An account review is a regularly scheduled meeting between a supplier and client. It is an opportunity to review each others’ performance and working relationship and to develop that relationship further.
On the client side, participants include the decision maker, the purchaser, and the user of the good or service (these can all be one person). On the supplier side, the sales rep always attends, and, depending on circumstances, the sales manager, president and / or a technical expert may be there. How frequent should these review meetings be? For some industries, annual is often enough, while for others, quarterly is best. Frequency is less important than consistency.
Suppliers without an account review process are surprised when they lose business and shocked when they discover their competitors are also supplying product to their client. They speak of strong relationships with their clients and that “they already know everything about them”, from one side of their mouth and from the other, they express resistance to asking them the review questions at all, fearful of “wasting their time.” Regrettably, they miss the incongruity between the two statements.
Clients that do not insist on formal reviews with their suppliers find it difficult to provide them feedback, get substandard service and pricing, and tend to drift away when a new, potentially stronger alternative presents itself.
“Describe a great supplier relationship.” No one enjoys being put on the spot. If your first question is, “what do you think about me as your supplier?” you will make them uncomfortable and you’re less likely to get an honest response. Instead, open by asking about their ideal supplier – any supplier not just one in your industry. They’ll likely relax and you’ll jot down a few key points to consider for your offering. If they give you generic answers such as, “I like good communication,” or “the lowest prices,” ask them to think of their favourite supplier and draw out what it is that is so great. Questions like, “How did you find them? What made it work? How quickly do they respond? Phone or email? Have there been any bumps? How were they handled?” will give them the space they need to give you the information you’re looking for.
“Tell me about one that was not working.” The same principle as above applies; you want to put them at ease by asking about their relationships generally, not the relationship with you specifically. However, if they go directly to talking about your offering you must listen. Remember, you want this feedback so you can improve the relationship. Writing down what they’re saying will disrupt your urge to be defensive and will make them feel heard.
“What are the company’s goals for the next few years?” Ask open-ended questions about the importance and urgency of these goals. For example, are they planning to double sales? Or are they considering introducing a new product line and are heavily investing in R&D? What will the value to them be if they accomplish those goals and how important is it to them? Does it have to happen right away, or are these long-term plans? Once you have explored the company’s direction, ask about their vision of their suppliers’ part in accomplishing it.
“What challenges do you anticipate along the way?” This is the other side of the goals. What will it cost to achieve them in time, money or personnel? Probe using open questions to understand their direction.
“Here’s what others are doing successfully” This is when you get to talk. Avoid telling them what they should do and suggest to them what they could do. Keep it third party to explain what other companies are doing and see if they opt in to wanting a similar solution. For example, Jenn Forgie at Image Group knew that one of her clients fit the profile to upgrade to an online store for their branded merchandise. Instead of telling them what they should do, she presented a chart that illustrated the types of companies that were suited to an online store and those that were not. “They immediately opted in to the online store. Instead of me trying to convince them, they ended up trying to convince me that they fit the profile!”
Describe any new offerings your organization has, or old ones that they had not considered. If you believe they are taking advantage of everything they can, tell them about other offerings anyway. It is possible they know someone to whom they can refer you.
Next Steps. To close the meeting, summarize what you discussed. Highlight any action steps that arose from the conversation to make sure all agree on the actions and timeline. Finally, book your next account review meeting.
Back at the office. Transcribe your notes into your CRM or client folder. Send a follow-up email that summarizes the next steps in bullet points, as well as any commitments by either of you and the timelines. Then follow through as you said you would.
Next time. In advance of the next account review, re-send the notes from last time. It will get everyone back on the same page and allow each of you to measure progress.