When recently working with a Senior VP at a top professional services firm, we kept hearing that consultants and analysts were on customer sites all the time doing project work – yet the firm routinely missed learning about new business opportunities.
As the VP shared: “Our customers only know what we do for them, not our full portfolio. In many cases new projects pop up and we don’t hear about them. The customer doesn’t think about us. This represents a huge opportunity lost.”
Professional service firms who have large project teams located on customer sites for long periods of time represent a special case where “howdy calls” (not a term they would use) make great sense. The on-site teams are technical people. Nevertheless, they can as the VP noted, “keep their heads up” for new opportunities and pass that information along to the firm’s Business Development staff (sales people).
This experience made us think about the value of howdy calls in other types of companies. In general the notion of sales people dashing around their territories solely for the purpose of making howdy calls is an idea that has been discouraged – and rightly so. However, we believe howdy calls that are targeted and skillfully done could be a good idea.
For example, howdy calls could have utility when:
- The customer isn’t aware of the company’s breadth of capabilities. Howdy calls can be effective for companies that have a sophisticated solution portfolio to sell and the customer isn’t aware of the entire range of capabilities. In cases like this, for example, a customer may only see the company as providing systems integration solutions, not systems design capabilities.
- A few products are sold to many customer contacts throughout the company so howdy calls can be used as a way to identify new opportunities for the products.
- A sales rep has a story to tell to people who are hard to get access to. For example, the sales rep wants Dr. Silver to implant a new medical device but has been unable to get “face time” with the doc. In a brief howdy call, the sales rep can mention that Dr. Gold (a respected colleague of Dr. Silver) just implemented the device and the procedure went well – setting the seed for future sales efforts with Dr. Silver.
Like a lot of things in sales, it’s difficult to make sweeping statements about what works and what doesn’t work. Howdy calls fall into that category. While traditionally they’ve been portrayed negatively, a well-planned purposeful howdy call that’s skillfully done can advance sales. The challenge is actually doing them in a well-planned and skillful manner. One of the major ways to get done is to optimize the time spent on customers sites. Is there another person you can talk to when you are there? Could you help someone better understand the total capabilities of your company? This usually comes down to better planning before the visit.
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