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Key Account Management: Is it about selling products or solving business problems?

wealth3Is your company selling at the right margins?  Are your Sales Executives product pushers or problem solvers? What’s the cost per sale? Do they talk price first and always need to sell at a discount? These are questions every business leader have to answer about the sales organization.

Have you ever seen a situation where sales people fulfil orders for the same client over an extended period and never stop to understand the strategic direction and priorities of the client, the issues they have to confront daily, or even engaging at the senior leadership level? Sadly, this is a very common practice. This approach to sales not only prevents your business from reaching its revenue potential, but it also denies some clients the opportunity to contemplate the different options (with your company) that could bring increased value. Very often, it’s not what you sell but how you sell – Sales Executives must raise the standard of conversation and engage at the strategic level. This could be the single differentiator between you and the competitor. At the end of the day, people buy from people they know and trust.

I will share with you some tips that will help your Key Account Managers utilize one aspect of the client-focused sales engagement process that is guaranteed to deliver results:

Demonstrate you know what drives your customers business – It shows you understand the big picture

Whether it be the car wash, the restaurant, the chemical manufacturer, or the blue chip company; they share the same objectives. They all want to make money at the lowest cost, do it efficiently and grow and protect their customer base. Put another way – Grow revenues and market share, lower operational costs and increase efficiency. Most decisions are prioritised around these pillars. With this in mind, can you visualise the opportunity cost (for your sales organization) of not resolving business issues? You must be able to uncover what’s critical to the survival of your client, connect the dots and create the opportunity for your product to be prioritised as part of the overall plan to ‘ Lower Operational Costs’.

So then, have your Key Account Managers earned the right to speak to the C-Suite? Can they engage a CEO or VP on business goals without talking about products? Do you think that this is even possible? Or, are they talking to implementers at the operational level only. All CEOs I speak with, welcome refreshing thought provoking conversations that help to fine-tune their own ideas. Remember they have the burden of the organization on their shoulder.

Take for example, the inventory manager of a medium sized company rescheduled your meeting with him at least three times before. However, he suddenly calls you back to explain that he needs a roadmap that will demonstrate a ROI that will help them save production costs in the next two years, while increasing accountability and efficiency. (What product have we spoken about so far?) You earned this new development because you researched the company and used your relationships to get a conversation with the CEO over coffee and he found your insights valuable. You connected with what was important to that CEO. He then reprioritised his Inventory Managers’ focus because he sees where implementing your scalable solution matched the mandate from the board, to cut cost by 20% in the next two years. That’s exactly what the board wants to hear. What’s better, talking to middle managers only or including CEOs in the conversation as well?

Ask great questions – This is where the money is made

Are your brochures the centre piece for client meetings? It should not be, because the buyer’s journey is not defined by a company’s internal sales process anymore. Also, features and benefit conversations are long gone. Today’s consumers are mobile, digitally driven, socially connected and empowered. Buyers are learning, comparing and doing peer reviews in the social space long before they engage a provider. This is a recommendation-based sales economy. After a buyer has read all the reviews about a product, what difference will the sales executive make?

The sales consultant uses insight selling to remove clutter, bring clarity and help the buyer put all the pieces together to match his/her unique situation. The consultant is the expert that has seen so many implementations in different types of businesses that they expand the client’s view of the solution. They use skilled questioning techniques to make a difference. The good old adage of open ended questioning still hold. However, they must be solid questions that seek to understand who, what, how, why among other things. Here are a few openers to get a good view of any situation:

  • What’s driving the need to do this now?
  • Who has the best understanding of how this fits into strategy?
  • Why is this not progressing as planned?
  • How does this affect your customers?

Listen keenly for clues. Things you need to know more about – this expands yours and the client’s view of the situation and/or solution:

  • Can you tell me more about …….?
  • What’s the impact if this is not resolved in the medium term?
  • Can you quantify the impact of late deliveries?
  • Have you ever thought about ……..?
  • What if you were to…….?

Questions such as these, help to shape the context in which the solution is to be considered and cause the customer to feel confident that you have a good grasp of their environment. When you genuinely stimulate thought provoking customer centred conversations, your customer will always seek your opinion before they make important moves. That could also include getting your opinion about what should be included in the next RFP they are thinking of doing. When you occupy the mindshare of your customer, exceeding sales targets is not a concern.

Published in Wealth Magazine 7th Anniversary Issue.

https://issuu.com/wealthmagja/docs/wealth_magazine__issuu_

Beverley Thompson is a B2B/B2C Consultant Sales Strategist and a 2015 Stevie Award Winner