Most business think they are customer centered when in reality they are sales centered. Another way of say this is that they are internally focused.
Think about the conversations within your own company. Many are very internally focused. Silos pitted against silos without a real understanding of what the needs or goals of the customer are.
I suspect without exception your sales teams know what’s needed. The handicap is they are often not in the office or –worse – when they are they are perceived as being “unrealistic” about pricing, product requirements or lead-times.
In other words, “why don’t they sell what we have?”
Customers should not get in the way of doing business
How does a company overcome this obstacle? By building an externally focused, customer-facing team to bridge the gap between sales and product marketing. This team is often called Channel Marketing,
Channel Marketing is needs to be the expert, authority and advocate for all the channels of distribution for the company. Through market research, customer interaction, and industry analysis, channel marketers are expected to commercialize sales and marketing programs in the channels, and to identify channel-specific business-building opportunities while working as a co-equal with sales to deliver sales and profit results.
Channel marketers rely on 5 key areas to identify opportunities and build fact-based customer plans
The goal of channel marketing to maximize customer performance with multi-channel marketing strategies, by building the fact-based case for the product assortment and work closely with the sales team to sell the customer. Here’s what should go into your thought process of what is channel marketing in your organization.
Planning/Voice of the Customer
- Develop multi-year Customer Marketing Plans for key accounts
- Channel specific strategies including .com
- Working with the Product Managers understand, identify, quantify and prioritize market opportunities
- Lead the annual Account Planning process
- Identify product and service gaps that are applicable to their channel and communicate those gaps to the product marketing team
- Build and manage a competitive intelligence process
Sales & Customer Intimacy
- Create channel/customer specific programs (special packaging, promotions, events, marketing materials, targeted sampling, flyers, brochures, displays)
- Own all customer planograms (POG) and assortment planning
- Lead the line review process
- Go on key customer visits and sales presentations
- Recommend customer POG/modular using POS (better yet with product line optimization tools or shopper research)
- Create and build all customer meeting presentations
- Develop methodology and analyze performance of POS
- Train team, identify tools and provide regular, consistent reporting and analysis
- Report trends and develop insights by Channel, by Customer, by product category, etc.
- Analyzing and reporting on promotional effectiveness
- Create, maintain and communicate a consolidated Customer Scorecard built from key customer goals/metrics
- Research, develop and deliver compelling sales presentations and promotions to the sales force in order for them to maximize the growth and profitability of the channel
- Is the primary communicator of product news, promotional activities, merchandising updates, etc. to the field sales organization
- Provide field analysis on key trends, competitive activity, and general marketplace activity
- Develop and execute launch plans and marketing strategies for new product introductions / launches
- Provide appropriate specifications to the marketing services team for merchandising tools (displays, samples, literature, etc.)
- Building and managing a trade marketing communication strategy that informs our in-store marketing programs (on- and off-shelf promotions, merchandising and POP)
- Support the Sales and Product Marketing teams in meeting their goals for revenue and profit
- Develop a proposed budget and plan that delivers the targeted sales and margin dollar volume and positioning requirements
Adding channel marketing will better arm your sales team and create greater alignment within your organization. Better yet, it will put the customer at the center of key internal decisions.
Think hiring a rep firm is like hiring for any open position on your team? Think again.
The questions you ask are critical to ensure the right fit but also in understanding how well they will drive your business. This is what you are hiring for in the first place.
The questions that you need to ask fall into several major buckets:
- Understanding the rep agency
- Understanding what they know about you and your business
- Questions that help you understand their sales philosophy
Here are some of the key questions you can explore in searching for the best fit to drive your business by hiring an independent manufacturers representative.
Questions to ask to understand the rep agency
- Tell me about your agency. What is each of your roles?
- Why did you originally want to work as an independent rep?
- What are the reasons your agency has been successful?
- What aspects of repping do you consider most critical?
- What are your agencies biggest accomplishments?
- If I were to contact one of your other factories, what would they say are your agency’s strong suits?
- If I were to contact one of your other factories, what would they say are your agency’s weaknesses?
- What can your agency do for us that others can’t?
- Tell me about an event that really challenged your agency. How did you meet that challenge and how was your approach different from others.
- What area of your skill/professional development do you wish to improve at this time?
- What does your agency do to continue to add value to the customer relationship after the sale?
- What do you feel is a reasonable amount of growth % per year? Other lines?
- What are your agency’s goals for the next year? 5 years?
Questions to ask to see how well the rep agency did their homework on you
- What do you know about our company?
- What interests you the most about our product line?
- What interests you least in our line?
- What is the best thing you have heard about our products?
- What is the worst thing you have heard about our company?
- What is your perception of how we take our product to market?
