Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Rackham on the CEO's sales role

Recently I interviewed Neil Rackham, of SPIN Selling fame, to learn something about the process of establishing major accounts. (He wrote the seminal book on the topic back in 1989.) Rackham told me that it costs so much to establish a major account these days that the targeting and planning part of the equation is an increasingly critical element. In fact, he estimates that the job is really 70 percent planning and only 30 percent execution. He also suggested that most sales professionals don't utilize their senior execs as well as they might in major accounts efforts, saying:

A new major account is like gold. It’s one of the most valuable things a company can acquire. So, use your own management to help get you access, to help move things along, to help get you to a higher level of contact. Use the executives at your company.

If you look at the most successful companies, the senior executives spend a lot of time talking to customers and potential customers. And it’s the job of the sales force to set that up in a useful kind of way. Most sales forces aren’t very good at that. So, they use their own executives on a courtesy visit without very clear objectives.

You should use your senior executives in a very targeted way. And to do it properly means that when you decide which accounts you are targeting, you then find a sponsoring senior executive in your own company who is going to spend some time sitting in the team and advising them about strategy, and who is going to spend some time being available to visit the customer. Not just to wave the flag, but in a much more active way…to go in as part of the team with a message that your company is committed to helping your customer and that you really want their business.

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