Finding value Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2010

David Abraham had the solution — a video tour. Send a video tour of Accel Inc. to potential clients to spur growth.

More people would see the value that the fulfillment, distribution and contract packaging company could offer. It seemingly worked, Accel signed 15 new clients.

“Well it was a big mistake,” says Abraham, co-founder, co-CEO and chief operating officer.

Accel has seen its best years since the endeavor six years ago. Revenue in 2008 surpassed $20 million. But Abraham and his wife, Tara, who shares CEO duties, learned you can’t chase dollars. Now they’re more selective with whom they partner.

What it comes down to is, before contracts are signed, you need to determine how you can add value and whether the new client adds value for you.

“It should be black and white, and you understand exactly what you’re trying to accomplish,” Abraham says. “Any gray area in there is just going to prolong the goal and the timeline to get to your goal.”

Smart Business spoke with Abraham about how to find the right clients.

Prescreen others and yourself. Our marketing manager in business development goes out, and we have a list of customers that we know about. There’s a deep dive in the information on there that they can obtain for us and, at the same time, create more for that list that we can explore.

I don’t like using the word list because we’re not looking for 50 new clients — that’s not our business. Our business is to find companies that want to partner with us, and then we will grow with them throughout their organization.

A lot of companies use lists. I think lists are a waste of time. You have to do trial by error. You just need to be so focused on who you are and what value you bring. Then you go use that to explore what the opportunities might be that you can marry up to that.

I don’t want to be something that we’re not. That’s very important as a CEO, as a company, that we stay focused on what value we bring to our client and not trying to sell something that we aren’t. That prescreening is all about understanding who we are. If we don’t understand who we are, then we have no chance in going out and finding out how to prescreen anybody else. It starts with your own company.

Have exploratory conversations. Our first meeting with any potential client is an exploratory one, which gives our potential partner an opportunity to present what their needs are without feeling like they’re being sold.

Once we’ve identified or they’ve identified us as a potential partner, typically what will happen is the client will visit our facility. Way before they visit us, we will have an itinerary put together (of) what they believe they’re looking for so we have some structure for the meeting.

Again, I think the most important part is at that point in time we’re not chasing dollars, we are just exploring, whether we listen to them, we identify what their needs are, and then see if we can add value to that. In the first meeting, at no given time, are we trying to pick up their business because we don’t know yet, we don’t know if we can add value. To have a pure partnership, you have to add value.

Think about it from both sides. If you’re a customer walking in and you don’t know who Accel is and my chief sales officer and everybody else is trying to sell you, how are you going to accomplish anything in that meeting?

When you go shopping, you take a look and you see what you need. We’re doing the same thing. We want our customers to come in and shop and see what they need and share what they’re shopping for. Then we tell them what we have, and we make those decisions. It’s the most important thing; you can’t sell on the first day because you don’t know that you want to buy it.

Listen to potential partners. Especially in this day and age, I will tell you I have very few potential opportunities that come into our facility that are trying to sell me. They’re coming in because they have a problem that they want us to help solve. They’re there because they have a need. You can find out pretty quickly if that customer is really there to solve a problem and they really want that problem solved by sharing what their critical issues are, what their own customers need.

You find out if you have the right partner sitting across from you by how they’re presenting their challenges.

We’re not here to tell them about us yet; we want to hear about them. By how they share that with us, you can pretty much determine somebody who truly wants to be a partner and solve our challenges together.

We’re very upfront and honest with them that we don’t think you should come in here because we want to be your supplier. We want you to come in here because we don’t know if we should be your supplier, so we’re asking you to take the time to share with us what your needs are, and we would like to take the time after that to show you what we do. If those dots connect, then it’s magic.

Justify turning work down. We make sure that our infrastructure is structured for worst-case and best-case scenario. You have to be. You have to build a flexible organization that can prepare for both.

We can pick up 20 new clients right now and not bat an eye. And we can lose 40 percent of business and still manage today. That’s the key to any business plan that you have, any infrastructure that you have. When you do that, you can say no. Even during these economic times, you can say no. If you don’t do that and you have to take care of a lot of things — you didn’t build in there that flexibility — then you will start chasing dollars. You will end up with a lose-lose situation.

How to reach: Accel Inc., (740) 549-0606 or www.accel-inc.com