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SALES STRATEGIES
TEAM SELLING = GREATER SUCCESS WITH KEY ACCOUNTS
A growing segment of the producer market expects more from suppliers than can be provided through any individual relationship. These more sophisticated, information intensive, larger customers demand more personalized service, more information, more technology, more professionalism - more of everything - and at a fair (translation: lower) price.

In large part, the solution for suppliers to cope with these new demands is successful implementation of a formal key account team selling and servicing structure/discipline common in industrial selling.

Some firms are rapidly learning how to organize and implement a successful team selling approach. They have begun the process that brings several key functional areas together in an organized way to work closely with the individual(s) within the customer's organization who all have a stake in the purchase decision. While this is a complex organizational structure and process (some have called it a nightmare to manage initially) it has the potential to create deeper, value intensive relationships with strategic accounts.

This is not to imply that commodity selling or the more traditional selling approach will no longer work. Indeed, many firms will find either of these approaches quite viable so long as they meet the needs of enough customers. But the key is that there is also a profitable place in the market for the firm that effectively manages and implements the team selling approach.

TEAM BUYING AND INCREASED EXPECTATIONS

Many customers are increasingly complex. The increase in account size often brings organizational structures, unique roles and multiple decision makers. Team buying is increasingly common. It only makes sense that, in a large agricultural production enterprise employing specialists with discrete expertise, the purchase decision would be evaluated more comprehensively and from different points of view.

When several are involved in the purchase and usage of the product, the supplier must adjust the sales approach to meet the specific buying objectives of those involved. If a team buys (and uses), then a team must sell (and service) that account.

The success that some organizations are having at developing a highly effective team approach to selling and servicing key accounts is causing customer expectations to escalate. AgriBusiness Group research clearly shows that producers like and value regular access to the expertise and relationships available from the extended sales team. And once they have this access, they want it to continue. So, the expectations bar is being raised - and rapidly. This widens the gap between the team selling firm and those who practice a more traditional approach.

Value through team selling and servicing can be a critical differential advantage in highly competitive markets. The fact is that we have near product parity in many parts of agriculture today. Effective team selling offers some a powerful means of differentiation.

BUT WILL THEY PAY FOR IT?

Powerful as it may be, team sales and service strategy is more costly. Teamwork demands extensive time in communication, multiple contacts with the customer, and usually more extensive service. The business issue is "Will it pay?".

The answer is "absolutely," if the strategy is deployed well and with customers who truly value the approach. The implication is to conduct research with key accounts to determine if this approach generates new value before implementing the strategy.

The additional cost of the team approach must be offset by a higher price, additional volume or efficiencies gained over a longer time period from strategic customer partnerships. In most cases any additional costs will have to be borne by the product rather than a service fee. The worst-case scenario is offering fuller service but meeting price competition from a commodity focused competitor.

But the real opportunity for financial payback may be in creating a dramatically different business system with strategic accounts. In such a "partnership," suppliers and customers should work together to improve financial performance for both parties.

A thorough process re-engineering effort often uncovers duplication in supply chain management which, when eliminated, more than covers the cost of team selling. The key is to explore these possibilities with accounts and work out risk management strategies.

Team selling strategy demands constant reexamination with key accounts of their wants and needs, and how both parties will be better off in the process. Needs are in constant flux. So are value propositions. It is imperative to stay very close to key accounts throughout the team selling process. AM

 

Dave Downey is with the Center for Agricultural Business at Purdue University. Marilyn Holschuh and Mike Jackson are with AgriBusiness Group in Indianapolis.



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