My PE teacher was a great baseball player. I was always looking forward to the lessons where he taught us his tips and tricks. My favorite was the home-run lesson. I will never forget his words: “Getting to 1st base is easy, but it is a real skill to steal a home run”. I don’t know how familiar you are with this cat and mouse part of the game, but scoring the maximum points in one hit, is exciting stuff! It requires optimal preparation, pro-activeness, and constant checking where the ball and opponent players are- while running the air out of your lungs. I was reminded of these PE days when someone asked my advice on how to get a new customer to ship-to-profile. Meaning, after the contract is signed, how do you ensure you get all the businesses – and are not getting stuck at 1st base?
This is a challenge for many salespeople. Trust me; you are not on your own. Maybe you received a few orders, but after that…nothing! Why didn’t you get the orders as promised? This phase of the sales process is often overlooked and underestimated. You cannot expect all the business to follow after you disappear into a black hole. Like in stealing a home run, getting the full commitment from your new customer requires hard work. And you need a plan.
The first thing about your Homerun is, be on high alert. There is no time for complacency. Changing suppliers is not an easy decision for companies, especially if there is a long history of working together with the incumbent competitor. The more complex the business you are trying to win is, the higher the chances of not getting the full business. From the buyer’s perspective, sure, they will let you go to 1st base. To hit that Homerun, you need to take the initiative to make the implementation as easy and comfortable as possible for the stakeholders you have been dealing with. What worked well for me was introducing a solid implementation plan:
- The upside-down pyramid. I pro-actively introduced my new customer to several support functions, including Customer Service, our Billing Department, etc. My primary contact always found it very useful to have a cheat-sheet of contact numbers where surprisingly, my mobile number was at the bottom of the pyramid. I explained that I was available, but it made more sense for them to have direct numbers to services that matter, depending on what they needed. Then I emailed them a Welcome Pack and instructed my Implementation Team to call the customer’s relevant departments for a quick introduction.
- Do the legwork. I made sure that the customer understood that I was part of the implementation plan. Meaning, I sold them the outcome, and I wanted to make sure they would get the results they were looking for. I offered to do the legwork to ensure every possible department where future orders could come from was on board to make the change. In this way, I met people I had not met before. This self-initiative was always appreciated…
- Propose a milestone plan. I did not leave the building before we had agreed on a starting date and expected milestones. This often looked like a ramp-up line with the expectation of gaining the full business in two months.
- Reinforce the commitment to change. It is never picture-perfect. Although I had the buying group’s commitment, I reinforced the reason for changing and the additional strategic value at every meeting. Here is where “keeping an eye-on-the-ball skill” came in. I wanted that Homerun.
- Check-in on key milestones. Lastly, I blocked my calendar and invited my main contact to evaluation meetings for the following three months to assess the progress. I had the performance data ready, and we ironed out any start-up challenges. I continued to show I wanted to take ownership of the outcome, which was my promise to help with the customer’s success.
Too often, the implementation phase is left to the customer. If you do that, you are running with your eyes closed and hoping that everything will go well. Don’t get caught by surprises. Keep your eyes on the ball and ensure a solid Homerun.
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