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How to Close a Key Account to a National Brand

Before we start, you need an exceptional team and access to proper resources to have a chance in this competitive game. If you do, shelf space in a Brand that has a few hundred or even thousand stores and major online traffic have significant rewards. Assuming your company is ready, and can get the meeting (you can always get the meeting but that is a different discussion), here are the steps to closing a Key Account:

  • Listen: The National Category Brand Merchant will tell you what is needed in a product for that particular brand. Your product, packaging, merchandizing must fit the exact story line. Whatever you think will work before this point will not be the end result. Understand “sell through” expectations and margin. Listen for promotion partnering expectations and understand how to stand apart from the competition. Understand expectations in regard to order size, logistics, shrink procedures and expectations, timing of decisions, delivery dates, inventory commitments, reorders, customer service, and payments.

  • Research: Research the stores and understand the competition inside and out. Your competition will sometimes be waiting in the lobby as you exit the first meeting. Look for price points, packaging, displays, strengths, weaknesses and anything else. Talk to the managers (as a customer) in several stores about the competition’s products. Look for trends as to why some products get the best space in the Merchant’s category. Then research the National Brand’s competition in the product category.

  • Engage: Call the Merchant from time to time to update and ask a few questions like “Would you rather have …..”. Make sure they are aware that you listened.

  • Design: Build a custom program with your team based on Value Added products for the customers of the Brand that tracks to their story line. Address packaging, displays, display returns if applicable, reorders, support (in house or third party), and guarantees. Build the back end manufacturing line to understand all supply chain issues including timing, minimums, labor and facility. Test prototypes as much as possible to find any unforeseen issues.

  • Collect Content: The end of the Product Development phase is the best time to collect content. Content includes POP material, “call out phrases”, images, video, SEO, potential newsletter topics. Make sure you match the National Brands ecommerce and store rules. Providing Marketing will give you a better chance over your competition. Some might say that collecting content now is a waste because you might not even be awarded the program. However, presenting the Marketing content will give you an advantage over your competition. Take advantage of the divide in most of your competition between Marketing and Sales.

  • Financial Model: Develop a financial model that includes all aspects of product margin including material cost, labor and facility. Don’t forget to include freight in costs and insurance requirement costs. Understand all elements and build out over time revenue against cost to create a realistic projection. Create a list of risks and how to address worst case scenarios. Understand in financial condition of the National Brand and assess risk. Understand the timing of use of cash and range of ROI. Get all key internal stakeholders to understand the risks and potential reward and get a clear “buy in”.

  • Presentation: Should be professional printed color slides with great images and a smooth 20 minute narrative … practice. Be prepared for questions throughout. The presentation should include:

Slide 1 show that you have the experience, people, facility, and resources for the success of the program

Slide 2 provide data that supports your product’s Value Proposition in general (B2C data is gold) The Merchants are data junkies so data that supports your program increases your chance of success

Slide 3 show the Value Added Proposition for the Brand’s customers that tracks to their story line

Slide 4 show the product, packaging, displays and samples if possible

Slide 5 show logistics solution and display returns if applicable

Slide 6 show merchandizing support solutions, marketing partnerships, address shrink, returns, reorder quantities and lead times

Slide 7 show margin calculations for the National Brand

Slide 8 show you programs value verses comparisons with other options (without mentioning the competition by name and do not disparage)

Slide 9 provide as much collateral content as possible including POP material, and online images, video, SEO key words, copy . Show your product in their store, online, and in their catalog if applicable

Slide 10 reinforce overlapping core values of your company with the National Brand

Follow Up: You will likely be told when the decision will be made but it is always good to talk your Merchant prior to get an indication and to see if you can make any adjustments that will put you in a better position. Some Brands will allow minor adjustments prior to the decision.

Congratulations, you were awarded the order. You and your team should celebrate the victory. The real work is ahead in the execution. National Brand orders operate on tight schedules and margins so profitability for both parties is all about execution. I will talk about that in another post.

There is no “secret sauce” here. Just creating value and messaging that value. I love this stuff, so if you want to talk to me about your company and Key Accounts just email me at I look forward to talking.

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