- What do you think determines success with a line like ours?
- If I were to hire your agency, what would your first 30 day action plan be?
- If I were to hire your agency, what prospects would you immediately wish to take our product to?
- Our product is sold in channels that are quite different from most other products that you sell. Tell me about a line you have repped that is outside of your traditional channel.
Questions to ask to understand the sales philosophy of the rep firm
- We expect a lot of sales effort to be devoted to our product. How would you be able to meet our expectations without hurting your existing lines?
- Tell me about a time when you have disagreed with one of your factories policies or decisions and how you handled it.
- Have you ever been fired or resigned from a line? Why?
- Tell me about an account you lost and why. What could you have done differently?
- Tell me about a prospect you failed to sell. What could you have done differently?
- Tell me about a recent success you have had. What were key reasons for success?
- Tell me about a time where you have approached a prospect you know would do a great job with one of your products, but he had no interest. How did you overcome this?
- Tell me about a prospect that was happy with their current source, and how you were able to overcome.
- What motivates you about selling?
- What do you like least about selling?
- As your sales manager, what 3 things could I do to help improve your sales?
- Why should I hire your agency?
What other questions have you found to be effective in your rep agency hiring? Let us know by posting your comments.
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If you have a customer that dominates your sales or your profitability picture, I know you are losing sleep. If that customer is a real whale—a builder, buyer or other company that is significantly larger than the rest of your business—then your stress level is even higher.
At the same time, that key account is probably keeping you insanely busy. That means that, while it may be paying the bills, it’s also probably blocking you from growing your business with other accounts to cut your risk.
That account has become a drug. You are addicted to the income, yet you are totally dependent on it for your business future.
This article is based on the reality that you cannot afford to lose your biggest customer: you have to take steps to ensure satisfaction with your work. At the same time, however, you should be paying attention to the reality that you may need to spread your wings.
Don’t put you biggest account at risk by ignoring these tips
Here are my do’s and don’ts for handling this situation. The first point I want to make is: don’t put your biggest account at risk by ignoring these tips. At the same time, don’t be so overwhelmed by your biggest account that you become self-destructive.
Here are 6 key “Do’s:”
- Let your large customers know they are important to you. Some business professionals believe you need to keep a secret from those customers that they are your largest account. They already know, so acknowledge it. Their concerns are going to be more about overwhelming your business, so you need to make sure they are getting top-notch service, and you are meeting all of your commitments.
- Pay attention to the details. Nothing loses an account faster than skipping over the surface and not thinking through issues and following up on problems.
- Know them better than they know themselves. In many organizations, you might actually be the continuity that your client is desperately looking for. At Owens Corning, for example, the marketing communication managers rotated through the company about every two years. However, the ad agencies that worked with the company had nearly 20 years of experience to fall back on to provide consistency for Owens Corning’s image and messages in the market.
- Make sure your best team is on the job. Your biggest account grew to be the size it is with your best team in place. Don’t fill the ranks with young, inexperienced folks and think you, as the leader of the pack, can serve as the brains. You’ll quickly bog yourself down, and the account will see it has lost the ‘A’ team.
- Have a backup plan. If the worse happens and you lose a major piece of business, you need to rescale your organization fast to match expenses with income.
- Decide if an outsized customer is really a good thing. If the sleepless nights become too much, build a plan that allows you to grow your business with existing resources and start chipping away at the risk of a dominant customer.
Don’t be so overwhelmed by your biggest account that you become self-destructive
Here are 6 key “Don’ts:”
- Say yes regardless of the request. If you know there’s a project that’s just too big or too demanding, work to rescope it so that it matches your ability to deliver flawlessly.
- Sacrifice building your other customers. Don’t make your problem worse by ignoring the rest of your business. Be realistic about your abilities and available time. Don’t make your problems worse by losing your smaller customers.
- Compromise your standards and ethics. Focus always on doing the best possible job and delivering consistently for all your accounts. Stay true to your corporate culture and to your own expectations.
- Ignore the need for growth. Growth will keep your risk in check and help ensure the future. Think about both new business and organic growth. Is there a way to leverage your largest account skills with other, smaller accounts? Does your large account give you any bragging rights that could attract new business?
- Keep success to yourself. Finds ways to celebrate your business wins inside your company and, as appropriate, to your new business mailing list. For example, I worked for an agency that had a “red letter” day. Each time the company won a new account, it would send a letter on red paper to all the agency’s current and potential accounts.
- Stop negotiating or selling. Adding new business allows you to build up your margins and fund your growth. Adding new accounts reduces the risk you carry from that one big account.
By focusing on these tips, you might not get more sleep, but you will be formulating plans for the future that will ensure the continued growth and vitality of your firm — with or without that whale.