Over the years, I’ve sat through countless strategic account review sessions in which senior sales managers are supposed to share their long term account development strategies. It pains me when, occasionally, sales managers don’t really seem to understand the concept of account strategy. They may be good prospectors and natural salesmen who can build personal relationships and close business, but some sale managers just seem to have trouble thinking like strategic sellers.
Rather than recognizing the strategic account review as an opportunity to co-opt the resources of the company to support their plans (and help them hit quota), some sales managers see it as a challenge to their competency. They scramble to prove their worth by demonstrating their mastery of their accounts. A typical approach is to focus on detailed account descriptions (“See how well I know this account?”) or status reports on current projects (“See how hard I’m working?”) rather than offering strategies on how to grow the accounts. This is a huge shame because without a clear strategy for the account, the sales person is unable to answer the biggest question in the mind of the executive team, which is “How can we help?”
A lack of strategic account perspective might be an outcome of a misaligned compensation program. But just as often it is a symptom of the larger issue of selling products rather than solutions. Solution selling starts with sales people who have a strong understanding of their client’s business and personal objectives. They are then able to position their company’s offerings to help clients achieve these objectives. With this understanding, they are also more effective at bringing to bear the resources of the company to help develop client solutions.
Almost every company struggles as it progresses towards solution selling. Recently I noticed a poster on the wall of an VP of Marketing and Sales. The poster illustrated the transition by contrasting two salesmen. The first, who looked sort of like a used car dealer, was saying, “Buy this because we ‘kick-ass’”. The second salesman, who looked like the kind of guy you could trust with your girlfriend, was saying, “Buy this because we want you to ‘kick-ass’”. It’s a small turn of phrase but a huge difference in sales philosophy.
In the end, solution selling is about equating sales success with customer success – because when you help your customers kick ass, you actually do too!