Recently, I’ve been having a number of discussions on account based strategies, major/global account coverage. To be honest, I’m stunned with some of the thinking about growing account based businesses.
Most of the thinking is dominated by retention strategies. Keeping the customer, if you have a subscription type of offering, getting the renewal. Wrapped around this is some notion of upsell/cross sell, “Can we expand the relationship with the current customer (individuals)?”
Speaking with one colleague, he observed that too many organizations are focused on just “protecting” the current base, they are afraid of disrupting the relationship with the customer and it’s impact on the base business. (Imagine being afraid to disrupt the customer, isn’t that our job?)
Much of this thinking drives an “account maintenance” philosophy, as a result, we tend to look towards “farmers” or relationship builders as our account managers.
This thinking causes us to miss huge growth opportunities, and short changes the account of the value we might create with them!
Before I go further, as I’ve mentioned a number of times, my mindset on accounts is that it’s our God-given right to 100% share of customer. It’s the responsibility of the account manager to identify and pursue all opportunities in the account.
This mindset isn’t different from the hunter assigned a geographic or industry oriented territory. Hunters, in this scenario, are aggressively looking to find and qualify new opportunities in the territory. They relentlessly seek out customers in that geography/industry.
Isn’t that what we should be doing in our account programs? Shouldn’t we be aggressively looking beyond the current groups we deal with, expanding our coverage of the account to find new opportunities? Perhaps it’s an expansion of current solutions, finding everyone in the account that can get value from these solutions. Perhaps it’s presenting new solutions to current customers in the account (upsell) or going to parts of the account we haven’t done business with, presenting these new solutions.
I’m hard pressed to understand why we have a different orientation to account based growth than we have in geographic or industry based growth. I’m hard pressed to understand why we don’t put some of our best hunters into these accounts to accelerate the growth of the relationship, the revenue we drive and the value we extend to all parts of the account.
As a young sales person, I was assigned a single account—a major New York money center bank. The IT executives occupied the 11th and 12th floors of 55 Water Street in Manhattan. As I engaged with those executives, they felt they had enough computing capacity to cover their needs for the coming 18 months. There were some minor upgrades, some maintenance contracts, and other things I could sell — but none that would enable me to achieve my quota or goals for the account. Out of desperation, I started thinking, “Where can I find more opportunity to drive greater computing needs in the account? If I couldn’t drive the demand on IT, I couldn’t make my goals.
This desperation drove me to wandering around the bank. I visited Wire Transfer/Foreign Trade, Check Processing, Retail Operations, Trust, Credit Card Operations, Commercial Lending…….any group I could find. I agressively looked for opportunities that could drive new sales and growth within the IT organization. I found opportunities for new credit card processing systems, new point of sale applications at the retail branches, over the years I kept expanding my search, building the business we had from this account significantly.
It’s not any different from what we expect of our hunters, except the concept of the “territory” has changed. Rather than a geographic or industry orientation, it was a single account. Like any hunter, my job was to wander around the account, prospecting and finding new opportunities. It wasn’t just to maintain the relationship and retain the current business.
Our goal in every territory is to maximize our penetration of the territory. It is our God-given right to 100% share of territory–but it’s our jobs as sales people to hunt and find that opportunity–whether the territory is defined by geography, an industry segment, or a single corporate logo.
Are you assigning hunters to all of your territories, are they maximizing your growth and penetration in those territories?
My friend, Charles Green, wrote a stunning article: Is Selling Too Hard, Maybe You’re Doing It Wrong. Make sure you read it.
His article caused me to start thinking about Resistance. We all encounter resistance from our customers, it seems the harder we push, the greater the customer’s resistance (for those students of physics, you will recognize the commercial application of Newton’s Third Law of Mechanics).
The more we want to sell, the more we want to reach out to pitch our products, the more it seems they resist. We try everything we can–inundating them with emails, constant prospecting calls. We employ the latest and greatest technologies to drive volume and velocity in our quest for someone to speak to.
Yet the resistance from customers continues to skyrocket! Last week, in a discussion with a client’s customers, they continued to echo what we hear all the time: “I won’t answer a phone call from anyone I don’t know, I leverage my email system and other tools to divert all the sales emails I get, All that sales people are interested in is pitching the products…….”
We all know the complaints, yet we are in an escalating battle for attention–all of which creates more and more resistance.
As I reflected on both Charlie’s article and the discussions about the skyrocketing resistance we face in reaching customers, my inner “Mr. Miyagi” emerged. I remembered some of the lessons I’ve had in Tae Kwon Do and Tai Chi.
Any one who has done anything in any of the martial arts knows that we are much more effective when we use the momentum, motions, actions, and weight of the person to help us achieve our goal. Rather than resisting or pushing, we leverage their flow and energy to more effectively beat the opponent.
While, I don’t like the imagery of thinking of customers as opponents, fighting with them and defeating them; the concept of using our customer our customers’ interests, actions, motions, strategies, and initiatives as means of more effectively engaging them is tremendously appealing.
Just like in the marital arts, we know that brute force and strength doesn’t win, but brute force with our customers only drives resistance.
Instead, resistance is eliminated when we stop going “against” what the customer wants to do. When we focus on the things they are interested in, the concerns they have, we engage them far more easily—having little or no resistance.
