Salespeople who think major-account selling means beating out the competition make a fundamental error in judgement. Understanding the decision tree within an organization is the key. Major-account selling need not be a mysterious maze. Salespeople who aim for the big profits of major accounts need only follow a simple, six step guide that breaks down the complexity of selling to major accounts.
ONE: Understand the organization and find the key players.
To develop a clear vision about the company and its key players, keep two sets of files: one to keep track of the general account information -- Dun and Bradstreet reports, annual company reports, product literature and organization charts -- and a second file about the key players involved in the sale.
For example, in an engineering sale it is not enough to contact the design engineers and project managers. No matter how supportive these managers are, salespeople often find out too late that the head of quality assurance or procurement has veto power and may swing the sale into the hands of a competitor.
On every sales call, make a special effort to broaden your knowledge of the people in the organization. Carefully probe into the hidden connections between staff and line, engineering and purchasing, manufacturing and top management.
How can salespeople find their way through a large, multi-layered organization? Ask questions. Anyone who has knowledge about the company is fair game -- sales management, purchasing, distributors, suppliers or any company executive. Sometimes a visit to the local library can be very productive. Look up industry directories, search for articles about the company, look up key executives in Who's Who, find organizational relationships in the Directory of Corporate Affiliations, etc. Don't forget to check your own files on your major account.
TWO: Recognize individual decision styles.
Expand your understanding of the psychological makeup of the key decision makers. Evaluate one decision maker at a time. Ask yourself, "Is the purchasing manager forceful or passive, supportive or dominant? Does the financial officer need approval or does he avoid taking risks at all costs? Is the chief executive's decision driven by the need for short-term gains or long-term results?"
It may take several interviews before you recognize the true style of a key player. The composite picture of each decision style will fall into one of five distinct personality types: the avoider, the affiliator, the power-boss, the achiever or the manipulator.
Because, in a long term sale, there are a number of people in your own company who will have meetings with the client, it is important to assess the possible consequences of introducing your own company executives to key client decision makers.
THREE: Rank the importance of each decision maker.
People don't go around with signs etched on their foreheads that say, "I am a powerful decision maker" or "Everyone depends on my judgement." In every major sale, there is a core group of three or four decision makers who hold the key to your sale. These people are the most important and the most powerful to your sale.
How do you go about ranking the importance of each player in the client organization? There are four types of power at work that can advance or stop the decision making process:
TITLE POWER In some organizations, the decision making process is relegated to a low level of power where, for example, a regional manager has the authority to purchase a $100,000 computer network system. The same decision in another company is made at the Senior VP level at headquarters.
EXPERT POWER The purchase of a new and complex industrial machine may involve the services of an outside consultant who provides company management with special recommendations and requirements.
PERSONAL POWER The personal charisma, flair or personality dynamics of any executive can often alter the outcome of a group decision.
POLITICAL POWER All decisions are political decisions. Past power conflicts can make or break a decision. It can be advantageous to know that the chief financial officer has been reluctant to support the manufacturing manager's decision to modernize the plant too quickly.
To clearly visualize the importance of each decision maker, rank key players' power on a scale from one to ten, ten being the highest rank. For example, the VP of Manufacturing may rank # 7 in title power, # 5 in expert power, # 4 in personal power and # 9 in political power.
FOUR: Decision maker, influencer or facilitator?
In any organization there are three types of authority for advancing decisions:
a) Decision maker (DM) is anyone in a position with the authority to make a final decision. Decision makers have the power base to produce (continued on page 2)