Written by Steve Gielda, Principal – Ignite Selling
Over the years we have heard many complaints from sales reps and sales managers. The one that rings the loudest is No More Paperwork! Anyone who has been in sales or sales management can relate. Filling out forms can feel like a waste of time. Unfortunately many strategic account planning books and programs teach you how to fill out a form. It is all about writing down what you know and what you don’t know. Part of strategic account planning is knowing how to better analyze what’s happening inside your account and debating with others the best approach to position your products and solutions in the most favorable way to the right people at the right time with the right message.
How many times have you heard your sales manager ask for a complete account strategy to be emailed to them by the end of the week? The only way to do that is to fill out a form and email it. A smart account strategy requires joint thinking. It is not something that can be completed by sitting down at a desk and filling out a form. Top performers today realize that to formulate a smart account strategy requires the participation from everyone who touches that customer directly or indirectly. It requires a set of challenging questions that cause one to step back and think.
While working with a renowned medical device manufacturer, we had the opportunity to sit in on a number of account strategy meetings. Each of the sales reps were asked to do their homework and complete the account strategy form for each of their top accounts. When it came time for the call, we all had the strategy forms in front of us. The manager was consistent in his approach. He began by asking the rep a series of questions that merely tested the understanding of the sales rep. The sales rep was asked typical questions such as; who is your coach, when are they making a final decision, what products are you recommending, etc. After about 10 minutes the manager then moved on to the next account. The manager continued this process with seven other reps. It took all day. At the end of the final call, I asked the manager how valuable he thought each session was for his reps. He responded, “Probably more valuable for some than others.” There was some truth to his answer. We went back and interviewed three of the seven sales reps who participated in the account strategy meetings. The common response was, “These meetings are a waste of time.” Why did the reps believe the account strategy meetings were a waste of time? Answer; all the manager did was ask questions they already knew the answer to. Strategic account planning is not about filling out a form and then asking questions to test understanding. Strategic account planning is about stretching the thinking and formulating new ideas. This requires you to know what questions to ask that have not already been considered. Top performers today seek to be challenged. Strategy is developed by working with others who can challenge your current thinking.
How this will help
Because today’s market is changing so quickly it is critical for sales people to stay on top of those changes and understand how those changes impact their customer’s decision in purchasing their solution. There are many market drivers and key events impact business every day. Often sales people don’t sit down to think about how environment they sell in is impacting their sales approach. The business environment consists of three areas:
1. Your Company
2. Your Customer
3. Your Market
Things are changing in all three of these business environments on a regular basis and top performers recognize and acknowledge the impact it has on how they approach their customer. Think about it: what changes has your company faced in the past 12 months that caused you to act differently with your customers? Have you had a new product launch, a product recall, a stream of customer complaints about service? How about within your customer’s business? Have you had a champion leave, or someone who is not a fan of your product step into a critical decision maker role? Has your customer merged with another company or been impacted by the downturn in the economy? Finally, what’s changed in the market? Are there more competitors than before? Is your competition launching new product or having products recalled? How has the competition impacted your market?
The world which we sell in today is very different from just three years ago. We can no longer do the same things we did yesterday and expect to be successful. Now is the time to invest in targeting the right customers, formulating a smart strategy for the targeted account, recognizing that the strategy needs to be updated regularly, and developing a smart execution strategy to win the business.
For more details on our view of Strategic Account Planning, see our new book, Premeditated Selling. Order your copy of Premeditated Selling: Tools for Developing the Right Strategy for Every Opportunity here. Available in paperback or PDF.