The lure of growing your business with a specific customer can be an exciting and scary experience if you are a smaller integrator. It can be just as scary for a larger company with a more mature national accounts program. How is that possible? Two words: customer expectations.
Managing existing accounts and future prospects can change as a company grows or migrates into network-centric solutions. Change means choices. You can choose to be tactical and react to customer and market needs, thus becoming a good dancing partner, or you can choose to be strategic and lead the dance. Strategic selling in a rapidly changing industry might be the right move for your company. What is an example of a strategic selling program? National accounts come to mind.
Having spent 17 years of my former corporate life in this arena, I will share some insights that may help you translate to planning and managing your growth as a systems integrator. While the term national accounts may immediately conjure up large corporations with vast resources, smaller companies are finding that strategically growing strong customer relationships is both practical and achievable using a national account strategy. You just have to be more innovative.
Delivering Across Geographies
Although there is no universal definition, I will define a “national account” as one that is strategic to your company’s growth, has facilities located across the United States, would buy business value, and requires you to realign or add resources to effectively manage and grow the business opportunity. You may have encountered a national account opportunity if your customers have ever said, “We wish you could provide security services at our other locations.” The lure of growing your business with a specific customer can be an exciting and scary experience if you are a smaller integrator. It can be just as scary for a larger national company with a more mature national accounts program.
How could that be possible? Two words: customer expectations. Meeting customer expectations across geographical boundaries is challenging no matter if you are a large, regional or a small integrator for these very good reasons:
- Delivering consistency in solution installations, operations and service after the sale.
- Local versus corporate politics cannot be ignored as a significant factor.
- The length of your logistical arm. If you need to pat someone on the back or choke him/her, it’s a lot harder to do so from 1,500 miles away.
- Time zones. Doesn’t sound like a big deal until you live it with your customer.
- Processes and experience doing this type of work from a remote “influencing” position. Larger companies typically have an edge in this area.
Find Out How Management Views It
While these challenges are certainly real from a business, sales, service and installation standpoint, what about the IT department? In my experience, the network connectivity to geographically dispersed facilities and the role IT plays is crucial to implementing business solutions that are technology enabled. This means establishing a good working relationship with corporate IT can make or break how well you expand your national relationship. The right dialogue can create an important ally in winning the customer market share challenge in the national accounts arena.
Ask this question to the right level of IT management: “Does your senior management consider your IT network to be a strategic asset or a tactical expense overhead?” I ask this question often in my consulting work. It is powerful. Carefully watch your customer. Their body language, as well as their words, will help you understand what the real opportunities might be in the future. If the IT response is expansive, positive and points to a strategic view, you may be looking at an opportunity to expand technology-enabled system solutions. You may be talking to a new business partner and advocate.
Expanding network capabilities requires legitimate applications that deliver business value in new ways. This aptly describes where we are today with video and many other technologies. You can apply new cutting-edge (but not bleeding) systems that have paid their dues and are ready to deliver real solutions to old problems. Having designed and sold network-centric IP systems for 13 years, I can attest that IP video may be one that delivers measureable business results.
Approaching Networks Proactively
What do you do if you get a different response from your IT contact who shares the fact that the CEO doesn’t see IT as a company asset? Well for one thing you will need a plan B to implement your national accounts strategy that may include taking on some new business and technical-like network responsibilities, such as building a network!
Here is why that makes sense. The opportunity to design, recommend or install simple network equipment is not impossible, can be quite profitable when bundled with your other services, ensures a system will work as advertised and simplifies your customer’s life. Corporate IT departments don’t typically have extra time on their hands, which means if you assume you have their support, that it’s “their job” not ours, can leave serious gaps in your end game, which could be a working technology-enabled business/security solution. Like Tom Hanks’ “There’s no crying in baseball” line in “A League of Their Own,” I say, “There’s no finger-pointing” in national accounts. Your customer will simply find another partner. It may mean that while your technology prowess works well at the corporate headquarters, it may not automatically translate to the locations outside your area of operation.