following three key questions:

  1. How do I link my own sales targets with the goals of my top client to establish a long-term relationship?
  2. Does the client fi t my plans at all (so a long-term relationship makes sense)?
  3. Which benefi ts/values (exactly) can I expect from this particular customer relationship?

The key to this approach is an in-depth understanding of the role of the sales team. Only the sales team can help the organization move from a product-orientated to a customer-orientated thinking. Only the sales team can establish a win-win situation and a fl ow of benefi ts in both directions between an organization and its customers. Therefore, it is crucial to observe and decide who in the sales team is able to build a good relationship with a particular account. The better that relationship, the bigger the chances for good cooperation with the account.

Seven steps of account development with precision

1. Define your own sales strategy.

2. Present your targets to the client.

3. Share an extensive and detailed customer analysis (position in market, competitors, potentials,

relation to other markets, strengths, weaknesses).

4. Develop an individual, extendable, added-value concept.

5. Define claims for benefits and needs.

6. Build and evaluate a network of relationships, and establish a contact strategy.

7. Design and supervise an implementation plan to incorporate the sales team and other company assets.

 

Read on FeedStuffs Oct 20 2008