This role is all about the salesperson’s ability to plan and manage the totality of his or her accounts. Given today’s competitive pressures and the trend toward establishing long-term relationships with a few select vendors, the ability to perform this role effectively can make or break a salesperson.
Star Consistent Cultivators are in a good position to enjoy several benefits, many of them revenue related:
Time to take on the more profitable accounts
A reputation for reviving dormant territories or accounts
Greater success at bringing in new accounts
The behaviors that indicate a salesperson is performing this role include the following.
Just as a lawyer or other professional needs to know how to run a business, a salesperson needs to be able to step back and take a look at how he or she is doing relative to the organization’s business objectives and his or her own goals.
The ability to be personally organized is crucial, especially if a salesperson has many small accounts. “In this industry, you don’t have two or three big customers,” said a salesperson for a computer equipment firm. Commenting about a colleague, he added, “He is extremely professional and exceptionally organized, and able to cover all the bases. At any time and any place you can ask him what is happening with such-and-such a customer, and he has got it at his fingertips.”
Creative ways to manage personal time cropped up in several examples. Commenting on her direct supervisor, one respondent said, “We have to meet stringent sales quotas. She tripled her sales by dividing up her time. She concentrated first on the orders that were easy to fill, and did those that were harder to fill after hours, when she could concentrate.”
Successful salespeople know where to focus their efforts. One woman who sells home furnishings had an idea to expand her business with a line of private label lamps. “She had an idea and followed all the way through with it,” a respondent said. “She took the initiative to work on pricing and quantity with the stores and the manufacturer, taking on the roles of both liaison and problem solver. The result was that she made the biggest sale in the history of our company.”
Although it might seem self-evident that a salesperson should target the most profitable accounts, it’s not uncommon for problem accounts to swallow up most of a salesperson’s time. “Sometimes,” said a salesperson for health care products in Mexico City, “you find yourself dedicating most of your time to your most difficult clients, and forgetting about the rest because they seem secure. You then lose contact with them and forget their needs. Then someone else can come in.”
An excellent way to solidify and expand your base is to have measurable evidence of your product’s success in an account. “With 15 years of relations with the customer, it was very easy to document our standing with end users in the firm,” said a salesperson of commercial printing services. “When a new manager threatened to take their business somewhere else, we were able to present testimonials, samples of work, and a short pricing structure to show him in quantifiable terms what he was getting. He ended up staying with us.”
Some salespeople are able to prosper by selling broadly and deeply into existing accounts. Others depend more on leads. One group of salespeople in an office services company had to get creative when a traditional source of leads dried up. “We dreamed up a contest to get referrals from local merchants,” the respondent said. “We set a goal of getting three referrals from each source, and it paid off.”
The following examples illustrate the negative behaviors that can undercut this role:
“Once the vendor had our business, they ignored us, never visited. No communication, not even by e-mail. Winning a bid is just the beginning of a long-term relationship. You have to feed it, maintain it.” (Buyer of computer equipment)
“We were going for a big contract. We did all the right things except that we bypassed one department. That one manager was able to get the contract canceled. And he bad-mouthed us throughout the region.” (Account executive)
“We haven’t really put a metric in place to determine the best clients to work with. We use a ‘this client just feels right for us’ approach. So I have a lot of proposals without any direction or boundaries. That’s me: too many irons in the fire, too many things going on with ‘potential,’ no way of prioritizing.” (Salesperson/account manager)
“We accepted an invitation to submit a proposal and spent more than $50,000 on it without knowing very much about the client. It was based on the false feeling that we needed the work. Needless to say, we didn’t get it. Later on, we realized we wouldn’t have wanted it.” (Salesperson, construction and engineering firm)
“Nobody in the company was focused on goals. They were performing ‘the illusion of work’—and waiting for customers to call them.” (Insurance salesperson)