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National Accounts -- How Do You Create a Program That Really Works?

This article is intended to help everyone gain a better understanding of National Accounts Programs, including the motivation for creating one and the steps toward a successful process. While it is not intended to definitively answer every question regarding national accounts, it serves as a set of guiding principles for those in the company who are responsible for the success of the program. It is written for salespeople, branch managers and national account representatives, not the company's executive management team. However, keep in mind that executive management needs to be committed to the program and would benefit by understanding the process and concepts.

Regain Power by Offering Competitive Advantage

National accounts, by definition, have significant size and buying power which provide leverage in demanding lower prices. In addition, because of their complexity and demographics, they are often more difficult and expensive to service. Consequently, most national accounts are the least profitable.

In response, you need to make a concentrated effort to effectively rebalance the shift of power by offering significant competitive advantages that make your products and services more critical to your national accounts. Without creating competitive advantage, you will be tied to the downward price spiral that eats margin and effectively negates any understanding by your customers that "price is not the same as cost." A structured national accounts program with definitive guidelines is the first step toward gaining competitive advantage.
There are four basic broad categories of added value that create competitive advantage:

1. Processes that streamline your customers' productivity, improve quality, take transaction costs out of the supply chain and provide measurable savings (unrelated to price).

2. Administrative and technical support that can reduce your customers' internal costs enough to affect bottom line operating costs.

3. Sales and marketing support that can increase your customers' top line.

4. Technology that is core to your customers' business results, yet is beyond their internal capabilities.
Your national accounts program should refocus your efforts on all of these issues.

Four Fundamentals

The ultimate success of a national accounts program depends on the hard work and team participation of all company employees involved in the process.
There are four basic fundamentals of success in any national accounts program:

1. Knowledge - Study the internal processes of your company and/or the internal workings of your national accounts program if you already have one in place.

2. Understanding - Research the business environment in which your company operates and the resulting defined objectives for a national accounts program.

3. Clarity - Identify the big picture of market and customer demand and direction. This should be a true understanding of what your corporation is trying to accomplish in total.

4. Commitment - Secure the commitment of your entire company.


It is essential to outline the objectives of your program, the process involved, and the direction to take in order to receive help and support when necessary. If you have no program in effect, it is critical to develop this process.

Second, activity measurement and open communication (both up and down the chain of command) are absolutely critical for success. Accountability is an absolute necessity and it must be clearly defined. Support from your company's information management system can provide the fundamental elements of success for the national accounts program. A weak information system could leave dangerous voids or even misrepresent the true picture of the national accounts program.