Breaking Major Accounts2 Nov, 2001 By: Jeff Smith imageSource
Breaking Major Accounts
thrill of being awarded a major account victory over your friendly local
competition is something few of us will forget, particularly if you’ve
unseated a tough competitor. Moreover, you can’t wait to begin investing the
profit earned to allow your company to expand its business and attract new key
personnel. Indeed, though you know the profit margin may be lower than on your
“down-the-street” accounts, you realize that your company will be able to
leverage your new account to gain other local business, but then comes the
unsettling realization that the really tough work is ahead of you. You ask
yourself: Do we have the proper support structure in place? Are our people ready
to take on the challenge? What can we learn from our previous dealings with
other large accounts?
brings us to the operative question of whether or not you want to devote the
manpower and resources necessary to develop a strong major account base. Simply
put, not every company is set up to attract, retain, and develop such accounts.
If you are serious about developing a strong major account base, you must
effectively manage at least nine important aspects of the business:
Planning, Surveying, De-installing, Installing, Training, Billing,
Reporting, Delivering, and Servicing.
steps may seem simple enough. After all, you perform these activities for every
account, no matter what the size, but the companies with the most successful
major account programs have experienced personnel who know how to call on the
internal and external resources necessary to pull of an installation of any
size. Like so many other aspects of our business, successful implementation of a
major account comes down to having the right personnel in the right positions.
Everything has to come off seamlessly, or your influential new customer can get
a bad taste in their mouth right off the bat, which of course is something you
want to avoid. Of course, roadblocks will inevitably be encountered, so your
plan and your personnel must be flexible.
this article we will explore some ideas on how to win these accounts and develop
them into the kind of proud references you need to continue increasing your
local market share. We will share some of our experiences as to what works best
in each area.
are as many definitions of what constitutes a “major account” as there are
of the term “cost-per-copy.” We would define a major account as any
organization having 25 or more office-class copiers in its fleet. Local
“mini-majors” may have fewer than 25 units, but with a potential for growth
within the contract period. Other definitions that make sense would be to
include any contract that has a total value in excess of $100,000, any situation
that requires your company to submit a proposal in response to a formal RFP
(Request For Proposal) or any “GEM” (Government, Educational or Medical)
of the other steps involved in a winning major account program will mean much
unless you have the expertise to gain the account in the first place. By
definition, then, hiring an experienced major account sales manager is perhaps
the single most important step a company can take in building a program. Upper
management must have patience with a sales process that can take years.
Recognition of who is the key influencer and who is the actual decision maker
within the account is crucial. In today’s multifunctional equipment market,
multiple departments will inevitably be involved in making the decision, but
usually one plays a more prominent role. Local branch management should be
constantly visiting large accounts along with the major account manager to show
support and dedication. Open houses are particularly helpful in fostering
education about your company and its products. Key personnel from the
account’s IT/MIS, purchasing, communications, and facilities management
departments should all be invited.
adequate financing options will enable your account team to feel confident in
approaching even the largest accounts in your area. Working in conjunction with
the major account divisions of your manufacturer partners may enable you to
offer extended-term no-interest leases, not unheard of in today’s intensely
competitive market. If you want to aggressively pursue local and state
government entities, be aware that some banks will offer extremely attractive
municipal leases that can increase margins and reduce the customer’s monthly
expense versus traditional leasing programs.
the account issues the RFP, your company’s proposal should be professionally
assembled but not overly lengthy (see our October article in The Image Source
for a detailed proposal-creation plan). The next nine steps should all be
referenced in your proposal.
The Implementation Plan
the contract award has been made and all final negotiations have taken place,
now comes the most challenging part: creating
a detailed implementation plan. You can’t go on to the next account until this
one is totally satisfied and on cruise control, meaning that you have customized
a program for the account and it is running seamlessly for at least 90 days.
Focusing resources intensely during the first quarter will prevent problems from
initiating or festering. Upper management must be intimately involved in, and
sign off on, the account implementation plan. The plan will need to take into
account the personnel, financing, warehouse space, and the established time
frames for successful account set-up. Many dealers have established teams of
people experienced in administrating major accounts, but if you are short on
such expertise, don’t neglect calling on your manufacturing partner’s sales,
support and service representatives. After a tentative plan has been
established, run it past your customer to see what needs to be tweaked.
Contracts often speak to end performance results (i.e., 98% uptime, etc.), but
rarely provide details on how the result will be achieved. To complicate matters
further, the performance provisions will vary for each account, so they must be
identified and kept clearly in mind when creating the plan.
