How important is account management- relative to everything that a sales leader needs to do?
Account management is critical. Here a few critical elements:
- An account plan. We create an account plan for each federal agency and buying group we deal with.
- An understanding of the customer’s roadmap; their goals, weaknesses. Look for new standards, new technology, new requirements and applications that they can’t perform that are causing them to give patients a way to competitors, or are impacting their business in other ways.
- Look for ways you can help them accommodate new business models. For example, the healthcare industry is moving from a payer to an outcome-based-population model. Many healthcare 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 for delivering care.
How do you successfully implement an account plan?
- Work with the customer until you clearly understand what they are looking for. Talk with a wide range of people to understand the political landscape, pricing constraints, and compelling events.
- Understand their specific problems, workflow gaps, etc. See where you can provide a solution and even deliver more than they expected.
- Show them how they can meet the needs in the market place they didn’t realize 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 capabilities and what the customer’s is looking for. Team effectively and deliver it in a timely manner.
- Use experts and luminary 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?
Receiving an RFP when you haven’t met the customer. This means you’re coming from behind because another vendor has likely been in before you and influenced the decision criteria. If this happens, you must get up to speed quickly. Quickly review the RFP, research their needs, talk with third-party partners, learn about the incumbent, understand the historical maintenance cost, etc. And then decide if it is worth investing the time and resources to pursue the opportunity.
How do you forestall being in that position?
It’s critical to complete the “pre-work” mentioned above before the RFQ/RFP goes out. In the medical industry- especially when dealing with a government agencies- once the RFP is released, it is very difficult to influence it.
So, you must get in early and stay on top of what is going on in the account at many levels.
- Find out who is involved in setting the requirements from the different perspectives and who is on the selection committee. Secure access to each of them to understand and influence their requirements.
- At the corporate level; go to national meetings.
- In government accounts, like the VA, there are tools to identify when a bid posts. You must know who administers the contracts and do everything you can to ensure your contract is current, and on the price list, etc.
Early efforts can make the difference between winning and losing!
How important is selling internally?
This is just as important as selling to the customer. You need internal support and so must 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 largest potential ROI.
- Compare the requirements to your product roadmap.
- Identify sponsors in your company to get support for your proposal.
- Find resources to meet the new requirements.
- Present the business case and how to deliver on it to move the new requirements up on the internal roadmap.
What was your most surprising win?
We tried to secure a contract with a large GPO buying group for 12 years. Each year they would renew with the current vendor and not really consider our products or competitors.
Finally, there was a new CEO. When the bid came out, they did not invite us to participate. Though I don’t like to go over someone’s head, I felt it was our only choice. I called the new CEO and explained that we were the market share leader and yet had not been allowed to bid in the most recent solicitation. I asked, “Don’t you think it’s worth it to at least take a look at number one in the industry?” He said, “OK, I will extend the bid by a few days, go ahead and submit your offer.”
We had 7 days to turn around a major bid. I had to rally our internal resources. I got every function in the company involved; responding to their part of the RFP. We submitted the bid on time, and we were exhausted.
We flew to the account to conduct presentations and demonstrations. The opportunity represented a 50 facility purchase of ultrasound scanners- average price $250K to $350K over the next year. It was a grueling 3-day process. It came down to the incumbent and us. We each had a final presentation and then had to wait for them to meet and give us the results. When the representative from the buying group went to the incumbent first to tell them the results, I knew we had won… and we did!
The surprise was that we found a way to compete in an account that we had been locked out of for 12 years.
What advice would you give to account managers and their leadership teams?
- As one of my advisors told me long ago, “support a customer when there’s no sale on the line.” This includes: delivering on promises, delivering equipment on time, helping them when they least expect it. This will earn you the repeat business you need to be successful.
- Having an account plan and staying on top of it is critical to making this happen in large accounts and in complex selling environments.
- Finally, maintain integrity in all that you do. It produces long-term credibility, which is critical in strategic accounts with multi-year business relationships. When all else is equal, this will separate you from the competition.