In this final article on the Key Account Planning process, Mike Cameron outlines how sales and marketing personnel should ‘close the deal’ with a client, taking into account their sales objectives, stop signs and alternative position proposals.
The previous three articles laid the foundation for understanding the importance of:
• A good sales strategy – namely, to set yourself up in the right position, ie to be in the right place, with the right people, at the right time, with the right solution so that you can make the right tactical presentation to achieve your sales objective.
• Creating a framework through a Key Account Plan (KAP) that fosters a win-win situation and manages every sales objective as a joint venture.
• Identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in term of your relationships with buyers within your customer’s or prospect’s organisation.
In this final article, we complete the review of the process for developing key accounts. However, just to recap the summary of strengths (Step 4 in the process), at the conclusion of the third article:
SUMMARY OF STRENGTHS
1. Key accounts differentiate your solution and your company from competitors.
2. They are opportunities to improve your position (strategy).
3. They are relevant to the current Sales Objective within the KAP
4. They diminish the importance of price competition.
It has been noted that many people, even the very best of sales professionals, don’t leverage from strength as often as they could or should – an important observation to keep in mind as you review and redraft your action plan and reposition yourself as and whenever necessary.
ELIMINATING STOP SIGNS: DOS AND DON’TS
1. Don’t ignore stop signs.
2. Don’t be overconfident about your current position and understanding of the needs and attitudes of each buyer within your prospect’s organisation.
3. Eliminate stop signs by leveraging a strength.
4. Don’t become disenchanted or despondent as a result of the large number of stop signs that you’ve identified. Congratulate yourself and set action steps to eliminate them. You should view this as an opportunity to leverage from strength as you clear them.
ASSESSMENT USING OBJECTIVE CRITERIA
Place a stop sign in any box within the Buying Influences Chart above (Figure 1) or your own chart, when evaluating the action steps within your KAP for which you have not identified at least one player.
Place a stop sign next to the name of any of the following players:
1. Anyone about whom you have insufficient data or about whom you have a question that you can’t answer.
2. Anyone about whom the information you have is unclear or uncertain.
3. Any uncovered base, ie any buyer who has yet to be contacted or spoken to.
4. Any new player.
5. Any player involved in a recent or current corporate reorganisation.
Once you have identified your stop signs, begin looking for areas of strength from which you can use leverage to remove them, eg:
1. Which of your buyers are most enthusiastic about your proposal?
2. Which of them can be utilised as an advocate?
3. Have you spoken to these people yet about helping you move to a stronger position?
Finally, review your strengths and then test your position, eg:
1. Does this particular strength clearly differentiate your company from the competition?
2. Does this particular strength relate directly to your current sales objective?
3. Will leveraging from this strength improve your position regarding your current sales objective?
Each question must be answered “Yes” for you to have a true strength. Be careful about only being comfortable around people you have known the longest. To be positioned to win, be sure you have covered all the key players filling all four of the buyer modes.
REVISE ‘ALTERNATIVE POSITION’ PROPOSALS
You should now take the information you have just acquired to revise and expand on your alternative position proposals. It is highly likely that you will have already reviewed and revised these proposals several times and, as a result, you will have transformed them into a working proposition for your action plan.
Note: As you re-evaluate your thinking, be inclusive, be specific, frequently check out the relevance of your alternative position proposals with other team members, your prospect’s advocates and already supportive buyers prior to discussing it with less committed people.
Inclusive means that you should include as much as possible. Don’t worry about whether every one of your alternative position proposals is ideal for the situation.
Being specific means that you should test to check that you are not being theoretical about your alternative position proposals.
Note: Each item must relate specifically to your current sales objective.
Set SMART Action Steps within your KAP, eg: I will arrange a meeting on Wednesday, 12 June at 10.30am, for Jack Smith to show Rob Jones how our proposal can increase productivity within his department by 15 per cent over the next 12 months.
While this action won’t ensure that you win their business, it does enhance your credibility as well as eliminating a stop sign.
If an alternative position proposal is not important or it isn’t a high priority for your customer’s buyers at the moment, you can always reassess the situation at a later time or when changed circumstances demand a review. Use the leverage principle over and over as you work your way towards your current sales objective and frequently test your current assumptions.
Note: Test means you need to test every alternative position proposal. You should never make an unwarranted assumption that any action you propose will be a change for the better, as far as your prospect or customer’s buyers are concerned.
