Let’s talk about sales, an area I have not spoken too much about in the past. For a while now, I have been discussing the front end of sales, using questionnaires, gathering information, the middle of a project’s engineering, sales and operations working together, and completing the project with great customer service….But, what about after the sale is completed, after the account manager has cashed the check, and probably dealt out 30 more quotes? What about then?
Are you using an account manager questionnaire? If not, why not? Before I go into details, let me share a few thoughts and experiences with this easily forgotten aspect of sales: after the sale is over. What do you do? Anything? Some type of follow up?
Back in the day, there was the Yellow Pages, a big yellow book in which companies advertised (different from the residential White Pages directories). The reason companies advertised in the Yellow Pages is simple: If individuals needed a product or service, they first asked around for recommendations, but if they couldn’t find what they needed that way, you guessed it, they went to the Yellow Pages!
This directory featured lots of ads from the big dogs and, for some, just a listing for $19.95 per month in something like a double-zero font. You could advertise full, half and quarter pages, even 1/16, which is what I opted for. Although it was expensive, I tried it for a while, and I actually got big results. One of my best clients, the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point NY, found me there. (On a side note: After doing a few projects and getting friendly with them, they told me why they called me: my slogan, “Where Honesty, Value and Service Aren’t Just Words,” something I still use to this day.)
Fortunately for me, probably 90% of my work was from referrals (offsetting the need for advertising). As I grew and expanded, I got help with sales; it was quite a rude awakening, to say the least. You see, I did everything: sales, engineering, installation and service. I lived and breathed every client start to finish. The same couldn’t be said for my sales help, though….
The account managers were all about getting the lead, delivering the proposal (hopefully into a sale) and then handing it off and moving on to the next project. Well, sometimes the project went well without any further involvement from the account manager, and sometimes it did not. It was the same old story each time: There were issues not followed up on by the account manager (who had already been paid), causing the client to not use us again (and I never heard about it or I would have managed the issues). One thing was for sure: As I expanded and added account managers, I had fewer referrals than I did when I controlled and did everything myself!
I still hear stories from associates almost every week about companies that are experiencing the same growing pains my company did (no matter how big they are). We have all come up with means, methods, policies and procedures. Some are better than others to offset these difficulties. One of my solutions is the Account Manager Questionnaire. (This form is available for free download at in Doug’s Docs under Resources. For those who have seen my questionnaires, don’t panic…it’s not 130-plus questions!)
This questionnaire started out as a simple tool, but at some point became a nuisance and point of conflict to account managers. The premise was simple: follow-up. After the project was all over and we were paid, I wanted to know the answers to a few questions that account managers should ask our clients:
- Does the system meet your expectations?
- Did we, as a company, meet your expectations?
- Would you refer/hire us again?
That’s right, just three questions. Sounds simple, right? Wrong! I could not get account managers to go back and gather this information. It was really frustrating for me. I needed to know, and did not think it was appropriate for me to intervene when someone else (the account manager) had an established relationship with the client.
So, I went one step further. At the end of a project, account manager commissions stopped at 90%. If they wanted the last 10% of their pay, they had to turn in this form.
I am sure that sales folks are cringing right now, but not those on the top of the heap…they know that such follow-up communications can only make your company better and stronger. Sure, you may not want to hear what clients have to say in some instances, but, hands down, repeat clients are the best form of advertising; that’s where you are getting the most bang for your buck. All the time and effort (and money) put into your account managers is worth more than a one-off sale!
Feedback and communication are so important. It’s what we do, right? What we sell, right? In fact, how many of us have used these words in our company names and advertising, right? Let’s practice what we preach among ourselves and follow up with our clients after the sale so we can find out if all expectations, both the client’s and the owner’s, are being met.
One more thing: “Accountability” is something I have not discussed often enough (and will be discussing more coming up). I have a suggestion for integrators (and others) to use on the head end when delivering proposals. In fact, had I thought of this years ago, it would have alleviated the issue with account managers not getting back to clients at the end of the project.
Simply, state at the end of your proposal that you guarantee that your client will be satisfied with the system purchased. Then include the following (insert the appropriate names and contact information):
If there are issues that need attention:
- Call your account manager. If she is not available…
- call your project manager. If he is not available…
- call the general manager. If she is not available…
- call me, the owner, and I will make it right.
Does this scare you? It shouldn’t…and if it does, why?
If you have some situations and/or examples of how you follow up at the end of a project, and maybe a story of how it worked out for you, please let me know. You can reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.