Sales Process and Sales Management: Sales Growth in Strategic Accounts

Posted on September 28, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Recently I spent two days with a client in Chicago kicking off the first round of strategic account management (SAM) reviews. If you regularly review strategic accounts here are 5 tips that could help you regain or refocus your team’s attention on the things that really matter.

Tip 1: A strategic account (SAM) review should be unlike any other conversation your team has.

One of the common mistakes I see committed during SAMs is the team discussing the same topics and information that are already discussed daily as part of ongoing communication and working of the account. A SAM approach will quickly lose value and credibility if this is done.

Instead, SAM reviews should be framed by a longer horizon such as 2-3 quarters out. The team should be talking about longer term issues like developing or nurturing relationships with key stakeholders, or making investments to penetrate new fields of play.

Tip 2: SAM reviews should force all team members to participate. SAM is not about one person’s role in the company but rather about a team of people collaborating. One of the engineers at our meeting spoke up about a relationship he uniquely has with an engineer at one account. We decided that he could gain some valuable intelligence by talking with this stakeholder. Also, since many of my client’s strategic accounts are global we made sure that staff from Europe and America were involved in the reviews.

Tip 3: You get out of a SAM review what you put into it. All attendees of the SAM reviews have to come prepared for the review before hand. This means studying the account plan and bringing questions and ideas that the team can consider. It’s like voting during an election – if you think your vote doesn’t count because you assume everyone else will vote that’s the wrong thinking.

Tip 4: Assign roles to the process. You can’t just start going through your SAM review and expect it stay on point and on time. Assign a moderator to keep the conversation on point. Assign a time keeper to keep it from going too long. Assign a scribe to capture the key points, goals and action.

Tip 5: Focus on how to grow funnel value and sales! It’s tempting to get lost in words like maintain, protect, and manage the account with strategic accounts. But if your team isn’t focused on strategies that grow sales, then your investment in the account will get more and more expensive with each passing year. The existing business could also be more at risk than you realize.

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Sales training: beware the assumptions you make about relationships

Posted on September 21, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized |

There’s one sales topic that is guaranteed to get attention – relationships. Sales people want to know how to develop them with the right stakeholders, how to get more good relationships, and how to earn the right to have the people they’re selling to fight for the seller’s solution. Who would argue that relationships aren’t vital to making sales?

Unless you work for the Greek government and have been on an extended vacation (sorry for being redundant) you’ve come across the relationship debate sparked by the book The Challenger Sale. At least they’re getting attention for the right reasons, not something sensational like a trailer for a movie called Taken 2. (Haven’t seen it but I keep asking myself didn’t that girl learn a damn thing the first time around?)

Relationships are a fundamental part of selling, as basic as problem solving and features-benefits. Ask any salesperson about a sale in progress and he or she will likely respond about relationships. “I’ve got a good relationship with so and so stakeholder”, she’ll say, or “We don’t have any relationships with key people,” he says. Salespeople who win will claim it was their special relationship that sealed the deal. Salespeople who lose will say they got flanked by a low priced competitor. Hmmm.

And yet in my sales seminars and coaching with clients I often tell them they have the wrong idea about relationships.

I’m not necessarily siding with Challenger which took a direct shot and did a lot of damage to the ‘relationship sales’ approach. The main overlooked point is that there are too many assumptions made about relationships.

For one, there’s an assumption that the right relationship will either get you the sale or dramatically favor you. This isn’t the case as often as it is assumed. The problem is the salesperson doesn’t dig deep enough into the personal motivations and risk factors of the people they’re counting on for support. Those people aren’t likely to be upfront either if they cannot be the champion the seller is expecting them to be. They’re somewhat embarrassed to admit it because it strains ‘the relationship’.

Further, if ‘the relationship’ is with someone with no horsepower to help you win, it’s not worth that much for this sale. The relationship is overrated. Again, sometimes I see salespeople who protect the relationship even when it means the sale is in jeopardy.

Then, there are assumptions about the underlying motivation that defines the relationship. For example, a salesperson might claim that since he’s known a stakeholder for 30 years he knows how this guy is going to decide. I heard this recently in a coaching session with a client. But when challenged to prove how the seller knows how the stakeholder will decide there was no basis for it like a recent conversation where the stakeholder told the seller “dude, I’ve got your back – you’re going to get the sale!”

I think that in sales as it is in life sometimes people are more comfortable talking around the issues in the spirit of not hurting the relationship. If a salesperson asks “Are you the PFA with final authority?”, this is a bold question that not only sparks an answer but also can risk more than just this sale.

Often salespeople confuse relationship with situational motivation. Relationship describes an overall position the seller has with the stakeholder that isn’t purely tied to the buying process.