This shift is actually easier than one would think. Our customers don’t care about our products, they don’t care about our long list of references and impressive accounts, they care about what they care about, their goals, opportunities to grow their business, opportunities to improve, even just getting more sanity in their lives.
If we engage customers in discussions about what they care about, there is no resistance.
Even more powerful is providing our customers the leadership, getting them to think about their businesses differently, helping them see new opportunities, is another opportunity to engage our customers differently.
The simple change in how we engage our customers is so powerful.
I got one of those calls today. Not dissimilar to some of the other calls I’ve described in past posts.
The sales person called wanting to talk about sales performance management. I’m always interested in sales performance management and learning more, after all, the majority of Sales Manager Survival Guide is about sales performance management.
The call started well, she introduced herself, the company, and wanted to talk about issues I had with sales performance in my company. I responded, “Actually, I don’t have issues. The team is doing very well, we’re ahead of plan……”
She asked, “How do you measure and track performance?”
I responded, “There are two key sets of metrics that provide the leading indicators, and naturally we look at revenue attainment as a trailing indicator.”
She replied, “You may not be tracking enough things, you should probably be doing more. Often customers struggle because they don’t have the right tools to make it easy to track performance…”
Curious, I asked, “Why do you think we aren’t tracking enough things? We’ve studied they key drivers to our business, and the two that we track seem to be really good for us?”
She then started to talk about a whole bunch of metrics, number of calls per day, call duration, and more.
I responded, “We’ve looked at those metrics, and they really aren’t meaningful for our business. Here’s why we’ve chosen what we’ve done….”
At this point, the call was going downhill very fast. To the sales person’s credit, she understood. She was trying to get out of the call, suggesting a follow up call from an account manager or a demo—I have to give her credit, she went for the demo.
She clearly recognized she was way over her head. She wasn’t able to support her end of the conversation.
I asked her if she minded if I asked a few questions. “How did you identify me to call, who do you typically target for your calls….” She explained she was targeting CEO’s and VP’s of Sales for small to mid sized companies.
I asked, “How long have you been doing this? How much sales management experience have you had, what kind of training have you had?”
She responded, “I’ve been doing this for a little over a year, I started in inbound, then a few months ago moved to outbound. This is my first real job since graduating from college…” She described the training–basically some scripting, some provocative questions and challenges to the customer, some qualification questions, some rudimentary objection handling.
I asked, “Have you ever had the opportunity to spend time with your manager or your VP of sales to understand what they do for sales performance management and the issues they face?” She responded, “Wow, that’s a cool idea, but they never seem to have the time. They just tell me to follow the playbook.”
We talked a little more, I felt a little bad that I had taken so much of her time, she probably could have made another 10 dials in the time we spoke.
As I reflected on the conversation, I thought, “Is her management being fair to her? Are they making the best first impression they can make? What opportunities do they loose because of their inability to engage the customer correctly?”
This poor sales person was doing the best job she could. She was doing what she had been trained to do, she was following her playbook, but she was failing. She didn’t have the experience base to engage the target prospects in the way these prospects would have wanted to be engaged.
It wasn’t her fault, but she had been set up to fail, and in doing so was creating a bad first impression of her company and their offerings.
I’m all for specialization. I think there is a powerful role for SDR’s, but too often we set them up to do something they shouldn’t be expected to do.
In most organization, SDRs are entry level sales positions. In the best of cases, they have been selected correctly, well trained and have good tools. Then they are turned loose on customers. Typically, they are calling customers who may be very experienced in their roles. Whether it’s sales and marketing (if you sell sales and marketing tools), IT/Development, if you are selling IT tools, HR executives if you are selling HCM, and I can go on. You get the point.
These new sales people are expected to engage experienced professionals in discussions about their business or functions. They are expected to conduct conversations of sufficient quality to create a favorable first impression, and moving the customer to the next step.
Is that a reasonable or fair expectation?
Should we be expecting that of people in an entry level (or near entry level) sales role? Are we positioning them and ourselves for success?
For example in the case of the sales person who called me, I’m not arrogant or naive enough to expect her to have the depth of experience I have in sales performance management. After all, it’s taken me over 30 years of learning what I’ve learned so far, and I still need to learn more.
But it’s not unfair to expect a reasonable first level conversation. It’s not unfair to expect them to have a reasonable grasp of the issues people in the roles they call are facing. It’s not unreasonable to expect them to go off script a little and to go at least one level deeper.
If these entry level sales people can’t, then they are not likely to get their customers interested. If they can’t they risk creating a bad first impression of their company and offerings.
It’s no wonder so many SDR calls are calls focused on the product, “We have the hottest product to solve problems you face, are you interested in learning more, can I schedule a follow-up demo?”
They don’t have the experience base, training, support to engage the customer in discussions about their business, so they have to revert to “we have a product that solve problems that people like you have….”
In reality, we prepare them to intersect people that are well into their buying journey and are interested in discussing specifics about solutions. But we miss huge numbers of opportunities for people that are very early in their cycle or haven’t even recognized the need to change. While we may be contacting them, because we can’t engage them in meaningful conversations, we not only lose opportunity, but we create bad impressions. How likely are they to re-engage later in their buying journey, when the initial impression was so bad?