Account Based Everything has been the rage of the past couple of years. The principles of ABE are outstanding–focused on further tailoring and personalization of our marketing and sales approaches to the specific needs and priorities of the customer–both the enterprise and individual (actually these are great principles for any customer outreach).
Inevitably, we start putting these accounts into our account programs: Major Accounts, Key Accounts, Strategic Accounts, Corporate Accounts, Global Strategic Accounts, Super Duper Really Humongous Very Special Accounts (OK, I invented that one).
We do these things because the customer is important to us. We want to retain the revenue we have, we want to grow the revenue, we want to build a long term “partnership” with the customer.
We build special programs to treat these customers specially. We share these programs with our customer, “We’ve made you a part of our Super Duper Really Humongous Very Special Account Program! We will be treating you specially, as part of this program, so you can buy more stuff from us.”
Having been on the customer side when presented this special privilege (sometimes, there’s a special coffee cup or some other thing involved), my immediate reaction has usually fallen into one of two categories:
“Oh, so that means you will be giving us a bigger discount! Tell me how much it is, is it retroactive?”
or more frequently, “So what, I’m not sure I care…….”
The problem with many of our ABE strategies is we do these special things because the customer is very important to us. However, we fail to look at it from the customer point of view, “How important are we to them?”
I was speaking about this recently to an EVP of Sales for a very large company. He laughed, telling me of a “vendor executive” coming in to explain the importance of their special ABE program. He told the vendor, “Thank you, but it doesn’t mean much to us. You are actually our third source for these products and get less than 10% of our spend in this area. Our primary vendor gets 70% of our spend and we invest a lot of time in that partnership.” As you might expect, the vendor executive was dumbfounded, he didn’t even have the quick wits to ask how he might get more share of the business and become more important.
What would happen if we turned our ABE strategies on their heads? What if instead of focusing on how important the customer is to us, we started asking ourselves the questions, “How important are we to the customer? How can we become more important to the customer?”
Customers don’t tend to care about how much they spend on us or even how much more they could spend on us, or even our share/potential share of the account. They care about the value we create for them.
So what would happen, if we started focusing our ABE programs on those customers where we can create distinctive value that is very important to them?
Some obvious questions arise:
Doesn’t this favor very large companies? Perhaps large companies have a greater portion of a customer’s spending because of the breadth of their product lines, the resources they can deploy, the sheer magnitude of what a customer might be spending on the large company. But if we focus on the value we create, we might be able to command attention far greater than the size of our company might indicate.
For example, recently, I was working with a small-medium client. They had competitors several 10 times their size, but were focused on expanding their relationship with an industry giant (My client was about $100M, their customer was about $75B, their competitors were $500-2B. But they identified opportunities that would drive several hundred million in growth for the company. They had identified things the company could do, opportunities they were missing. The CEO and I were invited into the office of the customer’s CFO. He was intensely interested in the opportunity we had identified and how they could realize the opportunity. The CFO wondered, out loud, why their larger suppliers had never approached them with the idea, even though they were spending far more money on those suppliers. At the end of our meeting, the CFO asked my client, “Would you be willing to be our strategic partner in this initiative?”
Through deep understanding of the industry, markets, and their customer, this small company had identified opportunities that were extemely important to the top executives of their customer–more importantly, their larger competitors hadn’t done this. My client became very important to the customer, creating a relationship that would drive revenue far beyond their expectations.
Perhaps you can’t do something that impactful (I tend to think too many organizations sell themselves short). Perhaps you can’t be important to the SuperDuper Really Humongous enterprise. Perhaps, instead, you can become very important to a function, a group of people, or set of divisions within the enterprise. Perhaps we understand them so deeply and we create such value to them, that we become critical or strategic do them. We become so important they choose to become one of our key accounts.
You’re probably starting to get the point. Perhaps, we have ABE backwards.
Perhaps rather than choosing accounts based on how important they are to us, perhaps we get accounts to choose us because of how important we are to them.
What would happen to our relationships if we focused on that, instead?
Rightfully, sales enablement gets a lot of attention these days. Dozens of articles and studies talk about the importance of sales enablement in developing the capabilities of sales people. Organizations like the Sales Enablement Society is bringing the discussion and frameworks for sales enablement to the front and center of our collective attentions.
The priorities cover a lot of areas:
- On boarding
- Learning and development
- Talent management
- Systems, tools, processes
- ….and more
What about Front Line Sales Management development/enablement?
Probably the single most influential person in developing sales people to reach their highest levels of performance is the Front Line Sales Manager. These managers are involved in working with their teams on a daily basis, they understand the strengths and weaknesses of each individual.
However, as we look at the investments made in developing the capabilities of Front Line Sales Management, it’s appalling. In the Sales Manager Survival Guide, I outline $4-6 billion spent annually in training sales people, over $20 billion spent annually in sales and marketing automation tools. Billions are spent in Content Development.
Yet only a few $100 million is spent in Front Line Sales Manager development.
Increasingly, I read articles about dedicated “Sales Enablers,” working to coach and develop sales people.
Where is enabling the Front Line Sales Manager in these discussions?
It’s odd they are absent in these discussions when the job of the Front Line Sales Manager is maximizing the performance of each individual on their team.
Since that’s also the goal of sales enablement, why isn’t enabling Front Line Sales Managers at the top of the priorities for sales enablement. It would seem if we are putting the right managers in place, enabling them to perform at the highest levels, we would drive huge performance increases with sales people.
All the other things we talk about as sales enablement priorities fail to achieve their full potential without the active engagement of Front Line Sales Managers.
Those billions spent in learning and development have no enduring impact without the ongoing coaching and reinforcement of the Front Line Sales Manager. The billions spent in systems and tools achieve no impact unless Front Line Sales Managers are leveraging these tools and demonstrating their power to their people every day (then perhaps we can stop talking about CRM compliance).
We can never hope to have a sustainable impact in improving sales performance unless we put the Front Line Sales Manager at the front and center of sales enablement and until we start talking about how we enable them.