Every alternative position proposal that you create, and are prepared to test, should do one of the following:
1. Capitalise on an area of strength.
2. Eliminate a stop sign or at least reduce the impact that it may represent.
STEP 5. CREATE AN ACTION PLAN
A: IDENTIFY EACH INDIVIDUAL’S RESPONSE MODE
Review your Buying Influence Chart (Figure 1) and focus on how each buyer feels about the situation and the change your alternative position proposal brings. Ask yourself and your team: “Can our proposal close the perceived gap (discrepancy) between reality and results?” Then, on your chart, write the following letters alongside each of your buyers to represent how you believe they feel about the situation, your proposal and/or solution (your sales objective):
• G – for growth.
• T – trouble.
• S – satisfied.
• O – optimistic.
You may be unsure about how a particular buyer feels which is why a stop sign would be in order. A buyer may feel S (satisfied) today but they may feel T (trouble) tomorrow, which is why you need to constantly review and re-evaluate the situation.
B: RANKING A BUYER’S INTEREST IN YOUR PROPOSAL
Once you have labelled each buyer’s response mode, assess where you stand with each of them by asking yourself this question: “How does each person feel right now with regard to my current sales proposal?”
Note: You are finding out how the buyer feels about your proposal, not you or your company.
Rate your buyers between -5 and +5 and mark up your assessments against the buyers’ names within your Buying Influence Chart (see Figure 2).
The goal of this process is to identify how each buyer views your proposal on a scale of +5 to -5.
Anyone with whom you have yet to discuss the proposal or those buyers who are negative to it should be marked with a stop sign. You need to develop a strategy to deal with all the people you have marked with a stop sign since they have the potential to block, or at least stall, your proposal.
As a matter of some urgency, and prior to working on additional proposal alternatives, you will need to rectify this gap in your knowledge base. Where you can’t do this, you have a risk.
Note: Anyone with a -1 to a -5 rating requires a stop sign.
C: ANALYSE YOUR INFORMATION
Since you have now assessed each buyer twice, once in terms of modes and again in terms of their overall feelings about your proposal, compare these two assessments and then determine your current strengths and weaknesses based on the visual model that you’ve created.
Look for inconsistencies. If your buyer is optimistic and has a +3 rating, you have an inconsistency. If you have an advocate who is not in favour of your proposal then reconsider where you are placing this person within the chart or seriously review your data and re-evaluate your current position.
Note: The best advocates are usually in growth mode but, in any event, they have to be in either growth or trouble mode.
Think not only about how the various buyers relate individually to you, but how each specific response assists you to create a composite picture of your customer’s overall response to your proposal. Again, the number of buyers in growth or trouble modes constitutes one of your most significant strengths.
D: REVISE YOUR ALTERNATIVE POSITIONS PROPOSALS
Review each Alternative Position proposal and ask yourself this question: “How does the level of receptivity of each of my buyers affect the visibility of this option?”
Based on the answers you get to the above question, modify those options that should be modified, dump those that are no longer valid and add any new options that will move towards and/or meet the better understood, newly perceived or revised requirements of your buyers.
Then continue to (i) consider all options and be inclusive, (ii) be specific, and (iii) test your alternative position proposals by making sure that each one capitalises on a strength, eliminates or reduces the impact of a stop sign, or does both.
STEP 6. THE CLOSE
Keep it simple (Don’t find that you have bought your own solution).Ensure that paperwork and your process is “painless”.
STEP 7. SEEK FEEDBACK, REVIEW FUTURE OPPORTUNITIES
Consider utilising the following business review and development (BRAD) process from experience, it works a treat!
Finally, to reiterate, in diagrammatic form, the key take-aways from the four articles which detailed the process of creating and managing a KAP, they are:
• Select or train a suitably qualified sales professional.
• Appreciate that a KAP has six key components.
• Understand the value of a standard procedure for creating multiple Key Account Plans.
• Ensure that everyone within the sales team is trained in how to create a KAP and manage the seven steps involved in the process (See Figure 5).
The seven key steps:
- Decide what you are selling.
- Understand your sales objective.
- Test your position and identify buyers.
- Understand your customer base.
- Understand your customer’s organisational chart.
- Identify buyers.
- Rate and evaluate your buyers.
- Buyers’ roles.
- Buyers’ influence.
- Interest in your sales objective.
- Identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
- Review alternative positions.
- Create an action plan.
- Draft and implement SMART action steps.
- Close the deal.
- Ensure that paperwork and your process is “painless”.
- Monitor and seek feedback.
- Monitor delivery.
- Check that delivery meets (or exceeds) the promise.
- Seek feedback from your customer’s buyers.
- Review future business opportunities (BRAD meeting).
- Nurture the relationship.
Mike Cameron is an IQA member and the principal of Strategically Yours. Visit strategically.com.au