Need Help? (888) 742-5060

In The News:

'Think Like Columbo' to Uncover Opportunities with Existing Customers

'Think Like Columbo' to Uncover Opportunities with Existing Customers

June 19, 2017

Many companies only focus on current sales volume when profiling accounts, but that only tells half the story. Current volume does not reveal potential volume. When you dig deeper, like the notoriously detail-oriented TV detective Columbo, and profile the potential of your product or services, you’ll uncover growth. You need to understand which products and services are worth your team’s valuable time.  

When I was an industrial sales manager, one of my sales reps was really focused on selling pH meters to an existing customer. He talked about this potential for months and listed it on top of his pipeline report at every sales meeting. He even built a special demo for this opportunity.

I happened to be in the office the morning he was loading up that special demo box for a lunch and learn that day. I had heard so much about this potential opportunity that I decided to join him. Before the demo and lunch for 15 technicians, I asked if everyone there was involved with servicing the pH in the plant; just two out of the 15 raised their hand. With my attention now on the two, I asked if they were having any problems with their existing pH meters and how many they maintained. They told me they had no problems with the two pH meters in the plant.

At that point, it was obvious that we were barking up the wrong tree, and I started digging for other potential opportunities. We’d already spent $300 on lunch, plus travel and preparation time – time and money we’d never get back. This story is an example of why I’m so adamant that anyone wanting to increase share of wallet with existing customers must first profile the account for potential opportunities – and the estimated volume associated with them – to ensure it's worth the effort.

How to do it? One way is to directly ask the customer lots of questions, and then confirm the answers you’re getting. Your best salespeople are likely doing this already, but they’re doing it off-the-cuff. Encourage all of your reps to consistently ask these types of questions and to document the answers in a shared data hub like a modern CRM so this information can later be recalled and leveraged.

Even if customers aren’t revealing cross-selling opportunities when you talk to them, you can identify these opportunities by looking at the current products you’re selling and related products that you’re not selling them. For example, if you’ve sold 100 valves to a customer, you know there is going to be an actuator on most of the valves. You can deduce the potential volume for actuators based on that number.

If you think you’ve identified an opportunity but aren’t sure of the volume, visit the facility to do a rough count. If you know your target customer has storage tanks, walk or drive around the facility and count them, observing the setup as you go. If you count 100 tanks and know that there are three pressure instruments on every tank, you can quantify that potential opportunity.

When you have information, it leads to new, better questions. Which customers have the highest potential volume in the product areas you want to focus on? If those customers aren’t buying those products from you, who are they buying them from? What are they getting out of their current arrangement that they aren’t getting (or don’t know they could get) from you?

Answers to these questions can lend guidance not only to your outside sales teams but to other departments, as well. If the marketing team is aware of the most promising opportunities and biggest competitors, they can design email campaigns and other marketing materials that position your company as a more desirable option.

You really have to understand your applications to do this kind of analysis. Researching potential volume takes time, and much of the burden will fall on your outside sales team. But you can start the effort slowly and grow it as you begin to see a return on investment. I promise you, it will be time well spent.

I talk about how you can profile your customers using 4-D target account profiling in my book, ROI from CRM, available from MDM.

Brian Gardner is author of ROI from CRM and founder of SalesProcess360, which is focused on helping industrial sales organizations think differently about sales process and get ROI from CRM. Learn more about SalesProcess360 at, and contact Gardner at

© 2019 Gale Media, Inc.

Please do not reprint MDM's content on your website without MDM's express permission as it is copyrighted material. To gain permission, email us, or call 1-888-742-5060. For information on PDF or print reprints, visit MDM welcomes inbound links from your site. Please cite Modern Distribution Management.

2018-top-distributors-listThe 2018 Top Distributors List

This free PDF includes lists of top distribution companies across 14 sectors.

You will also receive MDM Update, our daily distribution e-newsletter & other distribution-focused content.

Download the Free PDF now >>

MDM-UpdateMDM Update: Daily Newsletter 

Sign up to read the best source for news & trends in wholesale distribution, MDM Update. Delivered daily to your inbox. 

Sign-up for MDM Update >>

Post a comment to this article

Partner Center