Strategic accounts can be a double-edged sword – big assets but big headaches. These large accounts typically bring in a significant portion of revenue, especially for small or medium-size businesses. Yet acquiring and maintaining these accounts can consume costly resources.
In addition, over the last decade, acquiring strategic accounts has been increasingly difficult, says Jonathan Yaron, CEO of Enigma, a software developer for the maintenance, repair, and overhaul industry. His sales team’s top challenge in major-account selling today: getting the attention of senior management. “It is close to impossible,” he says.
While grabbing the attention of the C-suite has always taken skill and persistence, the effort was rarely necessary back when the middle managers of large companies had the authority to sign off on multimillion-dollar purchases. “In 2001, we began to see a decline in the authority of middle management. In 2008, there was a big drop – no one wanted to make a decision on anything, and no one was championing big-ticket purchases, because they were afraid for their jobs,” Yaron recalls. Today, the level of scrutiny on major purchases is more intense than ever before and done at a higher level.
In response, Enigma has been teaming in part with strategic partners such as Oracle and SAP, who, by virtue of their size, are typically able to secure consistent meetings with senior managers. Enigma’s most successful approach to acquiring major accounts, however, has been to go in with a smaller solution for a single department, region, or division and grow it from the inside.
“We repackaged our offering to make it more an out-of-the-box solution, which enabled us to reduce the price below the threshold where it needed the attention of senior managers,” Yaron says. “In the past, customers would fully customize our software, and IT would be involved in making every little decision. Now it’s out-of-the-box, and business processes are packaged in.”
This approach has vastly reduced the time and effort needed to sell and launch an account. Previously, after Enigma reps closed a major contract, the software provider would spend about six months working up what it calls a Detailed Design, including minute explanations and graphic depictions of the system and how it would be implemented. Implementation then took another 12 to 15 months.
Today, a one- to two-page, precontract Statement of Work shows how the Enigma product will be integrated with the client’s existing system. Implementation takes about three months. Customers pay about 10 percent of the previous purchase price – but they typically don’t need senior management to bless that purchase, says Yaron.
That doesn’t mean sales reps no longer go after major accounts; it means they take a different approach to doing so. From that initial sale, sales reps can expand the offering to other divisions within the company, ultimately growing the client into a strategic customer.
Consider Toshiba America Medical Systems, an Enigma client. “Eight years ago, I’d go to the global headquarters of Toshiba Medical and do about a four to five million dollar piece of business. It would take about two years, and I’d need to get senior management involved,” Yaron explains. “Today, I wouldn’t even try. Today, I’d go to a subsidiary in North America and sell 5 to 10 percent the size of that deal to just that subsidiary. When I do well with them, it will mushroom to other divisions.”
Eventually, he adds, the rep will close the same $4 million to $5 million in business; he or she will simply do it division by division with the approval of middle management at each point rather than in a single, more protracted sale to top leaders.
Founded in 1992, Enigma develops software for the maintenance, repair, and overhaul industry, as well as electronic-parts catalogs that are widely used in original-equipment manufacturer-dealer networks and field-service operations. Enigma software is used in a variety of industries, including aviation, automotive, rail, and medical device. The company is headquartered in Burlington, MA, and has a development team in Tel Aviv and offices in Tokyo, Tel Aviv, San Francisco, Chicago, Stockholm, Singapore, and London.
About 50 to 60 percent of the company’s revenue comes from domestic sales; the remainder comes from international sales, mostly in Europe and Asia.