Business-to-business sales of high tech products are often based upon establishing a long-term relationship and a consultative selling approach. An account team from the vendor company is often assigned to the purchasing company. The account team is responsible for knowing the vendor’s products and the customer’s needs then matching the customer’s needs to the vendor’s products. The account team also provides feedback to the vendor’s product manager. This feedback includes how and if the products are meeting the customer’s current and future needs. A continuous flow of information is needed to address customer’s changing needs and development of enhancements and new products.
This process incorporates factual information and analytical skills. Factual information includes product descriptions, uses, specifications, diagrams, features and benefits. This information is often provided using resources such as web-based training, sales literature and job aids. Analytical skills are needed to analyze the customer’s needs and match them to the vendor’s products. These analytical skills are often reviewed in meetings such as internal sales and customer user groups. Internal sales meetings allow product managers to present how enhanced and new products meet the customers’ needs. Customer user groups provide the opportunity for customers to provide the vendor product feedback and explain long-term needs. The vendor presents enhancement, new products, and status of ongoing product development. While this process has proven to be useful, it also has disadvantages such as:
- Accountability – How do you ensure that the online training, webinars and job aids are meeting the needs of the account teams and customers?
- Mastery Level of Product Knowledge – How do you ensure the account teams have the appropriate level of product knowledge and analytical skills required to match customer’s needs to vendor’s products?
- Frequency and Costs of Meetings – Live meetings are expensive to run, complicated to schedule, and require extensive planning and travel. Due to the high costs and time commitments, it is questionable if they can provide timely information to meet the needs of the vendor and customer?
These potential disadvantages can be addressed by combining the currently available web-based tools and resources presented below.
Online Training & Job Aids can be used to present factual product information. Content is developed in a format so it can be used as both training and job aids. This includes links to sales support resources, such as sales presentations, handouts, pricing guides, policies and procedures. Customer access to such areas can be blocked. For example, the account team can have to access to a competitive analysis section, while it is blocked for customers.
Online Assessments can be used to demonstrate product knowledge mastery by the account team. This information can help to determine if the account team knows the products they are selling. Assessments can also be used by customers to earn product certifications.
Forums can be used to provide community or social learning. Members can post articles for review and post questions. Access to areas of the forum can be limited to customer and vendor.
Live Web Meetings can be used to provide in-depth discussions of customer needs and product solutions. Meetings can be conducted between the product manager and account teams. Account teams conduct the meetings with their customer. Product managers or other Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) can be invited to these live meeting, as needed.
The Account Team Multi-Level Mentoring Model
A blend of web-based tools and services, such as online training and job aids, provide factual product information. Forums and short, but frequent web meetings are used to analyze customer’s needs and recommend product solutions. The product manager serves as a mentor to the account team. The account team serves as a mentor to the customers. This evolves the account team approach to an “Account Team Multi-Level Mentoring” model.
- Vendor to Account Team with Product Information
Using online training and job aids product managers ensure the account teams have the needed factual product information at their fingertips. Account team members take online assessments to demonstrate mastery of the factual information.
Using web meetings and forums the product manager reviews feedback to learn how their product is meeting customers’ needs. This can include how the product fits into the product line, why it is being offered, case studies and questions and answers.Account teams may have to meet with multiple product managers
- Customer to Account Team to Customer to Identify Needs
Using live meetings web meetings and forums, the account team meets with the customer to identify their current and future needs. The account team may have to meet with multiple customer groups such as end users, technical support and purchasing.
- Account Team to Customer with Solutions
Using live meetings, web meetings, and forums the account team presents solutions to the customer. Online training and job aids, modified for customer use, are provided to the customer. These steps are repeated, as needed.
- Sales Team Feedback to Product Manager
Using live meetings, web meetings and forums, the account team provides the product manager feedback related to customer sales, objections, requested enhancements and new products.
Continuous Sales Process
Account team and customers continuously meet to discuss current and future needs and requests for enhancements and new products. Account team and product managers continuously meet to discuss ongoing customer needs, overcoming sales objections, product enhancements and new products.
The advantages of this multi-level mentoring include:
- Account teams and customers have easy access to the most current product information
- Mentoring meetings can be conducted as needed – no need to wait for forma sales or user meetings
- Mentoring meetings can be scheduled at times and duration to meet participants’ scheduling constraints
- Subject Matter Experts can be included in mentoring meetings as needed
- Product managers get constant feedback on customers’ usage and needs
- Meeting costs are reduced
- Account team is more responsive to the customer and can provider better customer service, which leads to increased sales
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