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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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selling business values

The first part of a two-part article explores how salespeople can use an Account Development Plan to help them identify the critical business problems they should explore 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 customer’s 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 critical business issues facing the Customer, and a fundamental sense 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 organization 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 organization has a well-justified need and probably has a budget for the solution.

However, while this is true, they have by then missed any opportunity to influence critical executive thinking regarding potential options for the solution that could include critical differentiators for their products or services. They have also lost the chance 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 stage of the decision cycle when a solution has already been specified, and their competitors are already active in the account. In this intermediate phase, senior executives are less busy 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 a historical summary of what has happened in the account, plus a profile of the Customer containing basic facts and information about the target organization.

I often find that very little critical analysis is applied to the information 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 analyze the information they have garnered and 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 project alive. While some programs 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 motivate the salesperson to keep the plan current. Usually, the account plan is completed at the insistence of sales management, and it offers little ongoing value for the salesperson for the effort required to maintain the program.

To truly motivate a salesperson to rigorously complete an account plan and actively work on the project professionally and methodically, the account planning process needs to answer reverential questions for the 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 primary 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 following 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.