Interesting week last week, a bit of learning and new connections. But not just connecting with people, always important, but also with new ideas, by connecting dots. Ideas that would normally be disparate, by chance connect to deliver a different view of a subject, in this case sales. It always good to get out of your groove and mix things up for new views and approach, mental growth exercising as it were.
Early in the week I read a piece suggesting that consistently successful business people focus on the mid term rather than either the long or short term. While there were a host of reasons presented, the one resonated most with me dealt with the use of time, how to maximize bang for the buck with this most precious and non-renewable resource sellers have. What actions can you take that will allow you to maximize execution, while leveraging the same activity across a number of key objectives.
The other dot, in this case a conversation with a sales expert I know who also works in Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe. He specializes in helping start-ups and has built a successful practice doing it; while he is not a millennial by age, he works with them daily and has helped many and their employers increase sales and grow their companies. While we were catching up, he pointed out that he was seeing more written about “account based” selling, in fact “account based everything”. He then stopped, turned to me and said “isn’t that what we call selling?” The answer is clearly yes.
I am sure many will disagree with this view and insist that it is something entirely new, usually people who either have some “account based thing” to sell, or the mass of also-rans, who escape scrutiny by always chasing bandwagons or wrapping themselves in trends or labels. You know the ones, manager always rationalizing, saying “I know he missed quota again, but look how hard he is trying, look how he has embraced social selling – Sales 2.0, insert your favourite here ____________________. But I digress, let’s connect these dots.
A key element of success in selling, “account based” or otherwise, is how one utilizes their time. Focusing on the long term will consume a great deal of time, and then quickly become irrelevant with a change in one or two near term variables in the market (Brexit, Agent Orange. Etc.). As you change direction in response, that time will never be recouped. Short term is the opposite, things are close and moving fast, leading to ineffective and unplanned use of time, again leading to wasted time, and diminished ROT – Return On Time.
One common way the also-rans waste precious time is research, too much research at the early stages, when the only thing that counts is converting leads to prospects or opportunities. Not enough at during Discovery, once the prospect has engaged, and rep feels “comfortable” on “familiar ground”. They not only feel that they have “been there and done that”, but have often wasted valuable time earlier, time they could have used now. When I ask sales people how much time they spend researching a prospect before attempting to engage, I hear ranges from 15 – 30 minutes per lead. Assuming you have 10 leads, and connect with 5 to generate one opportunity, research can suck up a lot of time. If we look at the low end, and use 20 minutes of research per, that is 200 minutes, over three hours of research for one appointment, when you do the cost benefit, you could probably buy a better appointment for less money.
Now if you take things at face value, account based “everything” sounds like a great approach, and conceptually it is, but from a practical execution point of view, it may cause you to waste time. To know everything about the account before you have even engaged with them is a waste of time. Know what you need to know to engage, and just researching that is a better approach. Once the prospect have engaged, then you can invest more valuable time into research you will actually use. Better than wasting time doing research you will never benefit from if you don’t engage; unless your goal is to pretend you are doing work while avoiding prospecting.
Smart sales people adopt a JIT – Just In Time – approach to research, selling, and account knowledge. This allows you to research only those things that are required to move things to the next step. The reality is that you are, or should be, a Subject Matter Expert, you have enough grey matter to make some assumptions. You also have enough knowledge and experience to know what some of the objectives of the person/role you are calling on in given verticals or segments. So to engage, that is get a lead to agree to a sales conversation, you don’t need to know everything about the account. In fact, I would argue that knowing everything will actually cause you harm in the prospecting phase. When we do a lot of work, we want people to acknowledge it. At this critical stage your only goal is to have engagement, until they agree to engage, you can’t start selling, your only goal, the only measure of success is: did they engage? If you know nothing else, you will focus on this only. If you have spent time and effort, our tendency as human beings is to demonstrate that. That may be impressive, but it also distracts the conversation from the point.
Focus on the mid term, getting the person to commit to discovery, anything beyond that is long term, and not JIT to what you need to succeed. You don’t need to be account everything, you need to be contextual, research and know everything to move the deal forward, and when you do, turn the page to move to the next phase. Will we look at a step or two ahead, sure, but you don’t need to go all the way upfront. Better to know everything you need to move to the next step, than knowing everything about the account up front, and never moving forward.
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