Account Assessment: The Most Important Questions

Account Assessment: The Most Important Questions

The most important questions and the ones that will be unique compared to competitors, are questions like: Which parts of your business are most critical to you?  Where do you see yourself in three to five years?  Are there areas of business that you might either reduce or grow?  What kinds of challenges do you worry about?  What would you like to see from a top supplier?”

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As we discussed in my last column in the 2nd Quarter issue, gathering certain data about an account can be useful. Knowing the number of employees and total annual sales can provide a productivity ratio.

The number of service trucks and the annual revenue per truck can help you determine how much business you could have. A single full-time comfort advisor can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment, accessory, supplies and materials business.

You may be one of those distributors who have tasked their territory managers to gather lots of data about your dealers and put a very nice spreadsheet together with all of that information. It sits there quietly, like a genie in a magic lamp, waiting for someone to wish it to do something.

Let’s take a look at how the typical account analysis process can be enhanced to not only gather information but be vital in establishing a higher level of business relationship that can help you create profitable business growth.

Let’s assume you are calling on a new account. You don’t have any previous information that could lead you to make certain judgments about your potential for growth. Your new account doesn’t have any information about you either. A clean slate both ways.

You’re about to make your first call. What do you say when you call to introduce yourself and ask for an appointment? What are you planning to do when you meet? You have one shot to make that first impression and that call will likely set the tone for your future relationship.

This is a big deal and should never be treated casually. On my coaching calls with territory managers I see the usual — she or he brings in their line card, the current hot sheet, maybe some price sheet updates and a smile. The contractor principal, however, has been through this dance a hundred times. In the end, handshakes seal just another buyer-seller agreement to do business the same way as everyone else, and get the same results as everyone else.

That is what you will get too, unless you think differently and then you act differently.

A Step Back

Before I suggest an alternative approach to this first call, let’s take a step back and consider these three ways of looking at the territory manager’s job.

Phil assumes his customers are very busy people with a good idea of what they want. He sees his role as being responsive to those needs by providing product information, responsive pricing and good support. 

Mary sees each customer as having unique goals and needs. She sees her role as finding out what those goals and needs are so she can customize her offerings for the customer, and also customize the support she provides.

Jim sees his territory as a small business, consisting of customers who vary greatly in potential. He sees his role as working with each customer in a way that optimizes his efforts to grow his business.

As you can see, each person has a different mindset about their role with their customers and will act according to their thinking.

Phil will respond with a price when asked, or literature. If the customer is busy, Phil will be responsible for rescheduling an appointment. His mindset is that his role is to provide a high level of customer service. If the growth of the territory is going to depend on the salesperson’s ability to change customer behavior, then Phil will not be doing things to create that growth.

Mary’s mindset is going to drive a different kind of selling behavior. She also does a good job taking care of the customer’s regular requirements, but she also knows she has to spend more of her selling time engaging the customer, probing for needs or for interest, proposing alternative scenarios. Two things happen when she does this. First, she gets information she can use to be more effective and, secondly, she builds relationships with her customers.  That’s how relationships are built — though dialog. Relationships require trust, and trust builds loyalty. Loyalty can result in gaining share or building sales at an account.       

That brings us to Jim. His idea is that his company handed him not a territory, but a business that he could manage the way he best saw fit to obtain the potential growth available. He sees himself not just as a salesperson, but as a manager. As a manager, it’s now his job to:

  • Assess the total potential of the territory. That means understanding how much business goes to competitors and how much growth potential exists in new opportunities.
  • Make a realistic assessment of how much of the business he could get under various scenarios.
  • Understand and rank the potential of each account.
  • Develop workable strategies to go after that growth.
  • Make hard time management decisions regarding how much time and effort he could devote to maintaining current business vs. pursuing new business with a limited number target accounts.
  • Develop and implement realistic plans that would drive his actions on a day-to-day basis.
  • Learn new skills and sales approaches, so he could influence his customers’ thinking and change their behavior.

What could it mean to a business if territory managers saw themselves actually as business managers, accountable for growth and responsible for assessing all of the variables that could impact growth? Would they start their day, every day, with a different goal in mind for each call? With Joe’s way of thinking in mind, let’s now take a look at how that first call on a new account might be set up.

The First Call

"Hi Bill, my name is Joe and I’m your territory manager for ACME Supply. I’m looking forward to working with you. I’d like to be as useful as I can possibly be to your company, and in order to do that I’d like to know as much as I can about how you do business, how you’re trying to move the company forward, and get your feelings on how a supplier like my company could be of help to you. Can we schedule a time to meet and talk about this?

Would you say this is a different approach than is usually taken, by territory managers from most companies? I’m pretty sure it is. This approach may also cause the customer to pause, wondering what this actually means. This is setting the stage for not just gathering information about the account, but for a mutual assessment of how each can work together toward mutual benefit.

Now let’s take a look at how the call might go.    

To get the dialog started, begin with simple questions such as:

Who does what?  How do you like to process orders?  How often do you like to see suppliers? How many of this and how many of that? Whom do you buy those from? Do they do a good job?         

But the most important questions and the ones that will be unique compared to competitors, are questions like:

  • Which parts of your business are most critical to you? 
  • Where do you see yourself in three to five years? 
  • Are there areas of business that you might either reduce or grow? 
  • What kinds of challenges do you worry about? 
  • What would you like to see from a top supplier?”

These questions lead into a different depth of discussion. Sure, the boilerplate data about what they buy and who else they buy from is important, but opening up a discussion on topics that are likely at the top of a business manager’s mind elevate the territory manager to his or her level. In this way the territory manager is assessing how much business might be available but, as importantly, is assessing if he can work with this account, and the manager/owner, to reach the goals he has for your territory’s growth.

This approach would be a terrific beginning to a new business relationship and of course you can be applied to existing accounts.

Change your thinking, change your behaviors and you can change your results.

Tom Piscitelli is the founder and principal of T.R.U.S.T. Training and Coaching, www.sellingtrust.com. For nearly 40 years, he has worked with HVAC and plumbing contractors, distributors, and manufacturers with a focus on increasing sales by creating effective customer relationships. Contact Tom at 1-425-985-4534 or [email protected].  

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