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Our ABM “Hunting License”

by David Brock on June 24th, 2019

I’ve never been comfortable about the hunter/farmer notions around selling. I’ve always maintained every sales person is a hunter. If you aren’t, you don’t belong in sales.

We tend to think of farmers as the account managers, those who think their job is to “protect and defend,” (apologies to many of our police forces). They are driven not to rock the boat, to make sure our customers are happy, to answer their questions, to make sure that we retained them, getting that coveted annual renewal.

If we could, we would expand, we’d grow our users, we’d upsell, adding more products, but never rocking the boat.

When I first started selling—–Yeah, I’m talking about the good old days, before email, Slack, texts, twitter, LinkedIn, social media, mobiles. Then we relied on telephones, shoe leather, and the occasional postage stamp—–I was an account manager. (Sorry, I’m slightly aghast at how old I’m making myself sound. To think that was really not that long ago…)

I had a single very large account. It was one of the largest money center banks in the world. It’s headquarters was at One Chase Plaza in Manhattan. It had a major operations center at One New York Plaza, and other major operations centers scattered through Manhattan, Long Island, and the world.

My job was to protect the install base, of course. But also to generate and additional $26M of revenue from that one, albeit gigantic, account.

I was fortunate to have my “ABM Hunting License.”

What do I mean by that?

First, we were already a major supplier. This meant we had internal references. We were already a trusted partner. As I prospected, I could refer prospect to people they probably already knew within the bank. Additionally, the people we worked with would say, “Dave, have you talked to those guys in check processing, they need to do something different….”

Second, I had “the badge.” This was the coveted badge that would get me into almost any of the bank’s major operations centers. Even though my badge said “vendor,” I could wander around freely. All my competitors had to wait in reception or at security to be escorted.

As I said, that badge was my hunting license. Every week I would start in a different building. I’d start in the basement, wander around, working my way up floor by floor, prospecting. The next week, I’d do the same thing in a different building. Every couple of months, I’d go to Europe, or Asia, or somewhere else with my hunting license.

When I was finished with my rounds, I’d go back to the first building and start again.

In my hunting, I continually looked not for opportunities to sell, but for opportunities to help my customer grow and improve. To help them improve their operations, reducing costs. To help them to serve their customers in novel ways (This customer was one of the first in NYC to introduce ATMs—our ATMs!)

Finding opportunities to help them grow and get better meant finding opportunities for them to buy more from me!

My hunting license enabled me to do something else. I got to hang out where my customers hung out. That meant every day I ate lunch in one of the employee cafeterias, meeting people, overhearing conversations, becoming part of the customer. Usually, a couple times a week, I’d be invited to the officers dining room. The food was the same, there was just waiter service, white table cloths, and Decisionmakers! And a couple of times a year I got invited to Mr. Rockefeller’s private dining room–usually accompanying one of our top executives.

Because, we were a big supplier, my customer gave me an office at their major operations center. It was actually an oversized closet, there was a desk, chair, telephone. But it was 157 steps from the CIOs office and 10 floors from the COOs.

But my Account Management job was all about hunting. The only difference between my job and the other hunters in my company was that I could only hunt in one account. In some ways I had it tougher, I had to make $26M from one account, my colleagues had dozens to hundreds they could go after in their hunting.

Of course things have changed. We do much more “virtually.” We have wonderful tools that give us greater insight into what’s happening with our customers. We have more channels through which we can reach and engage our customers (though telephones and shoe leather–I suppose I should say shoe rubber, are still really powerful!). Potentially, we have much more to talk to them about. Our hunting license may no longer be a vendor’s badge, but we have all sorts of ways to gain access (but do try to get a vendor’s badge).

While how we hunt has changed, the basic job remains the same. Account managers must hunt! Retention is part of the job, it’s how we maintain our hunting license.

To think of the account management job as anything else is doing a disservice to our customers and our own company.

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