Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Strategic Account Planning Part 1

Strategic Account Planning Part 1

How Strategic Are your Sales People?  Here's a three question test to find out.

Just ask any salesperson if they work a strategic plan focused on developing their accounts and I will bet you a brand new nickel they will answer with a resounding YES!  Most will back up their story with lots of details on how they are exploring new opportunities, meeting new contacts, improving their business relationship and lots of other good stuff. No doubt, you will start nodding along. Perhaps you will be completely sold. Salespeople can be optimistically convincing. And, I like this quality in a seller.

But, I suffer from buyer’s remorse. A few weeks after being “sold” on the salesperson’s strategic plan, I ask for something relatively simple. Maybe it’s a sales projection for a new product, insight on the customer’s market position or thoughts on whether an OEM uses spare parts as a profit center. My inquiry could be just about anything, but the answer isn’t very satisfying. I need to be resold.

Do you ever find yourself in this position? If so, don’t feel like you are the only one. Sales managers from around the country candidly share their concerns: their teams don’t plan enough. More specifically, they rarely plan in a long term strategic way. Apparently, they too suffer from buyer’s remorse.

Over the course of our work with sales groups from dozens of distributors and manufacturers, we have developed a sure fire three question test for strategic planning at the account level. And because it’s a beautiful hot summer day here on the high bluffs of the Mighty Mississippi, I am going to share this test with you.

Question One: Tell me the plan for your next sales call at XYZ Company (which is in their top 5 accounts.) I want to know as much detail as possible. Who are you going to talk to? What are you going to talk about? Who else from our organization will be involved?

For most sellers this is easy. They have a strong idea of the next selling opportunity, what needs to be handled and often have plans for some sales ally or product specialist to be part of the mix. You will like the answer and the information will smoothly flow off their tongue. Perfect, now move the next question.

Question Two: Thinking about this same account, what will you be doing on a sales call in say 30 days? Again, give me as many specifics as possible.

If the salesperson has even a rudimentary plan, they will demonstrate how the first call is tied to this next customer interaction. Or, you may discover they are working multiple customer issues and this interaction some 30 days forward is another well thought out standalone event. In any event it will provide perception to short term planning at the account.

Experience dictates experienced proactive salespeople have a handle on their strategy a month out. Even the sales guy who merely reacts to customer emergencies and various product requests can bluff their way through this discussion.

Question Three: Looking again at this same account, what do you feel you will be working on in 120 days?

A plan for activities four months forward is an early litmus test to strategic planning. One would expect even a rookie strategic plan for an account would extend into the next quarter. Saying this, most salespeople will provide definite clues to their lack of planning.

What would a good answer be? Well, for one thing, a sign of a plan would be thoughts on expanding the business. A good response might go something like this:

“By the end of the calendar quarter we hope to position ourselves with the field service team of the customer. We want to gather information on the number of emergency field trips taken and the cash outlay for each of these trips. This will enable us to present our plans for a remote access system to management complete with financial data.”

Or the conversation might look like this:

“We want to strengthen our position with the customer by eliminating small vendors. Over the next few months I will be identifying products for conversion and presenting them to our current internal coach. I suspect that in four months we will have made identified a hit list and be ready to ask management to switch the business to our team.”

How do you get your team to think more strategically?
I believe we have to start by working to develop strategic plans for the top five accounts.

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