It’s so common to see a senior executive on your team schmoozing with the best clients, seeming to rake in a huge amount of sales with relative ease, only because the relationship is just so good. It seems to be all golf, cigars, and scotch. Why can’t the rest of us get a shot at a key account every once in a while?
They take their key accounts for granted and neglect these absolutely priceless cornerstones of your business. Sometimes I hear people say “our business doesn’t really have key accounts” or “our product (such as real estate) isn’t really a key account type of transaction.” Unfortunately, so many salespeople fall prey to this type of thinking, to the detriment of their company and their bonus.
This topic is so, so so important, not only in sales, but in all aspects of both business, service, and product design. I cannot stress how important it is to know that key accounts are not just for corporate salespeople – they are for anyone who sells anything.
Today we will explore in detail what we know about key accounts, and the principles we can use to our advantage so we can gain an edge on our competition.
Fundamentally, a key account is a piece of business that warrants a unique and consistent approach to ensure it is managed properly in all areas of the company. For example, if you were a steel company, a key account for you could be a construction company who always goes to you for building steel they frequently need.
Why do we approach key accounts differently than other business? We approach them, or at least should approach them, differently than off-the-street or one-off business because we have or will have an established relationship with them that should be mutually beneficial.
But what if we don’t all sell something as clear cut as a steel girder, from our company directly to another company that needs to buy lots of it and buy it frequently? What if we don’t even have a relationship in the first place?
Often when we think about key accounts, salespeople think of them as the accounts they wished they had because they generate major sales or accounts only the most experienced and savvy account executives handle. While this can be true, its not all cigars and scotch between the old-boys club. Usually a lot of work has gone into those accounts over the years.
Traditionally, Key Accounts can be:
Since we can’t all handle only the best accounts, and our best accounts must come from somewhere, we need to look at pieces of business in a new way to find the gold we desperately need:
From a Modern Sales perspective, a Key Account can also be:
Does this person (or company) buy frequently enough, or have the capacity to buy lots of, what I’m selling? Is there opportunity to grow what we already have? Could they be the next major account?
Strategy, Strategy, Strategy! If you do not have a sales strategy, be sure to view my article here on how to develop a sales strategy that works for your goals. Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail. Ask yourself these key questions not just for potential key accounts, but really for all customers:
Using the answers to these questions, you can then tailor your approach to this customer to enhance your relationship for both parties involved. Your client will win because you fulfill all their needs and do it with shining excellence. You will win because the amount of buying they do will drastically increase if done properly.
Let’s say you were a real estate agent and you knew of a local property developer who built the majority of new homes in the area. At the moment, you only sell a handful at random when the opportunity presents itself, while a competitor of yours gets their foot in the door by selling the bulk of the developer’s listings before they are even completed building.
Establish contact with the developer, and note that she does a lot of work with your competition. Ask them why this is. Don’t be afraid to ask – asking is harmless and so key to sales! The client might say, “Your competitor reached out to us first, so long ago, when we first started. They make it so easy for us to list with them by doing all the legwork up front. They prepare the information before we even ask. Sometimes we feel like they take us for granted though…” OK, so that may be a bit more information than a client would likely share at first, but it works for an example.
By doing your homework on what your client needs, wants, and already gets, you can tailor your proposal offering to be perfect for them and show them that you can give them the attention they desire that will help them achieve their goals. Going back to the Steel Company example, this could be a specific line of beams that meet the growing needs of the construction client.
A tailored offering with meticulous attention to the client’s needs will ensure you win and keep winning with a key account.
Key Accounts are often the building blocks of a business plan, and if you’re part of an inside sales team, they can be your only clients at times. The key account relationship is PRICELESS. These are the companies you can gain the most from by front loading the work. When we customize our offering and proposals to them, they simply see it as an extension of their business. These clients will bring consistent revenue to your company by trusting in you, and will return with business in both good times and bad.
Finding out who your competition’s key accounts are and tempting them with a better solution, even for the same price, will allow you to gather and keep market and wallet share.
The 80/20 rule is a concept that 80% of your business will come from 20% of your clients. This exactly defines the key account relationship.
Now, with this in mind, ask yourself and your team: are we providing our most important accounts with the attention their business deserves?
Understanding who your key clients are and which clients could potentially become key clients, will allow you to hone in on their needs and give them exactly what they want with tailored solutions.
When your client’s problems become your problems; your solutions will become their answers.