“Are your Account Managers consultative or transactional”?
“Can they demonstrate value in real terms”?
Joseph has been doing Business to Business sales (B2B) for a while and in the last two years he has been the number one Account Manager at his company. Joseph is a nice guy, everyone likes him as he ensures that all of his customers understand the features and benefits of his products very well. Because of this many customers like doing business with him.
In recent times however, it has become more difficult closing sales opportunities, because customers and potential clients spend more time evaluating major expenses to ensure that they are associated with revenue generation and/or retention activities. Joseph also noticed that most clients are now asking a lot more questions before purchase because these days they do more forward search online prior to talking to him. The overall company sales dropped by 18% in the last twelve months and although Joseph is still number one, he has been experiencing a fall in closed sales as well. He has had the same customer base and only 20% of his sales come from new clients.
Donald, a new sales executive, joined the team one year ago. Joseph noticed that something was very different about Donald and his approach. He closed two big deals in the last three months and if he continued on that trajectory, Joseph will not be in that number one spot at the close of the financial year in December 2016.
Joseph reached out to Donald at lunch one day and Donald agreed to share with him some actual examples of three things he did consistently.
- Strengthen your Business Acumen and Discuss Strategy with Decision Makers
Donald explained that in addition to middle managers, he often tried to meet with someone at the top of the organization, to understand the overall direction. “These conversations usually concentrate on goals, industry trends, challenges, opportunities and mission critical initiatives. I am able to have broad-based discussions which may focus on market share, costs, revenue, and competition, to name a few. You will need to get familiar with these terms in order to have a conversation at this level. I usually know something about the company, either through an associate, social media, business news or financial statements, if they are a public company. The first meeting focuses very little on my products. I try to figure out their strategic direction and then see how I can help clients achieve their goals”.
“On many occasions we meet over coffee or drinks, because I find that this type of environment is more relaxing for both of us. Budget is always a concern but I ensure that the client and I are aligned on what the solution should look like and the impact it will make. Getting your solution included in the customer’s plans is a critical step in the sales process, because from reading around, I realize that businesses only invest in what makes sense to them. Achieving this milestone also requires me to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI), which justifies the value. I find that this approach to developing opportunities takes the guess work out of the sales forecast which I give to my boss, and allows for a more consultative approach, which inevitably delivers higher value deals”, said Donald.
- Be the Expert and the Center of Influence
Donald gesticulated to show how important his next point was. “I mentioned reading around but that’s a very simplistic expression that really means doing some research. I usually know quite a bit about my customers’ industry and their clients. Sometimes it is amazing how they appreciate how much they learn when they engage with me. Because they are so busy running the business, many senior executives do not make the time to research and keep abreast of what’s happening around them. Recently I had a client (Mrs Forbes – VP, Customer Service at a Commercial Bank) who explained that her company will be making some major moves in 2017 to change their customer experiences and to deliver greater value. Customer experience will be the main differentiator as competition was starting to heat up and the Bank was about to sign off on a purchase order for a solution that would help drive the initiative”.
Donald laughed and said “Interestingly, I had reached out to Mrs Forbes via social media initially and she agreed to meet with me. I shared how a different approach would enable the Bank’s new direction for 2017, and she agreed to delay the purchase of the solution which she was about to finalize. I made a presentation at the bank’s senior management meeting and demonstrated how technology has changed and what companies in their field were doing differently to create memorable customer experiences”.
Donald lifted his shoulders and confidently said to Joseph, “From those discussions I now have a better idea of the overall plans for next year so I know exactly when the purchase will be made. If all goes well I should close this deal in another six months. I will also ensure the implementation is executed well because I know how important this is to Mrs Forbes. She recently started at the bank so she has a lot at stake. My recent ‘one and one’ with the bank’s CEO revealed that there could be other opportunities at subsidiary companies in the group”.
- Get to know your Clients & Contribute to their Success
“So I’ve got to go shortly”, said Donald. “I need to do some work on an Account Development Plan and I also promised a client who works at an insurance company, that I would share with him some information I came across in a webinar which I participated recently. He needs data to support a business case that is due at the close of business today. This is just one of the things I do as well. I know that my contacts are looking for business value but they also have a personal desire to be successful. Let’s face it, everyone wants to ensure that they leave a legacy in any organization of which they are a part, so where possible I will share what I know to help clients succeed”.
Donald continued to share that he subscribes and selects content that is relevant to his clients’ industries and participates in various professional community discussions online. Sometimes he doesn’t have time to listen to webinars but he ensures he is registered because sometimes the organisers forward the recording to his email afterwards. He then listens in his car while in traffic.
He also gets to know what his clients like to do and nose around their lifestyle a little. This could include their favourite sport, family, interests and hobbies. That way he can take an active interest in the things that are important to them and share whenever he can. He recently recommended a honeymoon spot to a newlywed couple and they couldn’t stop talking about how they loved the location.
The lunch conversation ended and both men went their separate ways. Joseph heard a term he was not familiar with. Donald mentioned something about an Account Development Plan and he was afraid to ask what that was, because Donald made it seem like it was the norm. He reflected on the discussion and concluded that there were a lot of things he did not know about Strategic Account Management. He will be discussing a personal development plan with his boss on Monday!
Joseph had an internal smile and said to himself, “The last thirty minutes were invaluable….. There is benefit in sharing!! “.
Beverley Thompson is a 2015 Stevie Awardee, Account Management Consultant and Business Strategist working with organizations to achieve their goals. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org