From the November 2004 issue of Entrepreneur

Would you knowingly endanger the viability of your business? Not likely, but many entrepreneurs inadvertently risk financial life and limb by placing all their top accounts with just one great seller. According to Susan Kearney, CEO and president of sales-effectiveness company SalesTraction, located in Falls Church, Virginia, putting all your customer eggs in just one rep's basket is sales suicide. Kearney elaborates, "It's dangerous for one rep to have several top accounts in any size business, and it can be suicide in a small company where a majority of the revenue and referrals flow from a small number of clients." Kearney goes on to say the misstep is a common one for entrepreneurs who "hire a few [salespeople] with great Rolodexes, turn the selling effort over to them, and focus on other [aspects of the business]."

To protect your company's accounts-and to ensure that having one top sales rep leave your company doesn't end up inflicting a mortal wound-follow these steps to avoid the dreaded "all your eggs in one basket" syndrome:

  • Spread sales accounts around. This strategy has worked for T. Gregory Bender, founder of Message Logix Inc. in Rye, New York: "Spreading major accounts across a variety of salespeople can limit the risk factors regarding employee churn and empower the entire sales force." Bender, whose business sells CampaignBuilder-e-mail broadcast communications software-adds, "When a company is growing at a fast clip, it's especially hard not to rely on its primary star salesperson. A corporate sales manager needs to take a step back during fast growth periods and reassign major accounts to other salespeople in order to protect those assets." Bender, who manages six sales reps, anticipates his company will bring in $1.5 million in 2004 sales.

Kearney agrees that sharing the riches among the sales force makes good sense, and she urges entrepreneurs to "balance your revenue portfolio as you balance your investment portfolio." Kearney says the balance should be assessed yearly, when a sales manager can determine what percentage of revenue he or she is comfortable having in the hands of one sales rep. If it turns out that one salesperson is responsible for a disproportionate share of accounts-and company revenue-territories may need to be rejiggered.

  • Assign more than one rep to each strategic account. Message Logix assigns each account a major sales rep, an associate sales rep and a technical contact, in addition to Bender keeping an eye on each customer. Bender, 42, explains his team approach: "The touch points you build with customers help with customer retention no matter what happens with your salespeople."

"Be sure other members of the sales team-folks who implement, customize, deliver, install, support and train-know they are responsible for understanding key clients and developing ongoing relationships with them," says Kearney. "These relationships, which are often more stable, remain after a sales rep leaves."

  • Keep the sales manager involved. Kearney advises that a sales manager should stay close to the ground in managing accounts. She believes that the sales manager should be involved in all key accounts, and that he or she "should build strong relationships at the most senior levels of the customer organization through quarterly check-in calls or regular face-to-face meetings."

Bender sees two reasons for a sales manager to closely monitor accounts. He believes that a leader who stays in tight contact with major accounts ensures "sales and service stability." Another bonus, according to Bender: "Customers feel very important when the CEO or sales manager checks in [with them]."


Kimberly L. McCall ("Marketing Angel") is president of McCall Media & Marketing Inc. and author of Sell It, Baby! Marketing Angel's 37 Down-to-Earth & Practical How-To's on Marketing, Branding & Sales.