Before you say, “Let’s set up some Target Accounts”

Nov. 16, 2010
“Let’s get together and set up some target accounts.” If you have been around distributor sales for any length of time, you have heard this said many, many times.

“Let’s get together and set up some target accounts.”

If you have been around distributor sales for any length of time, you have heard this said many, many times. You may have been the one who said it. Yet, target accounts are often a cause of disappointment, a source of frustration and, in the wrong setting, can cost you money and friends. The term “target account” means many things to many people; to some extent it may be categorized with love and beauty – easy to recognize but impossible to describe.

Today’s team selling, ultra-fast communications and screaming rate of new product introductions demand that we do not leave this to chance.

Let’s establish a vocabulary…
Before we talk target accounts, let’s lay out a basic vocabulary. Your target account isn’t my target. When discussing accounts, I use a double scale. The first measure is based on relationship defined as: Suspect, Prospect, Customer, Client, and Partner.

The second measure is estimated dollar potential defined as: A, B, C and D (A is largest and D is smallest). My best account is a “Partner with A potential.” Please note there is still no account labeled “target.”

So, where are the target accounts?
Target accounts should be set when a combination of focus and energy will produce results in a short time. I define “short time” as six months to one year and I define results as measurable. If you have serious concerns with this interval being too short, then I suggest you evaluate what you expect for measurable results. There may be accounts that you want to focus on for the next three years because they have gigantic potential, but I feel these belong somewhere besides in your target account list.

Ok, so what are some results we might expect…?
To reiterate, results need to be measurable. Here is a short list of results we might expect from the targeting process: Did we receive the first order for our product? Did we get our product on the engineering/plant/OEM specification? Did we receive an order for our brand new widget? Did we grow the business to the xxxx level? Did we conduct a training session for plant technicians that enable them to specify our product? Did we sign a contract for MRO supply?

You will note that I like easy to measure, non-subjective results. “Did we grow our relationship” is open to interpretation. “Did we receive Credit Card orders from ten people” is an easier, objective result to define. Using the vocabulary I have outlined, we can define account status, i.e. a move from prospect to customer, customer to client or client to partner.

Competing to be your target….
I believe we need to have a special reason to set a target account many salespeople set more targets than they can manage and spread their focus too thin. We want to see measurable results in a short time and we are willing to invest team work and focus to get them. Every target account has to be meaningful. Imagine them competing to be your target account, each one squealing “pick me, pick me.” Successful salespeople work through this competition in several ways, evaluating quick payoff against long term positioning, and commission dollars against future career moves.

A target with large dollar potential will excite your team, but as described before not every target has to be high-dollar potential. Energy may be directed toward a smaller potential to launch a brand new product line, build confidence for new support people or to block a key competitor. Sometimes targeting is about opportunity. You know the account had an issue with a competitive product, delivery, service or salesperson, so you swoop in for an easy score. Or, one of your favorite contacts has joined a new company (in a management position), you focus your resources and grab the account. Business shifts can also be good reason for a targeting process. A low potential “client” account is planning a major business expansion. Targeting them will position you and enhance your opportunity for added growth.

Working with others…
When I think of targeting, I think of teamwork. It’s not a must but it’s more fun (think Cisco and Poncho, Lone Ranger and Tonto, Mr. Ed and Wilbur). In most cases a single salesperson leads an ad hoc team which may consist of Product Specialists, Customer Service people, Reps and others. This is where the finesse comes into play. Let’s digress…imagine you’re a Pirate Captain. If you make sure there is booty for all you could become the next Great Buccaneer. If you don’t, eventually you walk the plank.

If you are the one doing the targeting, you need to make certain it will benefit everyone. Why should the rep help you? Why is this account important to the customer service person?

Reps often talk of distributors asking them to help move business from one distributor to another. Distributors talk of reps asking them to swap business. And while this does provide opportunity for you, the bigger question is: Why should they help you? And there may be good reasons, if you think through the situation and pre-sell it to your team. For example, if you are a distributor, a rep might help you convert business from another distributor to your own company if they understand that you are going to offer spare parts and stock backup that the other guy does not provide. In the same scenario you might expect support if you sell the manufacturer’s full product offering while the competing distributor sells only a small portion.

Don’t forget to provide celebration victories with your team. If you invest time in the targeting process there will be victories. Get the team on board, keep them on board, publish a play-by-play, celebrate victories and give credit for the score. Do this publicly! If you push the credit out to the other members, they will be more likely to give your accounts extra effort and assist with your future targets.

Once a target always a target?
Much of the targeting process is not organically driven (driven by management, distributor programs, marketing departments, etc). We often see target accounts that continue to exist on paper long after they cease to be real targets. This cheapens the targeting process. Good planning and a well executed process will eliminate some dead-end targets, but we should expect some targets to die. Expansions are canceled; corporate mandates change, local purchasing options and many other things alter the lay of the land. Abandon the defunct target and begin the process with another account. I would question the person who changes targets more than ten to 15 percent of the time, but by the same token, I would also question the person who never changes a target.

Once the target goal is reached the account should be graduated from the list and a new target selected. Notice I chose the word graduated not abandoned, the whole process is about moving accounts to the next level.

The targeting process never ends…
The target account process is a continual process. There are always under-achieving accounts, accounts with projects coming and new products that need to be positioned. The issue many face is that targeting has become an event rather than a process. In my mind targeting should be our socialization process. Whenever we gather with our coworkers we should automatically shift to targeting. To help you get started here is a quick start….

If you have read this and would like further ideas on what you can do to better focus your energy and efforts on a target account, please read “the target template” which is available for the asking at [email protected]. Frank Hurtte and River Heights Consulting are dedicated to helping distributors achieve more for their efforts. Frank has developed a very unique approach to thinking about Value Measurement. Contact Frank at 563-514-1104, [email protected] or visit