November 04, 2009

It is time to take account reviews out of the dark ages!

Today I witnessed another example of how the revolution in organisational buying (what we call the buying revolution) is challenging salespeople to their very core.

Another Account Review

I had the opportunity to sit through an internal account review with a highly experienced and professional sales person earlier today. The review process was structured – clearly the person involved had done his preparation in advance of our discussion. First, he detailed the strengths and weaknesses of the seller's position in the account, as per the table below:

Review of our position in Account X

Our Strengths
Our weaknesses

We have the CEO’s ear
Our efforts have been showing results – the CEO has recognized this by email

They have adopted our methodology in-house

The work involved is work we like doing

We are under pressure on day rates
The focus of our work is not as strategic as we would like
Some of the key areas agreed are not being auctioned by their managers
Key managers need to make a mindset shift
No contact with other directors / senior managers

Then the salesperson proceeded to outline the opportunities 'pull extra revenue from the account’ in next quarter and any associated risks, as per the table below:

o Process re-engineering in respect of back office, value 20k, 50% probability, qtr 4 this year
o Training programme for managers and staff, value 5k, 40% probability, quarter 4 this year
o Product A pilot 5k, 20% probabilities
o Set the ground for a new implementation in Qtr 3 of next year, value 80k, probability 30%
o They may start to take us for granted
o Budget – can they afford to keep using us?
o Some comments have been made that call into question whether the project is addressing immediate priorities
o Are expectations clear?
o There is a change of management personnel pending

Finally the sales person applied the PRIME formula. That is prove value, retrieve missing information, minimise weakness and emphasis strengths - listing off some next actions in respect of the account, setting a target for the follow-on revenue and that is it! Account review completed, next account please! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

The Narcissistic Account Review

This is a typically narcissistic account review. It is about Me! Me! Me! There was no mention of the client and his, or her needs. The focus was on how to sell, more rather than how to help more. Now, I know this salesperson well and I know that he does genuinely care about the client and his success. I also know that he is under pressure to meet target in what is a slowing market. The problem is that the latter has overshadowed the former. Perhaps the salesperson was also trying to demonstrate how hard-nosed and sales driven he was, something that would appeal to many sales managers.
But, if an account review does not look for a win-win in terms of looking to help the buyer more and in return sell more, then it is starting from the wrong place and the very health of the client relationship may be under threat.
Buyers are increasingly skeptical of self serving salespeople and their efforts to push new products, or services. This review is a reminder, if one were needed, that the seller is motivated foremost by his, or her own sales target and less by what is best for the buyer.
Throughout the entire review, about 60 minutes in total there was no mention of the buyer’s:
· Changing priorities
· Satisfaction
· Needs and unmet needs
· Expectations and perceptions
· Problems and chalenges
· Opportunities
· Anxieties and concerns
· Metrics
Understanding the Problem

The salesperson’s one-sided view can be explained by the challenge of spending time with the buyer. In particular a number of meetings have been cancelled at the last minute. In any respect the last formal feedback session was all of 10 months ago! Clearly, that makes the need to sit with the buyer and to discuss his needs and the seller’s performance a real priority.

On delving into the opportunities listed above, it became clear that probabilities had been assigned to opportunities that had not been discussed with the client! This clearly indicates fancy-full pipeline forecating processes and procedures.

Our advice is that salespeople should treat existing accounts the same way as they do new accounts. That is with the same attention, drive to understand requirements, focus on developing relationships and so on. This avoids complacency
or taking the account for granted. It also prevents making dangerous assumptions – such as that the client’s priorities are the same as they were at the time of the last sale.

Making the Change
As sales people we have been selling things one way for a long time. It is difficult to change our ways. But change is exactly what is required to cope with the new market realities. This account review not only suggested that there were opportunities to improve not just the management of this account, but the very processes and mindset applied to the management of all accounts.
At a time when customer poaching is at its height, then this has to be a top priority.

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