The following is a refined list 20 rules of account development from Bill Caskey. I have picked only very practical to do lists.
Know All The Contacts.
But your knowledge of your client base is what gives you value as a company. If you leave the business tomorrow, and you can’t turn over your database to someone else to run your business, then you aren’t doing a good job of knowing your contacts. Software can help you do that, but it won’t think through it with you. What is your system to know all the contacts? Do you have an organizational chart handy of every one of your top accounts? Is it up to date? Don’t leave your database management up to anyone else.
2. Find Out What They Value. Find Their Pain.
People only put value on things that will fix a problem (relieve pain) or help them to a new future (gain). That’s it. If in your sales process, you aren’t finding out what their personal pain or interest is in solving the business problem, then you aren’t dealing with all of the pieces. It’s amazing how few times a sales person will ask the very simple question: “Why are you exploring this option?” or “What is your interest in all of this?” Our ego is too tied up in whether we’re going to get the business to worry about the motives of the very person with the check.
Also, understand that sometimes the pain hops on the table quickly. In other words, it is a conscious pain they have and by you asking a simple question, they will reveal it to you. But more often, their pain lies beneath their awareness. They don’t know what they don’t know. So you may have to enlighten and educate first, and then find out what problems they see, based on that education. It’s better to ask questions first and educate second. But when your product is off the awareness screen, educate first and query second.
I’ll give you a hint: A product focused approach will lead to externalization of the problem. You will end up in the 11th hour dealing with the wrong issues. 90% of the time, we work on the wrong issue, like pricing or GPO problems or others.
Work on the problem. Pain is never price. Don’t do what the amateur does—thinks the prospect’s pain is price. If it’s price, then the prospect wouldn’t buy anything. Figure out how to get to the pain.
Corollary—make your prospect “defend his pain” Never take his first answer as fact. He may feel obliged to share his surface-level challenges. Make him defend one level deeper. You don’t want “obligatory pain.” You want real pain.
3. Ask Permission To Broach Subject.
Always ask permission from a client to begin talking about other products. It may sound wimpy, but it really is a position of strength. If they don’t want to talk about it, or are not even open, you’re wasting your energy. Plus, once they say they are open, you can begin to find out “why” they’re open.
It sounds like this: “John, you and I have worked together for a while on ABC products, but we’ve never discussed DEF. Can I ask you a question? At some point, I’d like to share with you what other people are doing in that area. Would that be OK?” Or “In the event you want to do that, how would you suggest we set that up?”
Your attitude should be “I’m not bringing any value if I don’t at least bring to your attention areas that we might be able to solve problems for you. Then if you don’t see it as value, after we’ve gone through the process, I’m fine.”
4. Understand Their Business Issues.
Everyone is short on time. In sales, we vault over the questions we should ask to get to our favorite subject—our product. But what if our product is not your prospect’s favorite topic? His business and his personal life are his favorite topics. So why aren't you asking about those? “Tell me how your role has changed here in the past 5 years.” Or, “How do you see your job changing in the next 5 years?” Or, “What are the most critical issues facing you and your department (or your company) in the next few years?”
Be curious. Curiosity is a great characteristic to have. It brings energy to the relationship.
Usually, they can’t wait to tell you their issues, but only if you ask. Buying is emotional. What are the issues they’re grappling with: GPO? Labor? Compliance to other issues? What is your competitive strategy? There is the pain of staying the same and the pain of changing. If you can’t help them discover that the pain of current reality is more than the pain of changing, then change won’t be appetizing.
5. Know The Decision Dynamics.
Every company or organization’s decision making process is different. You can’t possibly apply the same template to each situation. The CFO doesn’t always make the decision. The CEO isn’t always the best person to start with. There are ‘decision dynamics’ within each account. Begin by taking a gut-feel assessment as you work with these people. Chances are it changes on a monthly or weekly basis anyway. Constant flux.
There is one way to look at it: there are some with AUTHORITY and some with INFLUENCE. Who has the authority to write the check or make the decision or sign the PO? On the other hand, who has the influence to persuade the authority figures? There are a lot of people in positions of influence that never make it to AUTHORITY positions. But they can kill your deal. Or, better, they can be your defensive line when the competition comes in to oust you. Are you going high, wide, and deep?
