Selling Deep vs. Selling Wide

Do you want to sell to more customers or sell more within your current accounts? Both approaches have advantages

Are you looking for more customers? If so, ask yourself what kind of new business you're after. Do you want to go deep (sell more within existing accounts) or go wide (open new accounts across several companies or industries)? Before you decide, consider the following positives and negatives of both.

Selling Deep

Typically, when you have several clients in a large organization, it is easier for them to refer you to their peers. Let's say you sell services to Barbara, who works at a federal agency (see, 3/9/07, "Selling to the Federal Government"). At her weekly staff meeting, her peer Bob mentions that he needs your type of services, too. She might mention this to you and voilà—a referral. Selling to referrals is a quick way to increase sales.

When meeting with referrals or attempting to reach out to new prospects you've found on your own, be sure to describe your extensive knowledge about your customers and their industry. The prospective customer will understand that you bring more to the table than a newcomer.

At one time, my entire sales territory consisted of five large buildings occupied by two telecommunications companies. Since I had such a small territory, I quickly became an expert in my customers' culture, policies, and politics. New customers felt more confident when I could show them how to fill out their own company's purchase orders. They trusted my recommendations because I understood the context of their requests. To remind them I offered this value, I used to joke, "If you need me, yell out your window or look down the hall for me. I'm nearby." They loved it.

One caveat about selling deep: Be very careful to keep confidential information private. Becoming an expert can backfire if you let secrets slip. If you're not sure whether you can share a piece of information with another client, just ask. You could get blacklisted, officially or unofficially, if you announce a layoff, new product, or any other privileged information before its intended release date.

Selling Wide

The most obvious advantage of directing your selling efforts at new companies and industries is you reduce your risk and thereby increase the stability of your revenues. If all your revenues come from one company or one industry, and their need for what you sell takes a dive, your revenues will plunge, too. Imagine what happened to the companies that specialized in selling to Enron or Worldcom—ouch!

By selling your offerings to industries or areas you've never sold to before, you might discover opportunities that are bigger or better than those you have now. For example, I once worked for a company that sold a lot into Division A of a Fortune 100 company, but almost none into Division B. Against the advice of my boss and peers, who said that the new division wouldn't pay our prices, I discovered buyers in Division B who did buy similar offerings in our price range. I started selling into this new area and today my former employer has a separate office just to service Division B.

If you want to sell to new industries and accounts, study exactly how you're benefiting your customers now and look for other customers who need those same benefits. For example, if you can decrease delivery costs for catalog companies, discover what other industries have similar delivery systems and offer to decrease their costs, too.

So what's the perfect answer to deciding whether to sell deep or wide? It's different for everyone, but if you're getting more than 80% of your revenues by going either deep or wide, modify your selling plan and balance your efforts in the opposite direction. Happy selling!

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