Growing a sales territory year after year is challenging and there is no one formula to achieve it. One thing for certain is that if you do not do it with key accounts, it probably won’t get done.

We all know that it takes a similar investment of time and effort to develop business in small accounts as it does with large accounts, and that the rewards are usually much greater where the large opportunities exist. The issue here is that our competition is also targeting these same few customers. To win, we must do it differently than they do it.

One way to be different is to try high-level selling. This approach is not focused on products and traditional sales call “blocking and tackling.” It is a loftier approach to problem identification and problem solving that spotlights the goals of the customer.

Gaining and keeping business in key accounts is the only way to achieve growth goals that have been set by or for you, and getting away from your traditional sales pattern and doing some high-level selling can help.

The Business Review

There are several ways to gain business and to reduce lost business in key accounts. A form of high-level selling that I have found to be very effective is an initial formal business review meeting, followed by scheduled project updates. This communication is a very effective way to not only keep existing business, but to also open new opportunities for growth. Allowing existing business to be lost to competition is counterproductive when it comes to growing sales territories.

Unless we build strong bridges with key accounts, competition will move in. In addition, we underutilize our strong business relationships that can shorten the selling cycle in key accounts. Business review meetings should be scheduled with your primary customer contact and his or her manager. Other upper level managers and department heads that are appropriate are a plus. You should also include someone from your sales management, customer service and other appropriate team or department leaders in the meeting.

Over the years, I have been involved with many business reviews, both as a salesperson and as a manager. Invariably, they lead to stronger business relationships that lead to new sales opportunities within those key accounts. Investing the time to do a business reviews with key accounts shows your customers that they are important to you, thereby giving you the opportunity to help your customers reach their goals. The dynamics of the business review process is unlike any other sales call, and lays the foundation for a more solid business relationship with these very valuable customers.

Business reviews take time to prepare. You must gather information from your computer reports and compile information about your past activities and successes. Investing the time to thoroughly prepare will pay huge dividends.

Meeting With Clients

The business review meeting should start with some short comments that set the stage for the next discussions. Talk about the culture of your organization and how that culture has made you a leader in your field. It can involve your value proposition and anything else that makes you uniquely qualified to be a top supplier to this customer. The sales manager is usually the most effective in speaking to these issues. The salesperson should be the leader when reviewing achievements and open projects. Plan this out prior to the meeting.

Business reviews encompass a variety of information (see sidebar). They should spell out the client’s past purchasing history as well as what value-added services you as a distributor provided. Also, outline the customer’s goals and what new opportunities you will bring the client. Finally, the business review should include a schedule of future correspondence.

We all like selling products and may initially see the business review process as non-selling related. I can tell you from experience that this type of high-level selling can be the most productive thing you do. It can shorten the time it takes to close projects, and it always opens untapped sales opportunities. These new opportunities will also be encouraged and supported by key influencers in your key accounts. What a great win/win situation.

We all know the gut-wrenching pain that comes from losing a key account to a competitor. We also know how much time it can take for a territory to recover from the loss of a key account. The business review process can reduce the frequency that this occurs.

Be selective about which customers will benefit from a formal business review. You should choose two to five key accounts that would be crushing to you and your territory if they switched suppliers. Also, choose one to two that you would like to have as key accounts. Once you have made these selections, set the appointments and move forward.

To be effective, the business review process should be part of the culture of your company and they should be scheduled and driven by sales management. All top salespeople recognize the value and merit of business reviews, but the hard reality is that very few will take their own initiative to get them done. If you are a solid salesperson that wants to grow your territory and bring additional value to your customers, then develop this process for yourself. If you are a sales manager or a corporate leader, then I encourage you to make this “corporate connection” a part of your defined selling process. Doing business reviews for your company’s top 50 to 100 customers will have dramatic, measurable results.

Curt Whiting has spent his entire career with a manufacturer and a distributor. While with Edmont-Wilson, Curt was in field sales, sales training, marketing and sales management. With Nichols, he held many sales related positions over 30 years, from field sales to sales management to executive vice president of sales and marketing. Curt is presently with Action! Marketing, Spring Lake, Mich., where he does consulting and training for manufacturers and distributors. He can be reached at (616) 437-0977 or


A business review should be comprised of the following components:

• A cover page with the customer’s logo and possibly their corporate tag line. Put in your corporate logo, and possibly your corporate tag line. Include the date and the names of those who are participating.

• An opening comments page of appropriate information that defines your company. This can include a mission statement, value proposition, core values, etc. This is the page that sets the stage for the core information in the review.

• A financial review sheet is historical data (this should be available through your IT people) that shows: The customer’s past year’s purchases and their current year’s purchases; the number of orders placed with the distributor last year and this year; the number of deliveries made to the customer last year and this year; the average size of each invoice; the fill-rate to the customer; the number of on-time or late deliveries; and the average days to pay an invoice.

If there are any issues with any of the above evaluations, then make certain you have identified the root-cause of the problem and are prepared to offer possible solutions prior to this meeting. Negatives can lead to positive outcomes. Here, it may lead to larger order sizes, fewer deliveries, shorter days to pay, etc.

• Goal sharing is the start to having major constructive dialogue. Make certain that you learn what your customer is working to achieve. Cost savings, continuous improvement, vendor reduction, lean manufacturing, green initiatives and sustainability are examples of what you may hear. An easy transition is to ask about their corporate goals, then their departmental goals, their team goals and finally their individual goals. Ultimately, if you understand how they are being evaluated and you concentrate on documenting those achievements, you will be a highly valued and respected supplier. You may also share your goals and identify where the two sets match.

• Review completed cost savings projects and the impact they have contributed to the customer’s bottom line. Remember to include both hard and soft cost savings. Add all cost savings contributions to show an annual impact. If you lack achievements to document on this page, it is a sure signal that you are not bringing value to this key account.

• Training and departmental interaction is something that you will want to identify. Let this customer know what you have been doing that adds value for them. Don’t be afraid to put down too much. This section shows your determination to be an interactive solutions provider and not just a supplier. Training has value. Identify its value and put a number to it.

• Open projects identifies where you are spending your time and the potential return it would bring to this account. Be as specific as you can about the estimated value of the proposed improvement. This may get your contact involved in helping you to move the project forward. Discuss any roadblocks that you might be encountering and seek help to reduce them. Talk about a timeline for completion.

• New opportunities is the key page that will get you what you want. Here you outline projects you would like to work on. Briefly discuss the perceived value you can bring and the potential impact it may have for your customer. You will rarely have to ask for their endorsement as they will most likely ask you how they can assist in getting started.

• Project management is the final page and the one that outlines your scheduled projects updates. The frequency of these follow-up meetings will be determined by the urgency or intensity of your open projects. Before you leave, make certain that these follow-up meetings are in everyone’s planner for the remainder of the year, like the first Tuesday of each quarter (I have seen them as frequently as weekly). This pre-set schedule will help to keep you and the customer on-track. Effective project management includes “what” (the action), “by whom” and a “by when.” Your customer may very likely have as many action assignments as you will have. Document these for your follow-up meetings.