This is the area that goofs up most sellers. They lull themselves asleep thinking they know the decision process—but they don’t. Condition yourself to ask the question: “Sue, can I ask you this? What does the process look like around here when you prepare to make a change like this?”
6. Have Big Picture Meetings.
When is the last time you sat down with your clients and assessed the relationship? This could be a group meeting where you and they would talk nothing about product or services. You would talk about no ‘new business.’ It would be a talk about the relationship—from a high altitude view.
Big Picture Meetings are a good time to solidify your value, to understand what the next 12 months look like for them, and is also a chance for them to tell you any problems they see coming, either from you or things you can solve for them. This is a great way to get the lay-of-the-land and help you develop your client strategy (with their help).
Talk about how the relationship will grow. What it will take for that to happen. Also, ask the question: “What do I have to do to lose the business?” That’s a question few have the guts to ask, but try it and watch it work. Never be afraid to ask the question.
7. Stop Selling.
Account development is about solving additional problems—not selling more products. Your world will change when you begin to see that as the focus. Product companies are a dime-a-dozen. Process companies will always outperform them. Stop going in trying to sell someone on you or your services.
Start investigating what problems they have because you aren’t a part of their life.
8. Stay in Touch.
It’s hard to have an honest conversation with someone, or expect them to be open to new ideas if they never hear from you. We live a fast-paced life. Not enough time. Too many accounts. Too many contacts. Too many customer service activities and too few selling activities.
So use technology to do it for you. Have a fax newsletter that you send out monthly. Or have an email newsletter that brings value for your clients. If you’re a sales person, don’t wait on the company to fund it or to do it. You are the architect of your own destiny. There are trillions of bits of information out there. Why don’t you sift through them for your clients and make them the recipients of a monthly document? Remember brand extension. This is part of it. Staying in touch doesn’t mean atomic touch (you there in front of them). It could mean digital touch. It’s not like it used to be. You don’t have to write 50 letters and lick stamps. Be creative. Use technology to advance your success.
9. Understand How They Want to Buy.
Everyone has different methods by which they purchase. In some businesses, your prospect likes it direct. In other industries, they like it through a third party. If your company is set up to be flexible, understand how the buyer wants it. There’s only one way to know how they want it and that is to ask. Ask the simple, unassuming question: “Beverly, I’m not sure we’ll end up doing this, but in the event we do, how do you see yourself procuring this product?”
10. Deal With Problems Up Front.
This is huge, yet few want to talk about it. If you’re going to be successful in account development you must learn how to deal with problems before they happen. Here’s an example.
John (seller) has just presented his solution to the Chief of Anesthesia. The Chief loves it and is getting ready to present it to Purchasing. The Chief is enthusiastic and tells John not to worry, everything’s OK. But, John has been in sales for 20 years and knows better. He knows it’s never that easy. It is a contract compliant hospital so he needs to handle this problem upfront. He says to his prospect:
“Pete, I understand you love this product and believe it will solve a problem for you. But here’s what I’m afraid of. My experience tells me you’re going to walk into the purchasing office and get shot down so fast you won’t know what happened. They may see more pain in changing than in solving your problem. So we need to have a discussion about contract compliance issues and how you’re going to handle it when you get objections from purchasing.”
Then you must know the role your champion will have to take. You may have to help his purchasing department work through that process.
By bringing up the real problem up front, John isn’t hiding behind Pollyanna glasses. He is bringing up exactly what will happen. Now he and the VP can have an intelligent talk about their strategy. Deal with these issues up front…not after the fact.
Perhaps 50% of the time you can get it done at the Dr. Level, but there will be other times when by doing “rehearsing the Dr.” you will get it or at least raise your odds. And the truth is that there may be another 20% of the time it just won’t work.
But either way, it’s better than having the deal fall apart in the 11th hour because someone didn’t have the guts to bring up the topic back up stream.
11.Once They Are A Client, You Can Call On Anybody.