Situational motivation describes the stakeholder’s motivation relative to this specific sale. The stakeholder has three possible options. One, she wants the seller’s solution to win and will do whatever she can to make that happen. These are your Advocates. Two, she doesn’t want the seller’s solution to win, and she’ll be passive or do whatever it takes to make that happen. And three, she doesn’t care one way or the other.

Her situational motivation determines what she does. If she’s for change maybe it’s because she sees change as a ticket to a promotion or leadership or maintaining control or beating someone in the office. If she sees your solution as the right kind of change she’s likely to lobby for you. She is your Advocate. The mistake salespeople often make is they generalize what the motivations might be.

Sellers who make Advocates our of relationships are working the process the right way.

I made a sale in 2009 to the North American business of a large global healthcare company. The VP of Sales, I’ll call Jane, was a major reason I won the sale. She really wanted my solution. Months after we had implemented my company’s sales methodology she told her counterpart in Germany that he should consider it for his team. Soon I was in Germany training his entire European sales team. With more help from these two stakeholders I went on to make a sale in the company’s Asia division later.

I know I have a good relationship with Jane. She’s on my speed dial whenever a new prospect asks to talk to a reference. But that doesn’t mean she would step up for me for another sale within her company. It all depends on her situation at the time.

It helps you set better strategy if you don’t make assumptions about the relationships you have with key stakeholders. It’s not a bad idea to validate and test those relationships from time to time too before it really counts.


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Coaching Sales People to Achieve More than Just Quota

Posted on September 18, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Managers – do you want to be a better coach to your salespeople? Start diving for pearls.

For thousands of years, the pearl has been a highly sought after gem. Before the 20th century the only way to get pearls was to skim the ocean floor and gather them by hand one at a time. These divers – in some countries mostly women – would descend to depths of 40 meters or more to search for the prize. Divers risked death from several sources including blacking out due to a lack of oxygen, getting attacked by hostile creatures, or drowning from tide changes. I can’t imagine what their life insurance premiums were like. ..

When I think of why these women and men risked their lives performing such a risky profession, I can’t believe they were motivated only by economics, even though it is how they made their living. It’s likely they were motivated by pride, or recognition, or community status, or carrying on a family tradition.

What’s that got to do with managing your salespeople? They are diving for pearls. If you want to be a high impact coach, find out what those pearls are and help your people scoop them up.

Knowing what motivates your salespeople is job one. It’s easy to assume it’s all about money, since part of the income of most sellers is based on how much stuff they sell. If you dig deeper you will uncover more complex motivations. One seller told me he was in sales to earn more money than his father as a way to exceed his father’s expectations of the son. Another seller told me that he wanted to succeed in sales to get a promotion to marketing – a position that he associated with higher status. I challenged him on the status thing but that shouldn’t matter to him. With motivation it’s his opinion that counts.

So how do you learn their motivations and help them get what they want? Take a cue from Steve Chandler, an authority on the topic. Steve says coaching isn’t advising or telling. It’s not managing. It’s not bullying people to get what you want. It’s asking questions in a nonjudgmental way. It’s caring. Steve suggests the following:

  1. Seek first to understand. Have you ever advised a friend or family member to stop a behavior that is destructive, like smoking? I’m sure they didn’t say “Smoking isn’t really bad for me.” Then why do some people still smoke even when they know that the habit could kill them? I coached a veteran rep recently about the bad year he was having. Last year wasn’t that good either. The first thing I asked him was how he felt about his numbers being so low. I really wanted to know if he was feeling any pain. Honestly, I’m not sure he is. I can tell him how to get his sales funnel back in good shape, but I can’t make the calls for him or do his prospecting.
  2. Remove limitations. Usually, low or plateau type performance in a salesperson is due to self-limiting thoughts. If a salesperson thinks she’ll never hit quota until her company has new products, or until she is given ‘better’ accounts to call on, help her see that she’s created these barriers herself and they’re preventing her from getting what she wants.
  3. Suggest possibilities. The goal here is to get your salesperson to see what is possible. There’s no judgment, no committing to plans, no tactics to back him into a corner and deliver some knockout punch. This is an inspiring step in the process.
  4. Gain agreements. Steve says that people can’t be managed but you can help them manage what they agree to. The thing they have to agree to first is being coached. You can’t make them want your help. If my veteran rep client tells me he really wants to hit quota again, I’ll remind him of that in later coaching sessions. If he agrees to prospect in new accounts I’ll call him out if he’s not honoring that commitment. I’ll remind him of the consequences he told me he would have if quota is missed.

Some of your people don’t want your coaching now. You’ll watch them struggle and feel helpless. You might take offense to getting shut down all the time. It’s hard to set aside your own notions of what’s important or valued or reasonable or logical. But there is no greater accomplishment for you than to help someone tap into his or her potential.







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