It Can Happen to YOU

Edition: December 2003 - Vol 11 Number 12
Article#: 1725
Author: Repertoire

Uh oh.

• You notice your competitor’s business card in your best account for the third time this week.

• You notice a box of someone else’s exam gloves sitting on the counter.

• You notice that your order size has diminished a little bit.

• As you walk out the door of your best account, you see your competitor enthusiastically striding toward the door carrying a box of supplies. She cheerfully nods and says “Hello.”

It finally sinks in: You’re being squeezed out of your best account.

A sad but oft-told tale, said Brett Finkelstein, co-founder and director of organizational development for Bethesda Consulting Group in Orange Park, Fla, who spoke at the recent HIDA trade show and conference in Baltimore.

Our best accounts are often the prime candidates for new-product sales, said Finkelstein. Yet sometimes we take them for granted. That’s trouble.

How Did This Happen?

We get complacent at our own peril, said Finkelstein. Perhaps we stop looking for new opportunities, and become order-takers, not order-makers. Perhaps we cease trying to impress our customers and instead work merely to satisfy them. Maybe we’ve gotten just a little too comfortable with margin creep and our competitor undercuts us a point or two. Or perhaps our competitor has found our customer a hard-to-find item, becoming that customer’s newest hero – something we used to be. The bottom line is, we’ve dropped our guard and given the competition an opportunity to move in.

If we’ve been calling on the same accounts for some time, it might be time to have a heart-to-heart with ourselves, said Finkelstein. We need to ask ourselves some tough questions:

• Do our best accounts look forward to our visits?

• Do they consult us before making a move?

• Do they consider us to be a business partner, that is, someone who helps them improve their business?

• Do they consider us a friend?

• Are we working as hard for them today as we did when we were trying to get their business?

If we answer “no” to any of these questions, it’s time to get to work.

How to Prevent Being Dumped

It’s said that the best defense is a good offense. That certainly holds true in sales, said Finkelstein. If you’re committed to maintaining and growing your existing accounts, you’ll do the following:

• Re-commit yourself to taking care of that customer better than anyone else.

• Always, always go after all the business.

• Ask about the competition. Probe your accounts about whether they’re buying products from your competitor.

• Ask your customer, “What can I do to get 100 percent of your business?”

• Be a problem-solver.

• Solidify relationships with as many people in your accounts as possible. (Perhaps you’re chummy with the receptionist, while your competitor has befriended the office manager or doctor.)

• Always demonstrate new products and technology.

• Create a customer community. Make your accounts feel like they’re part of a bigger community – that is, the community of providers buying from you. Host a holiday party or send a newsletter.

• Don’t assume that you know your customers so well that you fail to present new products and services to them.

• Recognize the value of sales reports. They can help you stay focused on your high-volume, high-margin accounts. And they can help you uncover opportunities you hadn’t realized existed.

“Run a list of every single product they’re buying,” suggested Finkelstein. “You may find that one cardiologist is buying 20 products that another is not. Point this out to the one not buying them, ‘Do you know other cardiologists are using these products?’ Perhaps he didn’t know you carried them. It creates a great consultative moment as you review what they’re buying and using.

“The best selling opportunities often lie with our best customers,” said Finkelstein. “We may have earned their trust over the years, but we can never take them for granted.”