By Tom Callinan
When you are selling into mid-sized to large companies, one characteristic you identify early is that they are complex. According to a recent study done by CEB, today there is an average of 5.4 individuals involved in the buying process. Their research goes on to state that the likelihood of an organization pulling the trigger on a purchase decreases with the number of decision makers involved. This means that now more than ever, selling to B2B is more challenging because you are not just going against your competition, but you are also up against their status quo of not doing anything.
You may be selling technology but that technology could materially affect a business unit and may not have a clear budget established, resulting in a buying team composition of technology senior management, finance, and business unit executives. Or, a company may be a loyal customer for one of your products or services yet they buy competing products or services that your company could provide them. Maybe you’re in professional services and you don’t even consider yourself “in sales,” yet developing business within your clients clearly falls into your job description, even if your credentials are JD, AIA, or CPA.
An excellent approach to both retain your current business as well as to gain additional share of wallet within your client base is through the use of the account planning session. An account planning session is essentially a meeting where the participants are team members that can help you achieve the goals of retaining and growing your business in each client you would like to retain. Like any meeting it is critical that all participants know the goals, that all pre-work is completed, that the key players are present, and that clear actions are developed with timelines.
Step One: Review current relationships.
Although the structure can vary slightly given the “selling company’s business,” the account planning session should begin with a review of the current relationships in the account: Who at the selling company has a relationship with individuals at the buying company that are involved in the purchasing decision; and what business you currently have and if there are contracts in place. In this first portion of the session you are looking for risks and opportunities with the business you already have. Are there relationships you don’t have that you should? Are your contracts structured correctly to provide some level of switching costs?
Step Two: Identify opportunities.
In the next phase of the account planning session you are looking to gain share of wallet. Do you have 100% of the client’s spend in the product or service they are buying from you? If not, how do you earn that business? Are there branch offices or subsidiaries that are buying the same product or service you are selling from somebody else? Do you have other products or services that the client is buying from a competitor? You need to develop a logical plan to gain this additional revenue.
Although it is certainly easier to plan with a current client, you should conduct account planning with zero based accounts as well. In these sessions the focus is on developing the correct relationships, stating a solid business case, and selecting the “best fit” product or service as an entry point into the client.
Step Three: Coaching opportunities to Success.
Too often, we see great account planning become just “great account planning.” The execution and driving the opportunities was really the whole point of the exercise, wasn’t it? So why do we invest time and effort into getting everyone together without executing on what we agreed was a tremendous opportunity for us and the client? World class selling professionals do not stop with the discussion. Like professional sports players or musicians, they employ a coach to hone their craft. By aligning a coach, whether it be internal or external, the likelihood of successfully implementing your account planning increases significantly.
Step Four: Ongoing review of account plan.
So, now that I have developed a plan of attack and leveraged my team to increase revenue, I can simply continue to execute on that plan, right? No! Things change, clients get promoted, people change jobs, their business strategy changes, etc. By continuing to focus on formally reviewing and updating your plan on a quarterly basis, or when a major event happens (either in your business or theirs), you can be confident of making progress in every account.
The key to this process is for it to be executable in your business. Too often, we get caught up with laborious methodologies and processes for account planning. Keep it simple and revenue will follow.