I was walking around a wooded area of my farm not too long ago when something caught my eye growing on the trunk of just one tree. As I moved through the brush to take a closer look, I realized that huge thorns were poking right out of the bark.
A quick Google search revealed that I was looking at a young honey locust.
I got so excited that I started talking to the tree, "You are a cool tree and you have a cool name!"
The moment I recognized that this particular tree was unique, I began to wonder whether I could do anything to protect it and help it thrive. Should I remove the trees that are crowding it? Should I find a way to water it more often? There I was, in the middle of the woods, wondering how to nurture this one tree, just because I noticed how unique and cool it was!
I'm sharing this story with you because, from time to time, I hear from sales leaders who wish that they could get their sales people to become proactive about finding and exploiting the potential in their accounts. They know from experience that a sales person who is interested – even excited – about an account is more likely to help that client get results and, in the process, grow the revenue from the account.
Just like I had walked by that tree 100 times without giving it a second look, sometimes our sales people get so busy that they surrender to thinking about their clients in generic terms. They mistakenly behave as if every hospital were like all hospitals, every law firm were like all law firms, and every car dealer were like all car dealers.
You, as the manager, can help your sales people look for and appreciate what is unique about their accounts. And your persistence in helping them discover that distinctiveness could create forward motion with an account.
I’m reminded of the one-on-one meeting I recently observed between a sales person and his manager. They were discussing a heart hospital that had spent a lot of money in the prior year, but had gone cold in recent months.
As soon as the manager mentioned the hospital’s name, it became obvious that this was a conversation they’d had before.
The sales person expressed his ongoing frustration with a new marketing director who was putting him off because she "wasn't ready to advertise."
Every question the manager asked to help the sales person get unstuck was met with some generic (“waiting to see what happens with Obamacare”) answer applicable to any healthcare facility.
Suddenly, the manager wondered out loud, "How do people choose a heart hospital?”
None of us knew the answer, so the sales person searched, "How to choose a heart hospital."
Scanning through the search results, the sales person spotted a phrase and read it aloud.
“Choosing a hospital that performs large volumes of similar procedures can help your chances for a successful outcome.”
Speaking more to himself than to us, the sales person said, "That's interesting," and started writing in his notepad.
Then the manager asked, “Didn’t you tell me that this particular heart hospital has more cardiologists than anyone else? Wouldn't that mean that they perform more procedures than anybody else? Sounds to me like a valuable point of difference."
From the big smile on the sales person's face it was clear that he had found the nugget he was seeking.
He had found something unique about the hospital that he knew could get him into a marketing conversation with the new marketing director. And, while he also knew that he was nowhere near ready to present any sort of an idea, at least he saw a path to get the account back in motion.
So, here’s my best advice.
The next time you need to help a sales person get excited about growing an account, ask specific questions that will lead to discovering and appreciating the characteristics that make the client unique.
- What exactly makes this client different from his competitors?
- How does the client currently communicate that difference to the people who buy his products?
What specific claims is this client making about his valuable point of difference and how might we help him communicate that valuable point of difference to our audience?
Have the discipline to stay involved in helping them find the answers to these questions. You will notice when they lock on to what they need to do next and that will be your cue to step back and let them do their job.
Your sales people are professionals. They know how to grow their business. It’s just that sometimes they need a little help seeing the tree from the forest.