Large accounts, national accounts, elephants, whales.
These are big business opportunities (we’re not talking about real animals, right?).
Whales are sought after in new sales and as incumbent rebids because their capture means getting, or keeping large revenue streams, profits and jobs.
You love them because just a few will fill up most of your firm’s revenue totals. And their high-name recognition helps you get smaller fish just because you have a whale or two.
But boy howdy; whales are demanding, and they know it.
Courting them for a new sale, they expect you to break through their defensive barriers in an unobtrusive and yet acceptable way. Go figure how that’s done!
Serving as the incumbent supplier, they expect colossal price concessions, additional services at no cost, instant response, and 360 degree flexibility to their needs and schedule.
Let’s just agree, whales are a necessary evil for suppliers.
Since we want to get them and keep them, let’s take a brief look at their care and feeding.
Caring for Whales
#1) Show the Love
Show the love for whales in your new sales proposals and incumbent rebids:
For new sales: don’t pull your usual proposal content off the shelf and jam it into their Request for Proposal (RFP).
Show the love.
Create, articulate, and present exciting, innovative solutions designed to fit ONLY that whale.
Really, what shows that you care more than a unique creation of yours just for them? Get creative.
For incumbent rebids: don’t walk through their RFP process expecting to retain the contract because your service and value were exceptional.
Show the love.
Propose improvements and changes to the way you’ve served that whale in the past, even if they’re cosmetic.
Whales need to show their customers they’re continually improving too. Give them something to show for sticking with you on the next contract term.
#2) Give Them Something Valuable – Your Time
There’s only one gift that can never be replaced, give it intentionally in a focused way.
For new sales & incumbent rebids: if you’re going to show the love, don’t make it a hurried, slapdash affair.
You know when to start because you know your whales’ contract dates. For new sales, look at your last proposal or ask your customer: for incumbent rebids, you’d better know – you’re the incumbent!
Work backwards from the contract’s term date to estimate when the RFP will come out (typically it’s 3-6 months before the contract expires).
60 to 120 days BEFORE the RFP comes out, start work on your exciting, innovative solutions/changes that will fit ONLY that whale.
Want more reasons to start early? Read 3 Keys for Large Sales Proposals that Win.
#3) Really Learn About Them
For new sales: from the first day you contact the whale, to the RFP’s release and its cone of silence drops down and encircles the whale; seek out:
• Public and confidential info about what’s bugging that whale
• What their big initiatives are
• Any failures they have to overcome
This is the secret sauce you’ll need to cook up your exciting, innovative solutions designed to fit ONLY that whale.
For incumbent rebids: regularly (quarterly) gather insights from your operational people serving the whale.
Formalize the process so you’re getting that confidential info about how your whale feels about your performance, as well as identifying their upcoming initiatives and departmental shortcomings they’re digging out from.
#1) Keep Your Promises
For new sales: there is an unspoken promise when engaging whales that you want a serious relationship.
So don’t be shy. Check in with a live-interaction such as in-person meeting or meaty phone conversation at least six times per year (while email doesn’t count towards the 6 times per year, it’s good for those times between the live interactions).
When interacting, make it more than “how are you doing?” Share industry trends, insights, and upcoming regulatory issues that may affect them. Give them valuable gossip and information. You’re building a trusted/valued relationship.
For incumbent rebids: how difficult is it to comply with the contract you’ve signed? The Service Level Agreements (SLAs) you’re getting dinged on or bonused? Or reporting the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you’re getting assessed by?
More than that, go back through your original proposal and look at those small promises you’d made that aren’t a big deal right now – but that you’d proposed at RFP time.
Make them happen, and then, most importantly, publish them within your quarterly reviews. Point out that you’ve completed another of your promises from your RFP responses. It’s good mileage towards that trusted/valued relationship.
#2) Take Their Temperature
For new sales: while you’re doing your check-ins mentioned above, seek to understand where your contact person is in their work life and career.
The intel you’re seeking is in addition to the company perspective of what’s bugging that whale, what their big initiatives are, and any failures they have to overcome.
In taking individuals’ temperatures, you’re seeking to learn about their:
• Personal ambitions
• Retirement plans
• Career aspirations & legacies
• Alliances & enemies
This personal info is extremely helpful when the RFP comes out as you can speak to those areas WITHOUT calling out they’re for one of the key decision makers.
For incumbent rebids: for a selected few of your key contacts you want their input in a formal satisfaction survey at least once a year. Better yet, you really want to hear the “Voice of the Customer”, your whale customer in this case.
Best-practice is to get an outside 3rd-party to perform the interview, ideally a live-phone interview. This enables customers to be more candid with their comments rather than worrying about hurting their supplier’s feelings.
And the live phone interview enables follow up questions based on what the customer says at that moment. This on-the-fly, drill down ability doesn’t happen in a web-based survey – where customers can grunt out a three word response and be done with the send button.
They’re large, impressive and critical to your firm’s success.
And they’re demanding and dangerous if they don’t behave nicely.
Hey, they’re whales. What did you expect?
Feed them. Care for them. And it’ll be good for you both. If not, that’s another story.