Old Accounts – New Opportunities

Ah, the bottom of the barrel, err I mean the funnel.

Have you ever heard of the expensive Italian alcoholic beverage grappa? Grappa is a potent brandy that was first described to me as “the sludge left behind after the wine is poured out of the barrel.” This may be a stretch from an analogy point of view to the bottom of our sales funnel, but the point remains valid.

After you pour out your sales, don’t leave anything behind.

Like many of our white papers, the problem here is actually an opportunity. And in this case, it’s a golden opportunity ripe for the picking. We left off in our last article discussing how to accept purchase orders and walk them through your fulfillment process. As illustrated in the following figure, once that order is processed and delivered, you can churn your customer back through the funnel and into another sale. In fact, this layer is absolutely essential to the success of your sales career and your subsequent compensation level.

Account Maintenance layer

Recycling Sales Advantages

As our world has become vastly more environmentally conservative and focused on green initiatives and developed technologies to recycle just about anything, why not recycle your customers? Why not indeed. This recycling program is beneficial to both you and your customers.

Sales Recycling Advantages For Your Customer

In the beginning of your relationship with your customer, they spent a lot of time, energy, and money thoroughly reviewing what you were offering and comparing it to your competition. Think of all the time they spent with you and in reviewing your offerings. Now multiply that by at least three to account for competition analysis.

After a few successful sales cycles, however, your customer begins to become loyal to you and short circuits the sales funnel by trimming out the top two layers and actually coming to you with new opportunities. Think how easy it would be to call on a customer that you’ve saved a million dollars for and say something like, “Tom, we have just finished a complementary product to our Widget line that should offer you similar savings potential, would you be available next week for a visit?” You’ll win that appointment every time.

I’m fond of saying that as long as your boss is ethical and responsible; your job description can be summed up in five words, “make your boss look good.” In sales, your customer is your boss. If you make them look good, they get rewarded and will be grateful to you – in fact they might become dependent on you.

Sales Recycling Advantages For You

A look at the short circuited sales funnel makes it quite clear what your advantages are in this layer. You don’t have to ever qualify this customer again. Sure you might have to qualify their opportunities to make sure they fit within your abilities, but that’s the fun part of sales.

You are able to leverage your past success into larger and more profitable endeavors because of the level of trust they now place in you. Trust is an awesome responsibility and you probably already know what I’m going to say next. Make sure that you don’t lose sight of keeping your client’s best interest at heart. While it may take years to build up this trust, one misstep and it can be lost in an instant.

Building trust is a funny thing. Let’s say that you deliver a brilliant solution for the first sales cycle and you’ve been rewarded for that by receiving a follow-on order. Now, you find out that delivery of raw materials is delayed by three weeks and you are going to fumble delivery on this second order. By placing the customer call early and explaining what happened (and taking responsibility for it), you will actually continue to build that trust and not shatter it. Will they be happy about the schedule slip, probably not, but they will trust that you are honest and that your quality is worth the extra wait.

Sales Recycling Steps

It’s difficult to put together a generalized chronological series of steps for recycling customers through the sales funnel because of industry and company specific issues, but we’ll take a crack at outlining the basic components here in no real particular order.

  • Wait until the first sale comes to a successful close. This item is really paramount. How can your customer trust you if you haven’t delivered anything yet? Once one sale is successful, however, feel free to run wild in series rather than in parallel with future orders.
  • Have a written account maintenance plan for each account. It can be as simple as having a spreadsheet with the following items:
    • problems you’ve uncovered or at least have a sense of. This will be easier and easier as you become more familiar with your client and they invite you into their inner sanctum.
    • possible solutions that you have related to problems you know about. These solutions should match up with the problems or potential problems that you listed from the above bullet.
    • possible solutions that you have to problems you don’t know about. This is the old “answer searching for a question” that everyone will tell you is crazy – ignore them. Let your customers know of new technologies you’ve developed even if you don’t know of an immediate need for it. This is one of the beauties of having a trusting foundation to build upon. You could never just cold call someone and blab on and on about new technologies, but if they have a reason to trust you, they’ll at least listen and see if they might have a fit for it. This is a key item here; you might want to re-read it.
  • Get to know as many people as possible in their organization, keep asking questions about what keeps them up at night. Dig, dig, and dig. You now have an enormous advantage over your competition that is trying to cold call their way in the door.
  • Ask to spend the day at their plant using your product. You want to be treated like a floor engineer or technician, on the line in production. This will provide you with three key advantages.
    1. It is a great way for you to uncover new problems or at least make your product more user friendly.
    2. It gives you a golden opportunity to talk to the technicians on the front line who are actually using your product every day. This is invaluable information that is extremely difficult to gather any other way. How often do you see a technician in a brainstorming session? Sadly, hardly ever.
    3. It will give your customer a true sense that you are willing and able to make continuous improvement in your products and that your customer service is unparalleled.
  • Anticipate when your customer will need to reorder. If their typical order cycle is once every six months, your competition is probably calling on them every six months. You need to call in five months to secure the reorder before the competition has a chance to even bid on it. You can also offer a discount if they agree to be set up on an automatic reordering program.
  • Try to stay on the top of their minds. This can be done through numerous media, some of the most commonly used are:
    • Monthly newsletters
    • RSS feeds on blogs
    • Press releases to sources that they read
    • Sending them items of interest when you happen to come across them (I’ve been know to track my customer’s industries closer than they do so that I can send them ‘breaking news items’ before they hear about them)
    • Sending them unexpected small gifts (for example I have a client that loves Skyline Chili, when I’m out in the Cincinnati area, I pick up a case for him)
    • Conference talks
    • Trade shows
    • Journal papers
  • After you’re really engrained (and you might only have one or two clients in your sales funnel that you could do this to), set up a visit to them and their entire technical team. This visit will consist of the following two conversations:
    • You pitch new or unused technologies and let them percolate in their minds, just seeking for a problem to be solved. This goes against almost any sales writings that you will read, but I’ve seen it work time and time again – but I’ll repeat that you only should do this with your very best customers. The conversations that will start from your presentation can last for hours.
    • You sit there while they talk about their problems that need to be solved. This is a little more difficult to pull out of them because they won’t be sure what you want to hear, and no one likes to openly admit their problems and issues.
  • Reward repeat buyers. This isn’t something that I typically recommend doing unless it’s in retail or consumer services (think hotels). Your product or service doesn’t lose value just because someone ordered it a third time. I’d try to steer clear of this one. You’ll be giving up margin and setting up a dangerous precedent for future dealings.
  • Provide great service. This should go without saying. I’ll illustrate with a simple example. Say that you provide raw material. When you ship it, you put the MSDS along with the packing slip in a sealed plastic envelop on the outside of your shipping container. Mr. Customer calls and says “you didn’t send me an MSDS” even though you know it’s true, you don’t respond “it should have been with the packing slip”, rather you say “would you like it faxed or emailed to you Mr. Customer?”
Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a comment ↓

There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge