Friday, November 14, 2014

Strategic Account Planning Part 9

Partners, Allies, Friends and Money

No man is an island, it takes a village; heck even the Lone Ranger had Tonto, Bevis has Butt-head and, stretching things to the limit of reason, Ren, the insanely psychotic Chihuahua plays off a dimwitted cat sidekick named “Stimpy” (Stimpson J. Cat). There is power in teams.

We’ve discovered in today’s selling environment most salespeople work as part of a team. While the structure of the team varies based on the industry, organization and technologies sold, the basic framework is almost always the same. The salesperson acts as the leader orchestrating longer term strategy and individual tactical moves. When it works, the beauty of the concept brings a tear to my eyes. On the flip side, a dysfunctional team is a train wreck looking for a place to happen.

We are going to break this subject into two sections:
• Other employees from within your own organization
• Supply-partners and various vendors

While each category is part of the salesperson’s team, the groups rarely behave the same and often need a different bit of thought to engage them into an account-centric strategic plan.

Allow me to quickly digress and remind you, we are engaged in strategic planning for individual accounts. For the sake of brevity, we’ll skip over the warm and fuzzy rich personal reward of developing a team, fast forward past the psycho-babble of humans being tribal beings and get straight to how we can grow specific accounts by focusing a group of people toward achieving results.

Others from within your organization

This diverse group can consist of inside sales people, crib specialists, customer service reps, product specialists and delivery drivers, all the way to managers and owners. They all have defined roles in your company, they are probably pretty busy. But in building a strategic plan you determine how they might be leveraged to bolster your position.

Let’s remember: they are already busy, you are busy. We can’t do this for every account; time just doesn’t allow it. Instead (going back to Strategic Planning: Part Four), we must determine a select few accounts where our efforts can make the greatest difference. We are targeting and sharply focusing efforts. Pick too many and the focus is lost. Selecting the targets is entirely your responsibility.

Share the accounts covered by a strategic plan with your co-workers. Connecting your team to your plans for the future achieves three things. First, it allows them to provide feedback from a different point of view. The team may recognize an important point that you missed. Secondly, they can often provide a second (third, fourth…) set of eyes. They may see opportunities, hear about competitive activity or learn of new technology shifts during their normal course of business. Lastly, they may be a key ingredient in moving the opportunity forward. And, you want them to understand the nature and steps of your account-centric strategic plan.

Of special note is the need for management buy in. If you work for a progressive company, there is a good chance management will be all over the concept of driving individualized strategic plans at critical top target account. If not, you may need to carefully lay out your plan including the need for the use of occasional special resources from the rest of your team. We feel this is so important that we will devote a future chapter to the topic. For now, make sure you have this important base covered.

Set up regular updates on the progress of your plan. The plan belongs to you. Because, you think about it regularly, it’s top of mind. You review progress, fine tune activities and heed changes in customer direction. This is most likely not the case for your team. And, it’s your job as the plan’s owner and champion to regularly review progress, special events and needs for timely support by the team.

We like plans which detail activities with descriptions of the outcome and time lines. Sharing a mutual calendar for the account allows all those involved to fit required actions into their own schedule. If you have the ability to share a flow chart of the actions that’s all the better.
A best practice of working with a team comes via the some
sort of “huddle session” where everyone gathers to talk about the plan. Typically, these can be done in a few minutes before normal sales meetings. These meetings need not be long or complicated but a quick agenda and notes shared by the salesperson typically pay off by reinforcing the difference between this meeting and the typical account banter which generally takes place. Experience dictates a little formality pulls people further into the process.

Supply Partners and Vendors
For our distributor readers this part is intuitive. For others let me explain. Sometimes your products and services are not developed, manufactured or delivered 100% by your own company. These folks don’t work for your organization, but they have a vested interest in the outcome. Your success becomes their success, maybe. It depends on how you handle the situation.

A note from the author: Throughout this section I will refer to Supply-partners and Vendors as if they were synonyms. I believe there is a difference. Supply-partners see your success as an extension of their own and are more likely to take part in these plans. Vendors on the other hand just allow you to resell their products and services. Think about the difference but test the Vendors; some of them may be willing to take part in your plan.

