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Targeting Accounts: A Specialist's Role

Targeting is the key to successfully launching new products

by Frank Hurtte

Frank Hurtte

I attended a distributor planning session – a day long sales meeting that ended with a “round robin” planning session. Vendor salespeople and various distributor specialists were assigned tables around the perimeter of the meeting room. Salespeople cycled around the room spending a few minutes at each of the tables talking about existing opportunities and future targets. I floated from one table to the other eavesdropping on the conversations. One by one, salespeople approached the tables and discussed accounts where they felt additional actions could push the selling process forward.

Soon after the meeting, it hit me like a (proverbial) ton of bricks. Salespeople knew their assigned accounts but they really didn’t understand the targeting process. At the end of the day, I noticed that nearly every salesperson listed the same three or four accounts as their target – the same accounts and the same contacts were given for a diverse group of products and technologies. Later, I asked a couple of salespeople and their manager to define “target.” The results were interesting.

One definition: “A target account is a new account.” Another person described a target as “exploratory.” The final definition stated a target should be, “one of my top five accounts.” All of these answers came from the same company – the same sales team – the same management. And, we all had attended the same meeting.

The vendor salespeople were no different. When I asked one district manager for a “target” for their cool new product line, he rattled off: Forest Products, Mining, Food Processing and Automotive Industry. Why was this particularly bothersome? The nearest Forest and Mining businesses were thousands of miles away. To a salesperson thinking about targets, this sends two messages: “My vendor doesn’t even know a target for my territory,” and “Maybe this product is not something I should devote time to selling.”

Proper targeting is the key to successfully launching new products. Human nature drives a desire to produce fast results. Dr. Robert Atkins, inventor of the Atkins Diet, stressed the need for an initial quick success in weight loss to drive future behavior over a long period of time. In a completely unrelated field (education), Dr. Shinichi Suzuki discovered that children who experienced quick success in music were many times more likely to continue their studies – even when practice became routine. Specialists can drive a result by “stacking the deck” for early success.

By defining the best early targets, you create the one or two early wins that build into long-term success. Because you are responsible for getting the new products into your company’s sales pipeline, time invested thinking about targets pays important dividends. For each new product answer the following questions:

What kinds of customer would best benefit from the product?

This should be answered in as specific a manner as possible. A bad example would be General Motors – a good answer would be the painting department of a large metal assembly company (General Motors) where explosive paint fumes create the need for tools with special arc proof coating. This opens the door to thoughts about a number of different companies where the environment is similar. Vendor partners and nationally based organizations like to use SIC codes to make these decisions. Unfortunately, the SIC registry is not an exact science. I suggest you put your personal knowledge (and the knowledge of others around you) to work in developing a short list.

Who at these companies is most likely to understand the impact of the benefit?

Hopefully your salesperson knows lots of people in his accounts – the good ones know how these people are measured and judged. Give thought to carefully selecting the right contact. If your product has a safety feature, showing it to a maintenance person may prove to be disastrous. She may judge your product based on it being difficult to use rather than the importance of added safety. Select who (the contact) you target as carefully as you select the client company.

Do you (or the vendor salespeople) know of companies experiencing success in some other part of the country/territory? What drove the success at these companies?

Nothing can jump start the success of a new product like the introduction to the local plant of a company that has already experienced success. But before adding these people to your list, it is important to know a few details. What were the situations leading to the use? What went well? What was learned? And, how well has this been publicized to the company in general? If possible, make contact with the key decision-maker at the remote location. A short phone call can fill in gaps that make the success story more valid for local users.

Once you have this information, the specialist can lay the ground work for setting up strong initial targets. When the opportunity presents itself, gain buy-in from the salesperson. Discuss your ideas for quick successes; whenever possible overlay your choices with his or her own top accounts. It really is easier to sell more to existing accounts. When you are finished with the initial process you should have the following information:

  • Target account names – I suggest no more than six
  • The right contact – if not by name, certainly by job description
  • Proper collateral materials – literature, demos, samples, joint call dates
  • A few bullet points to use in selling the product – remember, salespeople have dozens of accounts
  • A time frame for initial contact – agreed upon by both salesperson and specialist

Targets need to be revisited. After the salesperson’s first customer meeting, the specialist can help fine tune the targeting process by discussing the high and low points of the call. If new collateral is needed, it can quickly be brokered to the salesperson. If the demo didn’t go smoothly, a personal tutorial will rebuild confidence and drive better demos at the next target. If this meeting produces major discoveries – for example the competition has the same thing at 10% lower price – adjustments can be made for the entire sales organization.

Targeting accelerates business growth. But the question remains, “Is this worth the effort?” Here is a parting thought: new research indicates that organizations that are great at targeting are 47% more effective than those with average targeting skills. Specialists are uniquely qualified to make an impact! Good luck and happy targeting.

Frank Hurtte of River Heights Consulting has developed a unique training system for distributor specialists. Reach him at (563) 514-1104 or

This article originally appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2009 edition of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2009, Direct Business Media, LLC.


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