Account Penetration is a Process, Not a Thing

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 31-01-2007

Last year our company determined the best use of our resources would be spent creating a new inside sales team instead of bringing on another outside sale rep.   I applauded that decision (especially since that team would come under my direction and coaching!) and immediately set to writing a training manual for the new inside sales (tele-sales) team.  I knew that my new candidates most likely will not have experience in the office products industry so I naturally began from the beginning drawing upon my twenty-two plus years of experience.  The manual is very structured by design to give them the necessary knowledge and tools to perform their job in such a way to meet my high expectations.  One of the areas I concentrate specifically on is account penetration.  This term means different things to different people, perhaps it is because of their lack of complete understanding of this concept.  Many will define account penetration as a THING.  A thing it is NOT, it is a PROCESS.  Sales is a process and account penetration is also a process.   An extremely important process especially in the office products industry.  I would wager that most dealers miss at least fifty percent of their customers business by not following a structured process of account penetration.  They become very comfortable with only a small piece of the customers business and fail to identify new business opportunities because they didn’t follow a defined PROCESS.

Take a moment and freshen up your coffee, close your office door and place your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb”, grab a pen and pad and take some notes.  The first part of this process begins with the sales team taking responsibility of the account.  The growth and relationship building process is the responsibility of each sales team member, not marketing, not warehouse or customer service or managment.  This responsibility comes in the form of accurate and timely communications and reporting between them and the company.  They must accept responsibility of the growth of the account.  By being deligent to the process you will soon overcome the 80/20 rule that we are all to aware of.  These activities require their direct involvement and is a critical part of the next process, the relationship

The process of developing a meaningful relationship with the customer will bring you more rewards and loyalty than you can imagine and is probably the single most important part of the sales and account penetration process.  Building a meaningful relationship means the rep must learn to stop doing all the talking and start listening.  Ask open ended questions that require more than a simple “yes” or “no” response.  These questions begin with words like “who”, “what”, “how”, “where”, “when”, and “how”.  This skill can be easily developed by utilizing role-playing scenerios.  The training I give my new hires lasts nearly two weeks.  You may think you don’t have the time for this but truthfully you can’t afford not to make the time.  Why does it take so long?  Simple.  I spend a lot of time doing role-play, practicing different situations, recording their responses and offering constructive criticism.  We pratice until they can reply to the objections with their eyes closed.  When I turn them loose on the phones I record their calls and we have meetings to discuss the good, and the bad.  We will continue to role-play until they are comfortable and fluid in their delivery. 

The next process is understand the customers business, how it is organized, who their competitors are, their corporate goals and identify any specific needs.  Once this is accomplished demonstrate how your organization can meet those needs with your products and services.  Educate them on your “value proposition”.

Next is simply know all the equipment in your customers office.  How old it is, what condition it is in and how satisified they are with the function and cost of operation.  Demonstrate any cost savings available with either new equipment upgrades or different consumable options such as remanufactured toners or non OEM brands.

Articulate your strengths.  You may have CSR’s with exceptional product knowledge, technicians with specific expertise, or management with previous experiences in their industry.  Use these strengths and make team calls to the customer to aid in the development of the relationship. 

Do not be intimidated by the customer or the competition.  You are a professional, you know the competition and you know how to best service the customer.  You have years or even decades of experience that your “big box” competitors don’t.  Customers are in desperate need of personal service and you are in the driver’s seat in this respect.  Show the customer the “value” of doing business you with company.

CRM, Customer Relationhip Management software.  There are many useful, functional packages on the market today that can be an asset to your business.  I insist on accurate documentation and call history on every account.  Hosted (off site) solutions are particularly valuable since they will allow your outside sales team to enter this information via a laptop or home computer via the internet.   They also have a lower start up cost.  Onsite solutions are costly but may offer some connectivity to your back-office systems for greater reporting capabilities.  Take the time to throughly investigate these solutions and how they can be applied to your needs.

The processes outlined here will give you a good start on developing your own system of account penetration.  Ask your customer lots of questions, identify your opportunities, listen, listen, listen.  Then take ownership of the account and give them a unique customer experience as a end result of your process.  Customer service is worthless by itself but a unique customer experience will give you a loyal customer for years to come.  You can’t put a price on loyalty.

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