Businesses that set up a strong sales discipline, and can move proactively to drive sales and anticipate customer needs, will not only make money, but also create an environment of trust and integrity.
At SICOM, we build and sell technology that helps franchised fast food restaurants such as Wendy’s and Burger King run more efficiently and effectively, from kitchen and back of house operations to customer-facing point of sale interactions and digital signage.
The funny thing, though, is that we rarely sell our products to the folks who run Burger King at the corporate level. The relationship begins with corporate brand approval, and that translates to access to a brand’s network of franchisees, but then it is incumbent upon us to foster relationships with and sell to franchise owners directly. After all, the individual franchise owners use our technology; they pay our invoices directly and rely on us for day-to-day support in their restaurants.
This is where an account management framework has great influence on our success.
As a customer-facing team of 12 professionals, SICOM’s account management group is cold calling and responding to inbound calls from current and prospective customers. From inception, we knew it was important for them to maintain a proactive approach in order to drive sales velocity and that success would come down to a mix of ongoing customer care and relationship management.
The best way we’ve found to do that is from the bottom up. Even in the cases where we don’t need to sell in the traditional sense, our account management team walks the customer through a sales process start to finish. That’s how the group moves beyond a strict vendor role to become trusted advisors for our customers. Because of the high volume of interactions, we approach this a lot like anyone would inside sales: daily phone conversations with existing and potential customers.
Here’s some insight into what made our account management framework successful out of the gate:
Formalize a sales process.
Having a formal, repeatable sales process cuts through everything we do. We have to upend the manufacturer to distributor framework. That is to say, the sales team can’t rely on the parent brand to tie it to the franchisee. Formalizing our account management team with process discipline, aligning each rep to a specific brand and building out a relevant commission structure has allowed us to motivate the team and commit to a set of common goals. And if you really want to motivate people, you have to put your money where your mouth is: we showed our account management team a path to make 40 to 60 percent more by following this process.
If you really want to motivate people, put your money where your mouth is: show your account management team a path to make 40-60% more by following this process.
Create a support system.
In the past, SICOM did very little proactive marketing. Under this new account management framework, we had to walk the talk and think through what the team needed to be successful. We built out a PowerPoint presentation for them to work from, put up a new website and created new sales and marketing collateral, and in all of it the message shifted from the basic features of SICOM products to actionable ways they make differences in customers’ businesses.
We needed to focus marketing on the value we add to our franchisees, their employees and ultimately the bottom line. Even if a product seems like a necessary purchase for a business owner, the value has got to be there. It was important for us to really drive that home.
Commit to your model.
We knew that if we structured our sales process and business model well, we’d gain momentum and create opportunities to build brand share within existing customers as well as among additional franchisees of the same restaurants.
Our business model naturally lends itself to reaching that end. For example, we have about nine base products. Each can stand alone as a one-off sale, but they are built to work interdependently and function together as an ecosystem. A customer can enter at any point with any one product. He may only adopt our Drive-Thru Director at first, but our goal is that this will lead to using our full back-of-the-house system as well. Our model is win anything anywhere and once you’re in, there’s opportunity to add other products to a customer’s suite.
You have to upend the manufacturer to distributor framework – the sales team can’t rely on the parent brand to tie it to the franchisee.
Create a process discipline.
It’s not breaking news that people, if left to their own devices, will wait until the very last minute to do most things. Before we revamped our approach, we would regularly receive 80 percent of our orders within the last 10 of our 90-day sales cycle. That hit our installation team, our finance team and our shipping department hard.
To overcome that natural tendency, you’ve got to streamline the peaks and valleys of deal flow. Technology is absolutely critical to that effort. We preload each opportunity into Salesforce.com in draft form, follow an outbound call plan and then log qualifiers and metrics on each opportunity. It creates an effective and efficient sales funnel, allowing our 12 reps to manage thousands of deals each year. It really is a foot race to market dominance and this helps us compete by stayed organized and strategic with our reps’ time.
People wait until the very last minute to do things. To overcome that natural tendency, you’ve got to streamline the peaks and valleys of deal flow.
Build a rhythm.
For the sales leader, the first six months of building an account management framework is spent teaching. You have to model the behavior you want to see in the team and walk them through the process line-by-line, deal-by-deal, stage-by-stage, close-by-close. But there’s a trap in sales where you do something until it’s routine and then you just sort of stop. To sidestep that, we do our best to maintain consistency and create a cadence.
It’s important to create this kind of ownership mentality among the team. Each team takes public accountability, and it’s a clear indication that what we’re doing is working.
Listen to your customers.
When you’re working with big franchised brands, there can be a lot of turnover. In a split second, you can go from knowing everyone to not knowing anyone. The franchisees, though, don’t change and their voices are powerful. Talk to them on a regular basis. Ask questions. What’s going well? Where are you running into problems? What’s the brand saying? Is there anything we should be getting ahead of?
A big piece of this is recognizing your customers’ pain points. Listening and saying, “Yeah we’ve already sold you this, but we hear you saying that you’re struggling with this other thing. Maybe we can help you solve that, too.”
We also get a lot of inbound requests. It’s not uncommon for a franchisee to call and ask about our products. When that happens, it’s more of the same: listening, asking questions and educating that franchisee on what SICOM is about and how our products can make his or her business run better. We have always done business reviews for the brands we work with, but we’ve also begun doing them for larger franchises, too. Some owners meet in their own smaller groups within the brand so we usually try to participate. It’s great intel and just another way to best serve our customer base.
Here’s the bottom line.
Caring for your customers and maintaining those relationships will ultimately allow your team to go from vendor to trusted advisor in the eyes of your customer. Within an account management framework, create the right circumstances for success: a dedicated sales process, a solid commission structure, a fine-tuned business model, a culture of listening. Businesses that set up a strong sales discipline, and can move proactively to drive sales and anticipate customers’ needs, will not only make money, but also create an environment of trust and integrity with their customers.
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