How important is account management in relation to everything a sales leader needs to do?
Account management is essential. Here are some critical items:
- A chart of accounts. We create an account plan for each federal agency and purchasing group we deal with.
- An understanding of the customer roadmap; your goals, weaknesses. Look for new standards, new technologies, new requirements, and applications that they can’t do that will give patients a path ahead of competitors, or impact your business in other ways.
- Find ways to help them adapt to new business models. For example, the health care industry is moving from a payer to an outcome-based population model. Many health care providers are struggling with this. If you can help them through this transition; they are all ears.
- Align the two corporate roadmaps to understand how your products and services can help them address new requirements and methods of delivering care.
How is an account plan successfully implemented?
- Work with the client until you clearly understand what they are looking for. Talk to a wide range of people to understand the political landscape, price restrictions, and hot events.
- Understand your specific issues, workflow gaps, etc. See where you can provide a solution and even deliver more than they expected.
- Show them how they can meet market needs they didn’t know they could meet, through the benefits of your offering.
- Sometimes you need to partner with a third party to bridge the gap between your product’s capabilities and what the customer is looking for. Work effectively as a team and deliver it in a timely manner.
- Use experts and glowing references to establish the credibility of your approach. Secure clinical quotes from industry experts. Leverage third parties who support your strategy and solution.
- Find people within the customer network to guide you through the buying process.
What is the biggest challenge?
Receive an RFP when you haven’t met the customer. This means that you are coming from behind because another supplier was likely to have entered before you and influenced the decision criteria. If this happens, you need to get up to speed quickly. Quickly review the RFP, research your needs, talk to external partners, learn about the incumbent, understand historical maintenance cost, etc. And then decide if it’s worth investing the time and resources to pursue the opportunity.
How do you avoid being in that position?
It is critical to complete the “pre-work” mentioned above before the RFQ/RFP is submitted. In the medical industry, especially when it comes to government agencies, once the RFP is published, it is very difficult to influence it.
So you need to get in early and stay on top of what’s going on in the account at many levels.
- Find out who is involved in setting the requirements from different perspectives and who is on the selection committee. Secure access to each of them to understand and influence your requirements.
- At the corporate level; go to national meetings.
- In government accounts, like VA, there are tools to identify when an offer is posted. You need to know who administers the contracts and do your best to make sure your contract is up to date, and on the price list etc.
Early efforts can make the difference between winning and losing!
How important is it to sell internally?
This is as important as selling to the customer. You need internal support and therefore you need to approach this as you would any other sale, for example:
- Identify market opportunities or clinical applications that your company can address.
- Quantify them and create the business case. Look for the highest potential ROI.
- Compare the requirements with your product roadmap.
- Identify sponsors in your company to gain support for your proposal.
- Find resources to meet the new requirements.
- Present the business case and how to meet it to move the new requirements forward on the internal roadmap.
What was your most surprising victory?
We try to secure a contract with a large group of GPO purchases for 12 years. Every year they would renew with the current vendor and not really consider our products or competitors.
Finally, there was a new CEO. When the offer came out, we were not invited to participate. Although I don’t like going over someone’s head, I felt like it was our only option. I called the new CEO and explained that we were the market share leader and yet we had not been allowed to bid in the most recent bid. I asked, “Don’t you think the number one in the industry is worth at least taking a look at?” He said, “Okay, I’ll extend the offer for a few days, go ahead and submit your offer.”
We had 7 days to turn around a major offer. I had to marshal our internal resources. I involved all functions of the company; responding to your part of the RFP. We submitted the offer on time and we were exhausted.
We fly to the account for presentations and demonstrations. The opportunity represented the purchase of 50 ultrasound scanner installations: average price of $250K to $350K over the next year. It was an exhausting 3 day process. It all came down to the headline and us. Each of us had a final presentation and then we had to wait for them to come together and give us the results. When the representative from the buying group first went to the headline to tell him the results, I knew we had won…and we did!
The surprise was that we found a way to compete on an account that had been locked for 12 years.
What advice would you give account managers and their leadership teams?
- As one of my advisors told me a long time ago, “support a client when a sale isn’t on the line.” This includes: keeping promises, delivering equipment on time, helping them when they least expect it. This will allow you to earn the repeat business you need to be successful.
- Having an account plan and staying up to date is critical to making this happen in large accounts and complex sales environments.
- Finally, maintain integrity in everything you do. It builds long-term credibility, which is critical in strategic accounts with multi-year business relationships. When all else is equal, this will set you apart from the competition.