Key Account Management

Cover The Bases

To succeed in key account management we must make lots of contacts and talk to lots of people within the account. One of the ways customers reduce risk is to ensure that as many of their people as possible are in favour of the decision.

This means that we must avoid the usual approach of building the sale around those we have known the longest, or can contact most easily, or who like us the most, and ignoring everyone else.

In any key account there are multiple influencers, blockers and helpers. Each of these buyers must be identified and analysed.

No two accounts are the same and no organisation chart can tell you who the real decision makers are. You need to build up a network within the organisation to help you find out and breathe life into your approach.

Think of a sale you’re working on now. Ask yourself who the key players are. Who has the ear of top management? Who must you get on your side? What are the politics? How do you analyse all of these people?

The best way to map the account is to analyse the people in terms of the roles they play in the purchase. Typically there is one financial buyer, several user buyers, an internal adviser and perhaps a consultant.

The financial buyer

This is usually one person who has the authority to release funds for this purchase. The role will move up and down the organisation, depending on perceived risk.

If risk issues are high for the customer then the financial buyer will probably be top management. However, if risk issues are smaller, it could be a departmental manager or even a user manager.

A common mistake when planning the entry strategy for a major sale is to go straight to the financial buyer. This approach comes from sales training, which stresses that you should always see the ultimate decision maker. This is fine for small sales because the ultimate decision maker is further down the organisation, but for key accounts it is not always sound advice.

What do you say when you’re there?

Let’s take an extreme example to make this point. Suppose you have targeted ICI as a potential account. Through a combination of dazzling telephone skills and digital marketing you get an appointment with the chief executive. There you are in front of his desk – what are you going to say? ‘We’ve got the best product, the best terms, the best service – buy from us!’

Your embarrassment would be acute. As a rule, don’t stand in front of top management until you’ve got numbers to indicate how you can improve their business.

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