THE RIGHT PERSON Once a strategy is in place, strong re- lationships, meticulous follow-up, and the ability to adapt to the customer take precedence. The glue between it all: a seasoned sales professional with the right skills and demeanor. “The worst manager for a major account is a transactional person who is just there to close the deal and go on to the next sale at the next company. You need someone who nurtures the relationship regularly, who is an astute businessper- son, and is seen as a problem solver. The slick personality doesn’t play as well,” says our sales trainer. One national account executive, who describes herself as a good listener and mediator, says, “A lot of times, the IT and foodservice depart- ments in school districts don’t have the best relationship. One of my skills is being able to talk to both. In some instances, I’ve been able to accom- plish things foodservice has wanted for months or years.”

She considers the gift of crafting solutions for major accounts so crucial that both she and the company chair and CEO sit in on interviews of po- tential senior sales executives. “The major account has to have a high belief that the salesperson, whom they see as the company, has the wherewithal to deliver on promises. We value trust, work ethic, intensity, and integrity,” explains the account executive. The company also assigns major accounts outside normal ter- ritories. For example, an executive in Dallas may manage a major account in Birmingham – even though a junior person is in closer proximity. A major pharmaceutical manufac-

turer also structures its major accounts to better align the expertise of sales executives with the needs of its cus- tomers. In contrast to some other drug companies that divide major accounts by territory, the company assigns national account managers according to segments of the health care indus- try, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or national-chain drug stores. “They know the business of our

customers as well as or better than the customers do. Assigning them by state would probably not be the best way to have them be experts in all areas,” contends their vice president of ac- count management. In addition to an entrepreneurial mindset, people skills and the abil- ity to thrive in a matrix environment are musts at this big pharma. “All salespeople don’t report to the ac- count manager, so he or she needs to strategically link them to present an organized company,” says the company’s VP of account manage- ment. The company places such stock in personal relationships with major accounts that it gives them input in performance evaluations of national account managers and transfers sales executives only when necessary. “The national account managers are respon- sible for developing strategies and managing accounts for three to five years, so we’re very careful when we disturb that relationship,” he explains. That’s a lesson many other organiza- tions haven’t learned, he says. There’s also the trap of putting compensation in conflict with com- pany strategies. “The stated philos- ophy may be long-term relationships with major accounts, but then the companies haul in the salespeople every week to see what they’ve brought in. You can’t charge them with major account development and then hold them responsible for incremental daily sales. They can’t do both,” he says.


Another overlooked gold mine: pow- wows between senior executives of both companies. “In a lot of cases, president-to-president dialogue transcends anything the salesperson can do,” observes the VP. The catch: It can’t just be a meet-and-greet ses- sion. “The CEO has to be prepared, and that’s not done with a discussion in the car on the way to the meet- ing,” he says. In addition to regular contact, other senior executives meet quar-


terly with their counterparts at major accounts. “They help to cement re- lationships – not just from a business and delivery standpoint, but also on a personal level. And we use them to analyze what’s going well and what’s not,” he says.

Another necessity in growing major accounts is broadening the contact base. If the account manager has only one or two contacts, it’s easy to lose the account subtly. Competi- tors pick off one sale at a time until the customer finally decides to make a wholesale switch. A good test of the depth of a relationship: Have the salesperson draw an organizational chart from memory. “If he or she can’t tell how those people relate to one another – at least at the upper level – then he’s calling it a major ac- count but only visiting the purchasing agent,” says the sales expert. A favorite success story involves a salesperson who sold to a bank. Urged to meet as many people as possible and to understand both individual and departmental objec- tives, she expanded her contact list from just a few names to about 800. “She learned what the major account needed and aligned her employer’s resources to meet those needs. She took over that account by conquering one department at a time, and even- tually she became the major account rep,” he reports.

The icing on the cake is making

sure the major account knows what you’ve brought to the table. Trumpet cost savings, on-time implementa- tions, and the like in (at least) quar- terly written reports. Doing so docu- ments value and makes it easier to fend off competitors. “Don’t assume that just providing good service keeps business,” advises the expert. Putting it all together – anticipat- ing needs, working through chal- lenges, identifying opportunities, performing as expected, and docu- menting successes – ultimately builds a role as trusted advisor. And that is the bottom line for managing major accounts. 

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