July 19, 2009

Any Target Account Strategy Is Only As Good As its Most Recent Assessment

Every key account, or prospect sales strategy is only as good as its most recent assessment. With that in mind we have dusted off the classic Miller Heiman sales process bible ‘Strategic Selling’ to guide your assessment of sales success and potential with respect of key accounts and prospects.

So, where to start? Well at the beginning I guess. The authors set the scene by declaring that ‘sales success is about process, methodology and strategy, not the traditional salesperson’s ‘grab-bag of hooks, lines and clinchers’. Now that is not a radical idea in today’s professional sales arena, but it was a somewhat novel idea back in the late 1980s when the book was first written.

The Importance of Methodology & Process.

The complex sales is to complex to be left to chance. It requires that the sales representative develop a selling method that ‘is distinct from, and more analytical than, that of the hand-pumping good old boy who made it on a shoeshine and a smile’.

So, what makes the approach different to traditional selling? Basically salespeople need to follow a visible, logical and repeatable set of steps that ensure he, or she is doing all the right things, with the right prospects, at the right times. Progress against these steps then need to be constantly reviewed.

Indeed the authors so far as to suggest that ''if you want to predict the next salesperson of the year, or indeed the next star sales manager, then find out which ones are analyzing their own methodology, which ones are continually reassessing their stales strategy and tactics, which ones are looking for reliable, repeatable methods to improve their competitive edge''.

What are the Steps?

The salesperson’s first step is to examine his, or her position, that is how he, or she feels about the account, or prospect at present, with the authors presenting a clever scale from euphoria to panic.

Thereafter the salesperson ‘s attention turns to a strategic review of key aspects of the target account in terms of its sales potential, or prospect as follows:

Have all the Buying Influences Being Covered?

· Have you covered all the bases, that is the influences in the buying decision?

· Do you have sufficient access? Is there anybody that you have not had contact with?

· Can you rate the receptivity of each to you, your company and your proposition – perhaps on a scale from from advocate to antisponsor?

· Do you fully understand and appreciate the results required by each, including the less tangible, or quantifiable ‘win’ required by each, such as; more power, or self esteem.

· Do you have at least one reliable and influential coach for the sale?

Covering all the bases is essential however; it is not unusual to find that there are twice as many people involved in the buying decision as are being communicated with by salespeople. In particular, while the technical buyer role tends to well addressed, the needs of the economic buyer in terms of business case and business drivers are often overlooked. We also find that sales people can overestimate the role, status and influence of their coach, or sponsor, while failing to understand the user group.

What to do if you cannot get access? When faced with challenges in getting access it is important to address the issue of the salesperson’s credibility and his approach. Strategies that are recommened by the authors include; executive briefings, bringing in a guru and advertising past successes being recommended.

Are there any Red Flags?

It is tempting to speed up when we see a red flag, or a read light, in the hope that we can outmaneuver it. However, a red flag means we have to slow down and address it directly, for example:

· Is there any important missing, uncertain or contradictory information?

· Are there any uncontacted, or uncooperative buying influences?

· Are there any rumors, or hints of organizational changes, such as changes in strategy, or budgets?

· Are there any changes to the management team, including buying influences new to the job?

· Do some issues continue to resurface with old ground have to be covered again and again?

Are you leveraging your strengths?

· Are your unique advantages clear?

· Are they important to the prospect?

· Can you leverage any other strengths in respect of the sale?

· Are there any areas of weakness to be managed?

· What competitor weaknesses can be capitalized upon?

Have you adjusted your approach to reflect the ‘response mode’ of the buying organization?
The best way to sell to an organization depends on whether it is growth mode, crisis mode, or somewhere in between. It also depends on whether the prospect is in denial, or is perhaps overconfident.

Have you considered all of the forms of competition?
Consider all the customers options and all your competition, including other customer priorities, in house solutions, reallocation of budget, or a competing vendor.

How balanced is your sales funnel?

If there are 5 prospects in your pipeline and meeting target requires closing 2 of them this quarter and 2 the next, then you are certainly going to feel the pressure -that much is clear.

But what the authors point out is that the health of any prospect in your pipeline must be considered the context of the pipeline as a whole. Indeed, they suggest that poor prospects account forup to 35% of each salesperson's pipeline.

That gives rise to the issue of prequalification, ideal customer profile and the focus of effort. That is the need to balance the work between closing the best few, covering the bases with the next most promising, qualifying the rest at the same time looking for entirely new business to add to the funnel as time progresses.

Should you be selling to this type of prospect in the first place?

Ok this question sounds like it is placed in the wrong sequence. However, while sales process is the mantra of Miller Hieman they appreciate that even the best methodology must dutifully and skillfully applied cannot close a deal with the wrong type of customer for your business.

Hence the importance of defining your company’s Ideal Customer Profile. That means setting out the characteristics that determine those customers you can and should win, or who you should and should not be selling to.

This definition will narrow your territory early and direct your sales efforts where they can produce maximum results. Again the principle of win-win is highlighted – there is some business that you should be prepared to walk away from.

Responsibility for the Sale.

What is great as well as scaryabout the approach adopted by Miller Heiman is that it makes clear that the responsibility for success rests squarely on the shoulders of the sales person. The everyday choices made by the salesperson, that include; choosing the right prospects, asking the right questions, eliciting objections, etc., determine whether, or not he, or she can, or will close. It is as simple and as complex as that.

Why is that scary? Well it is much easier to blame the unsophisticated, or foolish buyer, the lack of access to decision makers, or the price cutting moves of a competitor, than to look to ones one actions, or steps, as the reasons for success and failure.

For example, a deal is stalled. You feel you have done your most. But, at the same time you failed to notice that in your meetings with the prospect did not take notes, did not ask any questions and kept asking questions that one way, or another related to some aspect of your credibility. By applying a systematic sales process these warning signals could have been prevented, or at least addressed.

On the other hand being responsible means being in control. What Miller Heiman are effectively saying is that by learning and adopting the right steps in the sales process you can overcome maximize your chances of success in almost any sales situation.

Praise for this book:

A solid foundation is essential to the success of any construction. So, to with respect to the complex sale. Without the right foundation in place any sales opportunity is vulnerable to loss. To revisit the fundamental principles of sales planning go direct to the source, that is to Miller Heiman's NEW CONCEPTUAL SELLING.

No comments: