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What If You Shared Your Deal Strategy With Your Customer?

by David Brock on December 19th, 2014

I had a fascinating conversation with Gerald Vanderpuye today.  He shared what many of us would think as the Nightmare To End All Nightmares.

He was working a huge deal, it was important to the company’s ability to make their numbers for the quarter.  Deals like that get a lot of visibility all the way to top management, so as expected, top management in his company wanted to do a deal review.  He updated his deal strategy, sent it to all the key managers to prepare for a discussion during the review of what he was doing to win the deal.  In the process he made one of those “Mistakes.”  You know the kind I’m talking about, you inadvertently copy a customer on a piece of communication that was intended to be purely internal.

Yes, he did it–he accidentally copied his key customer on his strategy to win the deal.  I’m sure, immediately after sending the email and realizing the customer was on the distribution list, his whole life (or at least his prospects for this deal) flashed before his eyes.

He was horrified, his managers were horrified.

But the customer had a completely different reaction, the customer actually called Gerald, thanking him for the document.  His comment was the plan helped him crystallize what they were trying to do in their buying process!

As Gerald shared his story, I had this huge “Aha!” moment.  I thought, “How brilliant, what if we actually started sharing our Deal Strategies/Plans with our customers ?” (Or call plans or account plans for that matter)  What if we made them part of our planning process?  The corollary to this would be that we would become part of their Buying Strategy/Planning Process.

As we talk about “collaboration” with our customers, one of the easiest ways to collaborate is to share our deal strategies with them, making sure what we are doing is aligned with how they are buying.

Think about the things in our deal strategies and the value the customer gets from seeing the deal strategy.

  1. Our deal strategies highlight things that we have to get done–both with our customers and with others to help the customer move through their buying process and to close by a certain date.  The customer has the same thing, there are a number of activities they have to undertake with us (and our competition), as well as internally to move to a decision.  What if we started aligning our activities and managing them with the same rigor we do with milestones.  Having an agreed to “projected close date,” is critical to our selling process, but also critical to the customer in making a decision and beginning to realize the return/benefits the expected to achieve in solving a particular problem.
  2. Our deal strategies highlight the customer decision making process–who’s involved, their roles, their own priorities and agendas.  One of the toughest parts of buying is aligning differing priorities, needs and agendas.  Helping the customer understand how to organize themselves to make a decision, how they should align agendas and priorities is critical to their ability to make a decision.  Sharing our work will help them make sure they have the right people involved and helps them develop a process to align goals and objectives.
  3. Our deal strategies highlight the competition and alternatives the customer is considering.  Typically, we look at our strengths, weaknesses, and differentiation.  We develop plans to address our weaknesses — usually by educating the customer about what we do and why we feel our approach is superior to the alternatives.  That’s important for the customer too understand!  Customers are pragmatic, they recognize alternatives are different, with different strengths and weaknesses.  But properly approached we can take that assessment, create great value by educating the customer about why we’ve made the solutions choices we have and what it means to them.
  4. Our deal strategies talk about our value propositions.  What a great way to understand what customers value and how we are aligned with what they value.  Does the customer understand it?  Is it relevant to them?  Are we missing things?
  5. Our deal strategies talk about our pricing strategies.  Hopefully, our pricing strategies are based on the value we create and not just “discount to beat the competition.”  What better way to tie our value creation/delivery to “this is how we are justifying our pricing,” then providing them the basis to justify the investment in ways that are impactful to them?

I’ll stop here, but there is virtually nothing I can think of in a deal strategy that there isn’t some kind of parallel issue the customer is considering in developing and executing their buying strategy.  Rather do these things separately, aren’t we and the customer much more effective when we develop these plans collaboratively?

So maybe to start the process, next time you and your manager consider a deal review, maybe consider inviting the customer to participate.  Perhaps the outcome of that meeting is a collaborative plan with shared goals, objectives, and urgency.

Perhaps we could start sharing our call plans as well–planning the meeting with the customer, setting an agenda, making sure the right people are participating and we are both prepared to achieve the meeting’s goals?

What about account plans?

(By the way, Gerald is taking his “mistake” and developing some interesting ideas for collaborative solutions for sales and customers.  He has ideas that are certainly worth exploring.)

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  1. Great post David. I am absolutely committed to the principles of fully sharing the development of proposals with our customer – theoretically!

    Exactly as you suggest, the internal “deal review” from our perspective mirrors the customer’s need for an effective and rigorous business case.

    The difference in the story that you outline is that Gerald found himself using this strategy by accident! I can only imagine what it felt like when Gerald realised…

    Four observations, all of which you’ve covered to some extent in your post:

    1. Co-creating value in active discussion with our customer is a key competitive differentiator and pivotal sales competence. The co-creation of value is ideally so evident and rigorous that we can audit the extent of value co-creation in our sales processes. Co-creation absolutely requires high levels of transparency and customer engagement in the process.

    2. Everybody with experience in reviewing proposals is aware that they can always be improved. It’s just a question of how much time, effort and resource we’re prepared to invest. To add the customer’s resources to this review and incremental improvement process is surely valuable.

    3. Working in the way that you recommend in this post, there is a much greater likelihood of successfully aligning customer expectations and the supplier’s subsequent capacity to deliver.

    4. To comment on your final question about how appropriate this is to account plans. Most definitely YES!

    Gerald’s story is another example that some of the very best insights emerge from apparently bad experiences. Sums up key elements of my sales career!

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