Key account sales training


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“Key Account” is a label used differently across companies, let’s define the term. Here we are talking about very large accounts, like National Accounts. In this post, we are focusing on companies who have a separate Key Account sales team.

Over the years we have had the opportunity to design sales training initiatives for numerous companies having Key Account sales teams. We have learned a couple of important walk-a-ways.

  • Key Accounts are not just big little accounts – they are qualitatively different on a wide range of parameters related to what they sell and how they sell.
  • They have a tremendous impact on revenue generation and optimization of profits.
  • Success in the Key Account arena requires not just great account executives but also the total support and commitment of the organization.
  • The skill set required of Key Account sales executives is not just more of the same as compare to the one for territory sales people.

One additional insight relates to the nature of the sales training. Because Key Account sales are more complex and the skill set is more extensive, the sales training should be different than that for territory sales reps. Let’s take a look at that difference.

As context for the sales training discussion, the Boston Consulting group provide some interesting insight in an article entitled Creating Value in Key Accounts.

The authors start out by examining some of the common mistakes in key account management. They note: the right accounts—those with the highest upside—are often not designated as “key.” Second, too many accounts are designated key. Three, key account relationships are too often transactional rather than strategic. And four, as a result of the first three mistakes, in the accounts that are considered key, opportunities for joint value creation with the customer are frequently lost.

On the other hand, they go on to point put that getting this whole thing on track can have a significant positive impact. Through effective key account management – “companies can generally lift revenues by 5 to 10 percent, improve margins by three to five percentage points, and lower the cost to serve by 10 to 20 percent.”

Moral of the story – getting this right matters. One aspect of getting it right is sales training. From our evaluations five considerations seem particularly important for achieving effective key account sales training. As a baseline it’s critical to recognize sales training for key account executives is necessary. Just because the folks selected for the job are experienced and skilled, does not negate the need for training. Here are five insights gained from our experience:

  • Design customized programs. There are a variety of reasons to customize sales training. First, the skill sets requiring attention are specific to this level of sale. Second, the customer issues and challenges are specific to key accounts and to the specific customer base. Last, the specifics of the sales process for Key Accounts are unique to each company.
  • Adjust the practice and feedback equation. In standard sales training a fair amount of time is devoted to getting sales ideas and tools on the table. In Key Account training the participants already know the basic selling models and techniques. The purpose of this training is about how to adjust and adapt the techniques to a complex set of challenges and issues. So the key is minimizing lecture and maximizing practice and feedback – at least 85% of the classroom time should be devoted to practice and feedback.
  • Change the instructional model. In most standard sales training programs a single sales trainer conducts the program – fair enough. But as the saying goes “it’s both the dance and the dancer.” So it is important not only to adjust the program design and content but also who does the sales training. The best suggestion is substitute a faculty comprised of senior sales managers and outside experts for the single sales trainer. The faculty is responsible for managing the program and for providing feedback at the strategy and call execution levels.
  • Train as a team. If you are going to sell as a team, you ought to train as a team. Key Account sales almost always involve multiple players such as: engineers, technical support, implementation managers etc. Consequently, it makes fair sense that groups of Key Account account executives and support personnel go through the program as a team. The payoffs, above and beyond the skill development, related to who should be doing what and why are substantive. If coordination mistakes occur in the heat of battle during the sales process, the consequences can be devastating.
  • Change the investment formula. Although it is unwise to say cost doesn’t matter, sales training for Key Accounts comes as close as you are going to get to that proposition in the sales training domain. Will this training cost more than traditional sales training – probably, but not that much more? More importantly if you just close one Key Account deal or expand the scope of another, the investment will have paid off. A related investment consideration is how often should you doing such training. Given the dynamic nature of most markets, once every year is probably about right.

Key Account selling is a demanding and skilled task. The payoffs of getting it right are extensive and significant. Sales training is only one small piece of the success puzzle but it is a piece for which the dos and don’ts are known. So not doing it is an error of omission.

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©2013 Sales Horizons, LLC

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Richard Ruff
For more than 30 years Richard Ruff has worked with the Fortune 1000 to craft sales training programs that make a difference. Working with market leaders Dick has learned that today's great sales force significantly differs from yesterday. So, Sales Momentum offers firms effective sales training programs affordably priced. Dick is the co-author of Parlez-Vous Business, to help sales people have smart business conversations with customers, and the Sales Training Connection.


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