Recently I read an HBR blog that was putting forth the point that the sales rep should not have exclusive ownership to the customer. While fundamentally I agree with the statement, I believe the blog missed a more important point to consider. For reference, here is the article: http://bit.ly/sOczpL.
I know that small businesses and, for that matter, many medium size businesses find that determining ownership can be a problem. I feel that the question should not be about ownership, but rather, once you have a customer relationship, how should you best service that customer? To begin to answer this question, you need to look at what you sell, how it is sold, how it is delivered, and who will support the customer and how. Looking at it from the customer’s perspective you need to ask, what is their perception of the value you provide to their business? When you sell your offerings to your customers, what is the highest level involved in the buying process? This will help you determine how to best service that customer.
Let’s say that you sell a rather complex solution. Your usual sales cycle time is 5 – 10 months. There are multiple people and steps in the buying process. The visibility of the impact of your solution is at the executive level. Most likely the sales rep has been leading this sales initiative and has meet with the target customer’s senior leadership throughout the sales initiative. A relationship has developed. The sales rep has been the conduit between the customer and you. When questions arise regarding future needs, capabilities, or offerings, then the person that is in the best position to respond to the customer is the sales rep. This does not mean that they OWN the account. It does mean that they have a responsibility to keep their company appraised on developments within the customer and to ensure that the proper customer support is provided and maintained. The sales rep is the primary conduit to the customer, but not the only conduit.
Now let’s look at a situation on the other end of the scale. Your offering is a simple product. The sales rep is positioning your product as the product of choice. There is a simple evaluation of the competitive offerings and your product is selected. The selection process is made by procurement. While the sales rep is important, the customer is going to want an easy acquisition process and quick access to order fulfillment and customer support. When the order is won, the sales rep will want to keep their finger on the pulse of the customer but, unless they have additional offerings, they will move onto the next customer. Their role is different than the example above. Again, it is not an ownership issue as much as it is a service issue. This customer is in the sales rep’s territory, therefore they have an account management responsibility but not an account ownership responsibility.
These are only two examples of the many variations that can be discussed. The issue needs to be about how you can best service the customer. How you sell AND support the customer will help you determine the compensation that you pay to the staff that is involved with the sale and service of that customer. Here are key points that you should discuss internally to define the role of sales and other support functions that support the customer and the compensation they receive.
1. Ask “At what level of the customer is our value recognized?” If it is at the higher levels of the organization or the executive level, then the sales rep is going to play a bigger role in the relationship. Compensate accordingly.
2. Ask “What happens when the sale is complete? How will we support the customer? What is the role of the sales rep after the sale?” The less the sales rep is involved, the more other organizational units are involved. There may be the need to compensate customer support for customer retention and revenue growth.
Take a moment to assess how you sell, service, and support your customers. Use your analysis to establish the responsibilities and compensation for building and maintaining your customer relationships. The company owns the customer relationship, not any one individual.