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Selling Business Value to Senior Executives

The first part of a two part article explores how salespeople can use an Account Development Plan to help them identify the key business problems that they should be exploring with senior executives in their larger customers, before they go to market for a solution.

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The first part of a two part article explores how salespeople can use an Account Development Plan to help them identify the key business problems that they should be exploring with senior executives in their larger customers, before they go to market for a solution.

Selling ‘Value’ to Senior Executives

Sales managers are constantly urging their salespeople to sell ‘Value’ to senior customer executives in their larger accounts, and to do it early enough to influence any Request For Proposals issued by the customer. However, many salespeople repeatedly fail in this task simply because they haven’t been able to build effective, business based relationships with their customers senior executives.

Why don’t salespeople sell Value to Senior Executives?

Because to do this requires the salesperson to acquire an in-depth understanding of a customer’s business, the key business issues facing the customer and a real understanding of how their own products and services can be deployed to help the customer executives achieve both their business goals and their personal, work-related ambitions.

Many salespeople wait until the organisation has started to go to the market to find solutions for their problems. Salespeople justify this by pointing out that it saves their time because by then the organisation has a well justified need and probably has a budget for the solution.

However, whilst this is true, they have by then missed any opportunity to influence key executive thinking regarding potential options for the solution that could include key differentiators for their products or services. They have also lost the opportunity to establish themselves as a trusted advisor to those key executives.

By failing to engage senior customer executives in a business based discussion early enough, salespeople get ‘locked out’ of the early, critical phases of business problem resolution when senior executives are most active. They are then limited to sales discussions in the middle phase of the decision cycle, when a solution has already been specified and their competitors are already active in the account. In this middle phase, senior executives are less active and usually delegate the tasks of solution and vendor selection.

It can be seen from the graph below why attempting to engage a senior executive in this middle phase of the decision cycle is unlikely to meet with consistent success.

The need for a structured Account Planning Process

A structured and well thought out account plan would go a long way to addressing this common sales management problem.

Sadly, most account plans fail to arm the salesperson with the appropriate knowledge to enable them to sell business value to senior executives because they are often simply an historical summary of what has happened in the account, plus a profile of the customer containing basic facts and information about the target organisation.

I often find very little critical analysis, if any, is applied to the information contained in the account plan. When completed, they languish on a bookshelf to be dusted off once a year when the sales manager requests an account review.

This is because the processes used for account planning rarely direct the salesperson to critically analyse the information they have garnered and to then make the connections to their products and services. Nor do they require the salesperson to develop short and medium-term planned activities to ground the plan in reality and keep the plan alive. Whilst some plans may show long term objectives and strategies, they are usually far enough in the future for the salesperson and their sales managers, to ignore them under the day-to-day pressures of life in a busy sales team.

Finally, many account planning processes fail to provide sufficient motivation for the salesperson to keep the plan current. Usually the account plan is completed at the insistence of sales management and it provides little ongoing value for the salesperson for the effort required to maintain the plan.

To truly motivate a salesperson to rigorously complete an account plan and to actively work the plan in a professional and methodical fashion, the account planning process needs to answer a number of important questions for a salesperson. As a minimum, the process should provide real help in getting answers to the following critical questions:

  1. How do I learn what the Customer really values and needs?This is the most important question of all. Until they know this, salespeople cannot begin to respond creatively to those needs with their products and services.
  2. How do I keep the Customer happy?
    How will I protect the current Revenue Stream?
    Where will I find new Revenue Streams?
    These summarise the salesperson’s day-to-day selling tasks. The account planning process must provide real direction in these basic areas of the sales relationship with the customer.
  3. Where are we now?
    Where do we want to be?
    What needs to be done to get there?
    How will we know when we get there?

These are the questions that sales management most frequently needs to ask about large accounts. They help management decide where and when to deploy the company’s resources. Salespeople must be able to answer them to gain management support and commitment to their plans for the customer.

In the next article we will look at how to construct an Account Development Plan that stays dust free and can provide salespeople and sales management with the answers to these questions and help salespeople identify business issues for their customers where their products and services have the potential to add real value.

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