The account planning process is extremely helpful in prioritizing and determining where you need to spend your time, it will help determine if a competitor is far more embedded than you are and what you need to do about it, or not. It helps you understand if you have any differentiation and if there is a real driver or need for the client to make a change. Remember, your biggest competitor is the dreaded no decision. More than half the time, customers decide not to decide, or not to change. This is a huge time waster for sales teams.
As Jeremy Miller stated in his book Sticky Branding, “When customers cannot distinguish one option from the next, they tend to default to one of three choices. They will go with what they already know, what’s cheapest, or what’s available.”(p16)You don’t want to be in that boat.
The dreaded no decision or status quo issue can be managed and at least minimized given strong strategic account planning. Right from how to prospect in the first place to how to ensure that you help create a sense of urgency instead of the time wasting plateau of the customer not moving or delaying, or making any kind of decision whatsoever.
One good question to think about is what is the status quo for the customer as it relates to your product or service? What is the risk to the client if they do not proceed and the status quo is maintained? Or looked another way, what is the result or the outcome that the customer needs to achieve and how does your solution fit? If you can help articulate this and help the customer understand this it can help avoid the no decision conundrum. It won’t eliminate it but it can reduce it.
The account planning process especially in larger customer environments should include the account team and support team, manager and potentially the executives of the company. I believe that selling is a team sport and the better that team is working together to help each other, the more successful you’re going to be. Have you engaged the resources you need to win the opportunity? There are times you may even want to include a partner that has the same vested interest in the account.
Like all tools and processes, it’s important to match the effort with the outcome. You need to ensure you are instilling the most optimal account planning process, one that fits with the type of selling your sales force is engaged in. The larger and more complex the sale, typically the more significant the account planning is required. Smaller more transactional sales require far less account planning. I argue every sale needs at least a minimal amount of planning, but it varies significantly. So again, match the planning intensity with the outcome. The thought should always be to make the sales force as productive as possible, so they can focus as much time as possible actually selling.
The account planning process really creates a common language for the sales force and the company to collaborate on opportunities. Best in Class Sales teams work collaboratively using these tools in an effective manner to beat the competition. It truly helps you to determine the right relationship strategy, are we calling on the right people, do we have areas where there are gaps in who we should know in order to keep pushing the deal forward. It helps to identify these areas and gaps so you can work on plugging them.
Some executive teams seem to be more comfortable than others in being engaged in the selling process. I think that all executives in the company can and should be able to help the sales force in winning deals. Some companies even have what can be called an Executive Sponsorship Program, where executives get assigned to certain sales teams or reps or even certain clients to help them in the selling process.
The help I am referring to usually involves the executive engaging with an existing or potential customer executive to help sell the company or product or service or assistance in the strategic thinking of the account. There are times where it is difficult to get a customer’s senior executives attention. Often it is easier for a VP to get the attention of another VP than for a sales rep to do so. This is where executive engagement can be crucial and can really help speed up a sale or even make a sale happen. When you think of it, what executive wouldn’t want to help in order to grow the business?
I worked for an organization that actually formalized the executive sales program and named executives to specific accounts with a sales rep. The account team and the executive would meet and strategize on the account on a regular basis. The CEO made it mandatory for all executives to assist in the selling process. I believe this made a real difference in the success of the sales force, it became a part of the culture of the organization. The sales team knew that the executive team was supportive and there to help them as much as they could to win a new customer, get more business from existing customers, or even help retain current clients. It was a win win.
I think the executives who weren’t used to being engaged in selling actually really enjoyed the process and wanted to help. And they became more sales advocates than they ever were before as it gave them an appreciation for how hard selling actually is. Now I will say it doesn’t work across the board, unfortunately there are some executives you just do not ever want your customers to be exposed to. They just aren’t suited for that environment and can do more harm than good. This is a discretionary and delicate call but one that would need to be addressed. But this is not common, “most” have the common sense as to know how to behave and what to say in front a client or potential client.
For more information, suggestions, and insights into sales process and other sales organization imperatives see my website, www.streetsavvysalesleadership.com, or to reserve an order for my upcoming book Street Savvy Sales Leadership, The Complete Guide To Building Best In Class Sales Teams.
- Sticky Branding-12.5 Principles to Stand Out, Attract Customers and Grow an Incredible Brand, Jeremy Miller, Dundurn, Toronto, 2015, page 16.
Mark Welch | Founder
Street Savvy Sales Leadership
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