Initial Site Survey
on-site manager should be appointed to enable your team to quickly respond to
problems as they arise. For the purposes of the equipment installations and
administrative setup, the on-site manager is, ideally, not normally the account
representative, but rather an experienced management-level employee with a
technical background. Many potentially fatal project problems can be avoided
with a detailed site survey. The more lead-time you can give your customer
regarding electrical, phone and network drops, the better. Firstly, you need to
check for the proper electrical outlets in each actual copier/printer location.
Many high-speed digital copier/printers require 20-amp service, but may be
replacing analog copiers that required only 15-amp outlets. All that may be
required is to change the breaker and a new wall outlet, but if not taken into
account before-hand, the unit may not be installable without the use of
“cheater” plugs. Many analog production copiers required 220-volt circuits
and in many locations 120-volt service is not available without the assistance
of a licensed electrician. If print connectivity is to be installed, an absolute
must is a detailed description of the customer’s network completed by a senior
IT manager who has buy-in to the program. The expense and/or time involved in
planning network and phone line drops are frequently some of the biggest
obstacles encountered in implementing a re-engineering of a customer’s
document flow. Always plan with your new customer well in advance of
Taking out the customer’s current equipment is never as easy as it may appear.
If the customer owns the equipment, which is less and less the case nowadays,
the de-installation can go relatively smoothly. Helping the customer facilitate
the sale of the owned equipment to a reputable equipment broker (for a fee, of
course) can bring major kudos to your team. When existing leases or rentals are
being terminated, the complexity of the de-install compounds. Make certain to
advise your customer well in advance of any cancellation notices that must be
sent to the leasing/rental entity. Customers are frequently unaware that
shipping and freight charges may apply at the termination of the lease or
rental. When the time comes for the physical de-installs, the ideal scenario is
for the same independent moving company to take out the old and bring in the new
equipment. If this is impossible, most dealers have unwritten rules of
cooperation that allow for minimal customer inconvenience during the
de-install/install process. However, moving personnel should never be relied on
to conduct training.
Installation teams that work together
through all initial equipment setups generally work best. Two technicians and a
key-op trainer should be able to install about 15 units per day, assuming shop
personnel have prepped the equipment properly beforehand. Technicians are
generally good at installing equipment, but not on training users, so make
certain the trainer is well versed. Ask the customer to sign a formal
“Delivery and Acceptance” to make certain the customer acknowledges that
what was delivered is what was ordered.
It’s in the best interest of everyone
for on-site key operator training to take place immediately upon equipment
installation. A short 15-minute introduction to all key users is generally
adequate for overview purposes. We recommend phasing in the training process,
starting with basic walk-up copier functionality, and then return several weeks
later to implement printer functionality. A dedicated key operator trainer
should be used, ideally a CSR (Customer Support Representative). Salespeople who
do not get paid for conducting key operator training are generally bad at doing
it. Again, your manufacturer should have regional training or other support
personnel who can assist when called upon by you.
Billing can only be as accurate and
timely as the click collection process. More and more customers are requesting
quarterly billing in today’s market, which cuts reconciliation headaches by
two-thirds versus traditional monthly billing. Quarterly billing can greatly
alleviate internal administrative personnel requirements as well.
Amazingly to us, some suppliers do not
provide service reporting unless pressed by the customer. Dealers should provide
the quarterly volume and equipment performance reports along with the quarterly
invoice. This will eliminate any excuse for late payment and head off potential
questions in the customer’s mind about the fleet’s performance.
Ask your customer to assist in the timely
delivery of toner, staples, and paper. Perhaps the customer can provide a supply
storage room for local storage, which will greatly reduce the chances of
untimely delivery or, worse yet, supply unavailability.
The final and most crucial aspect of any
successful major account installation is the servicing organization’s
expertise. If your customer is producing more than one million impressions per
month, you will most likely find it profitable to keep at least one technician
on-site. Customers are more than likely willing to provide flexible work-space
to the development of a winning major account program takes plenty of time and
money, but the potential rewards are huge too. Proper investments in the
necessary sales, administrative and support infrastructure will promote repeat
business and great references that will assure the financial stability of your
company for years to come.
Smith is the owner of Pro Buyers LLC, an independent company that is committed
to bringing office equipment buyers and sellers together through better
education. Smith believes that the educated consumer is more willing to leverage
digital technology to its fullest advantage. Contact Jeff Smith at 973-709-9084
or at JSmith@ProBuyersLLC.com.