By Saleh Al-Ben Saleh, Strategic Account Manager, Emerson
Expediting “inside” knowledge of your strategic account(s) is vital to realizing indisputable value for both you and your customer. Human interactions are invaluable to gaining this knowledge, but issues of location, time and logistics make accelerating these interactions a common challenge for SAMs.
Here I present a tactical approach that covers best practices showing human interactions success for one strategic account site, taking into consideration the following three key metrics likely to contribute to successfully accelerating human interactions (and, thus, inside knowledge) at a selected strategic account site:
- Interaction time with individual strategic account client(s) during a single day visit
- Relationships built/strengthened, quality of information gathered, initiatives/opportunities realized
- The number of potential touches created for future visits
Before getting started, let’s look at four facts we need to accept in order to understand the value of the approach I call “Once you’re in…you’re in.”
- Strategic accounts often have multiple scattered facilities, yet you only have eight hours per day to spend on a customer visit. So you should spend that time wisely, and by wisely I mean on valuable client touches.
- While most clients claim to have open arms to meet and explore business-related issues, the reality is that priority takes precedence, and planning for meetings is a time-consuming task for all parties.
- Even with a solid agenda, it will be difficult to facilitate several formal meetings on the same day at the same location.
- Unplanned, stand-up meetings can be just as important as well-prepared meetings — if they are executed in the right way, with the right talking points and objectives in hand.
Putting all the above points into the context of expediting “inside” knowledge of the client, we can agree that SAMs would be wise to leverage any planned customer meeting to generate additional valuable but unplanned meetings during a single customer site visit. Picture yourself jumping from one purposeful interaction to the next, all day long in the same place. This is the main reason I have chosen to call this this approach “Once you’re in…you’re in.”
It’s not that hard. On a typical customer visit, we probably have at least one scheduled meeting of between 30 minutes and two hours, out of a total of seven hours (the typical daily window for meetings). The challenge is to see how much of these seven hours we can use to create human interactions. I propose that the answer is “all of them” – if you prepare well, remain alert and act quickly.
The following six-step methodology has worked for me in my career as a SAM.
#1. Start with the “T.” The “T” stands for “them” in the “TUFA” concept, a process for building on your existing target customer profile or creating one if none exists. The “U” stands for us, “F” for fit and “A” for action. Your customer profile should include all information on your history with the customer, including past performance, ongoing initiatives, an organizational chart and a social chart. Make sure to compile a list of all gaps in your customer profile. All this intelligence should be written and organized in a way that will help you drive fruitful conversations with the targeted account clients. Pro tip: Make sure to use open-ended questions to allow more talking space for your clients.
#2. One planned meeting to get in. If you are calling on an established customer, start from the end and follow up on a hot topic(s) with your assigned focal point. If it is a new customer, you may need several exploratory meetings to identify the right people with whom to interface. In either case, once you have secured your meeting, you should be able to develop others for mutual benefit.
#3. Jump to the unplanned meeting. Through the profile you have developed in step one, and/or through your scheduled meeting(s) from step two, updates, initiatives and challenges will present themselves to you in one form or another. Whenever possible, seek to learn the champions of these items and ask to meet them while you are onsite. Most likely, you will be able to track them down for short, fruitful, stand-up meetings. Repeat this as many times as your schedule allows. After each interaction with a new champion, make sure always to exchange contact information, which you will need to schedule follow-up meetings.
#4. Think client and “walk the talk.” Eventually, a picture will emerge, and the potential for the next meeting will follow accordingly. Clients will frequently use three evaluation tools to decide whether or not they want to continue developing a relationship or not:
- How much you understand the business from the client perspective
- How well you can build mutually agreed-upon action plans for both sides
- How fast you are able to “walk the talk,” deliver as promised and follow up on other commitments as well
#5. Enhance the “T.” Make sure the gathered information in steps two, three and four are reflected on the profile you created in step one. Having an updated profile will allow you to see the big picture clearly, plan your next visit and identify the people you want to interface with either through planned or “spontaneous” meetings.
#6. Do the loop. Now start again from step one and move through the process again.
Once you capture the value from undertaking this process, you can draw imaginary lines between the steps, create additional steps and add “sub-steps” as needed. I think of this as a best-practice template, which I encourage you to adapt to best fit your circumstances.
When trying to expedite constructive human interactions within your strategic account clients, you must endeavor to find the “sweet spot” between formality and informality. If your process is overly formal, you risk missing out on potential customer touch points and slowing progress. If your process is overly informal, you may get more customer touches, but your conversations will be less constructive and new relationships much less “sticky.”
The goal is to have as many meetings as possible in a single day, continually leveraging the information gained from past interactions to garner new ones. When executed to perfection, you will move from unplanned meeting to unplanned meeting. Success is never guaranteed, but based on my experience, this approach will give you the best chance of expanding your customer footprint over the long haul.