Once someone has purchased from you in a business-to-business setting, you have the unstated-permission to talk to anyone in the organization. Now, you may not want to leap around the person who is your contact, but part of your upfront agreement with your client is that you have access to anyone in the company.
Remember, you are in the business of helping your client discover and solve problems. That is your mission. Not to sell. Sometimes, those problems exist elsewhere in the company. You aren’t bringing much value if you aren’t calling everywhere. Be careful though that you don’t make people NOT OK. It’s all about how you think about your role in your client’s organization.
12.Meticulous In Your Communication.
This goes for both verbal and non-verbal. Be clear in your thoughts. Don’t ramble on and on. Be sensitive to their non-verbal cues. If you’re talking more than 30% of the time in a sales call, you’re out of control. Let them talk. It’s then that they tell you how to sell them and what problem they need solved.
Non-verbal communication is letter writing, emailing, faxing etc. As orchestrator of the deals you work on (especially in complex sales) you must be good at non-verbal. Go to letter writing schools. Learn how to present to groups. Learn how to outline your presentations. Leave room for them to give feedback and to tell you their problems. There’s nothing worse than having the best product but being unable to communicate the value you have. Or nothing worse than putting people to sleep during your presentation.
When you get through with a meeting, confirm it in writing or in email. Copy the appropriate people. Always refer back in those letters to the problem you have uncovered and how you’re trying to solve it. When you aren’t there, there is a meeting that happens that decides part of your fate. If your paperwork is there referencing the ‘pain’ you will fix, you have a chance.
13. Have An Upfront Agreement On New Products.
After you’ve asked your client permission to talk about new categories, do an upfront agreement.
“John, if you’re willing to talk about these new products, let’s do this. Why don’t I tell you a little about this product, maybe some of the benefits, and some of the problems it has solved for other companies? Then I’d like to ask you some questions about how this may or may not relate to you. Then if we get that far, we can talk about what the next step is. Is that appropriate?”
This does not mean you do that every call. This can also be done by email or letter. You have just oriented your prospect.
By doing the upfront agreement, you will have laid out exactly what’s going to happen in this discussion. This is no different than calling on new accounts. Make it safe for them to open up and tell you some of their challenges in your particular area.
14. Have A 30 Second Commercial For Every Category (Product).
Do you know the problems that each of your categories solve? If you don’t, ask someone—maybe a technical person or someone with experience. The wrong way to do this is, “These new flippits are really cool Ms. Smith. A lot of people are using them and you’d be an idiot if you didn’t buy them.”
The right way is, “Ms. Smith, I’m not so sure these are right for you. Let me tell you why people use these and what value they bring, and then you tell me if you want to go further and find out more. They help in areas A, B, and C. Before I go any further, tell me, can you relate to any of those areas?”
If they say, “No”, you must re-craft your 30 second commercial to be cleaner and more understandable. Or, they may not be a prospect.
Never assume your prospect knows all of the buzzwords of your industry. Recently, I read an article that told the story of 10 CFO’s in a room. And the question was posed “define ROI (return on investment).” In 10 answers, there were eight different definitions of ROI. You would think that such a simple concept—ROI—would be clear to everyone, especially CFO’s. That’s a good lesson for us all. Never assume that your prospect is as well-schooled as you are.
15. Problem Focused, Then Process Focused.
Always start with the problem that you and your client are trying to identify and fix. Then you can introduce the process you and he might go through to fix it. Then lastly, talk about what your products will do to solve that problem. Sometimes you must educate/enlighten first. But never enlighten from ego, enlighten from a service intent.
16. Never Be Quick To Quote a Current Client.
Just as you wouldn’t be quick to quote a prospect—the same goes for your current account. Many amateur sales people think that when a client calls and wants a quote on something, that we are in service to them by faxing a quote with no process. Wrong. You owe your client the very basics of the sales process. Take them through the process. “I’m happy to quote you. Can you tell me a little about where you are in the process and what you’re looking for?”
When someone makes the call to you asking for a quote, just remember they are 75% of the way down their process. That’s dangerous. Don’t get lazy and jump to the quote.