For the next few moments let’s frame the situation. The Supply-partner gains if you bring them new business. Moving business from one channel, group or department to another creates little, if any, value. Similarly, unauthorized sales of products brought in from another territory will not bring warmth to the local Vendor sale guy’s heart.

However, the new business snatched from the grasp of a hated competitor is an all-around good deal. Create a new application for their product and they will love you. Solve a problem that locks the Supply-partner into the customer forever and you will be a long time hero.

The important point is this: you have to add some value to the Vendor’s effort to pull them into your plan. With these points well understood, we can stroll through pulling these people into our strategic plan.

Unlike members of your team that work for your organization, these folks often must be sold on the value you can provide. This is especially true if your organization is not their favorite partner in the market place.

Information sharing is critical to gaining buy in from this group. Unlike your own team where there is no need to outline “what’s in it for them”, this group needs to understand how developing the account can create value for their organization.

Topics to explore might be:
• The strategic importance of the customer to the market served.
• The upside growth for their products if the account can be properly controlled.
• The potential future projects or applications available for their products.
• Competitors currently positioned and the opportunity to replace them.
• Needs for pricing support to push out a competitor.

In a world where we often find multiple channels to market for larger manufacturers, bringing the Vendor into your plan actually blocks interference from competing distributors or channels to market. Make sure you cover one important fact, you are about to create value for the Supplier and you need to be paid for your efforts. Protecting your selling work is critically important.

Once the Vendor has shown support for your plan (and not until) outline your longer range strategic plan. Ask how the Supplier could assist you. Often, your plan can become part of their own plan. Whenever possible, list specific activities on behalf of the Vendor along with completion dates.

When the Suppler (especially the case of those with close relationship to you and your company) demonstrates an interest in being part of the total picture, it may make sense to include them in discussions with your own internal team.

Leading, Directing, Orchestrating and Managing the Activities of Others (both groups)
Long ago I had a mentor who often stated:
“As the salesperson you own the customer. Everybody else has responsibilities that touch up against the customer. They can make a positive impression or they can destroy the customer’s potential to buy. When others screw up at your customer, they get chastised. But if the customer is lost, you get 100% of the blame. And because of that, you need to coach, handle, supervise and direct all of the others touching your account. And, sometimes doing such is a contact sport.”

Let me confess, these were scary words for a 29 year old guy with a wife, freshly minted mortgage and baby on the way. The list of people touching my customer-base was huge. None of them worked for me. And, most of them had more industry experience than I possessed at the time. All that, and I saw that a couple of miss communications could cost me commission dollars, future promotions and maybe even my career if things really crashed. Failure was not an option.

Taking these words to heart, I noticed a few things that worked. Here is my short list:
• The team needs to understand why success is likely. You have already spent a great deal of time understanding the account, gathering data, building alliances with contacts within the account. You are definitely not bringing them into something half-baked and iffy. Your plan is the “real deal” and they are joining a winning team.
• Everyone touching the account needs to know a bit of the “back story”, things like customer politics, our current competitive situation and how the opportunity had come into view.
• Any activity assigned to a group of people rarely gets done without some personal intervention. It is always better to ask for one person to complete the task.
• Activities assigned to others need to have dates for completion attached.
• Over communicate. A number of short huddle sessions keeps your team engaged in your plan.
• Avoid long periods without an account update. Sometimes carrying out a real strategic plan takes 10-12 months. Even if there are no milestones met or signs of success, let the team know the plan is still pushing forward.
• Sometimes, members of your team need to be held accountable for poor performance or lack of follow through. Don’t be afraid to speak forcibly and directly. Make them understand how their work impacts the whole plan.
• Share success with the group. Make everyone feel like their efforts were critical to the total success.

Wrapping all this up…
Building a team accelerates your success. Time is a resource; one that cannot be replenished. Pulling others into your plan multiplies your time. Further, teams built for one account can quickly be morphed to address others. Salespeople who pull this off once are seen as the proverbial rain maker. And you are set to share the gains.

Finally, we feel so strongly on the need to actively engage management, that we are devoting a whole section to the top. Stay tuned for our discussion.

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