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The Sales Team’s Guide to Using Mutual Action Plans

Sellers and buyers reviewing a mutual action plan
A mutual action plan sets expectations throughout every stage of a sales cycle. [Salesforce]

Learn how to create timelines, actions, and agreed-upon deliverables that drive smooth and efficient sales cycles.

The B2B buyer’s journey can be a slog. Lengthy sales cycles, expansive buying committees, and competing priorities can easily derail buyers and sellers alike. However, a well-constructed mutual action plan that aligns with your standard sales process  — supported by enablement and training — significantly reduces friction on both sides of the purchase decision.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at mutual action plans and how you can use them to enable faster, more efficient sales cycles and increase sales performance.

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What is a mutual action plan?

Sometimes called a mutual close plan, mutual success plan, or joint execution plan, a mutual action plan (or MAP)  is a document shared between the seller and the buyer to set expectations throughout every stage of a sales cycle. It specifies critical steps and requirements for an organization to successfully purchase, implement, and derive value from a product or service. The sales rep is typically responsible for managing the mutual action plan and ensuring goals are met.

A mutual action plan typically begins as a template based on successful past deals, and is then customized to fit the specifics of each individual opportunity.

Whether following a simple outline or a more robust template, MAPs essentially work backwards from the desired outcome (successful purchase and satisfied buyer), mapping out:  

  • What needs to happen
  • When it needs to happen
  • Who is responsible?

MAPs shouldn’t feel like a homework assignment for buyers, but an invaluable resource to streamline communication, cut down on wasted time, eliminate guesswork, and realize value from investments sooner.

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Why sales teams need mutual action plans

Before jumping straight into the “how,” let’s take a look at why mutual action plans are so important to the modern sales team.

Mutual action plans help close complex deals faster

The B2B buyer’s journey can last anywhere from three to 24 months. A standardized mutual action plan can help sales teams speed up the average sales cycle by providing:

  • A single source of truth that’s regularly updated and shared, ensuring buyers and sellers are both working with consistent, timely, and accurate information.
  • A sense of urgency and accountability for stakeholders. MAPs connect action items, due dates, and deliverables to ROI, so your team can reframe every requirement as a necessary step to reach goals.
  • A framework to guide each rep’s engagement with buyers, so they know what to prioritize and how they should be using their time.
  • A detailed record for more senior decision-makers who may enter the process later, reducing the need for back-and-forth clarification as they get up to speed.

Mutual action plans provide a better experience for the buyer

Customer experience starts long before a purchase is ever made. It starts from the second an organization decides to evaluate your solution and continues for the duration of their contract, all the way through off-boarding.

When sales reps run an efficient and informative sales cycle, it serves as a preview of what it might be like to work with an organization long-term. Consider these statistics:

  • 87% of buyers expect sales reps to act as trusted advisors during the deal process.
  • 63% of buyers say most customer experiences fall short of what they know is possible. 
  • 73% of consumers say that customer experience is a deciding factor when making purchase decisions.
  • An organization can increase its revenue by 10 to 15% just by improving the customer experience.
  • 74% of customers are likely to make a purchase based on customer experience alone.

MAPs give your reps a way to immediately demonstrate value by shouldering the administrative burden of the sales cycle for each potential buyer. With a laser focus on desired outcomes — and what it takes to get there — a mutual action plan can help both buyers and sellers cut through the clutter. A mutual action plan reframes the conversation from “Here’s what we need from you to close the sale” to “Here’s how we can deliver value to your organization.”

When reps take charge and manage this process, that’s one less thing for buyers to worry about. It makes the buyer’s job easier, and subsequently provides a better experience and demonstrates your commitment to customer success.

Mutual action plans ensure more predictable pipeline forecasting

Again, a good mutual action plan starts with the buyer’s goals and proving potential ROI. If the prospect isn’t willing to commit to the buying process when the benefit is clear, then they’re unlikely to commit to the deal itself. 

These warning signs can be a game changer, especially considering that an average of 79% of sales organizations miss their forecast by more than 10%.

MAPs can improve forecasting by:

  • Flagging early signs that a deal won’t be viable — before your reps invest more time and resources.
  • Providing a series of checkpoints to validate buyer engagement at every step of the sales cycle. That way, reps can quickly assess opportunities and determine how likely each deal is to close.
  • Affording you better insight to progress toward goals. If your team is going to miss a goal, it’s important to have that information as soon as possible.

Mutual action plans help reduce unnecessary admin work

Did you know that reps spend almost two-thirds of their week on nonselling tasks? The problem is, many sales organizations aren’t given a single, most effective course of action to follow when it comes to working and closing the average deal. As a result, many reps start from scratch on each opportunity, and figure out the necessary steps as they go.

Without a formalized mutual action plan reps may waste hours…

  • Going back and forth with buyers to follow up on forgotten deliverables.
  • Wasting time on unnecessary and ineffective activities.
  • Sifting through CRM notes to figure out where conversations left off and what to do next.
  • Relying on bad habits and outdated techniques to try and close deals or get a buyer’s attention.

MAPs are an ideal solution because they serve as a consistent, repeatable guide to engaging with buyers — which can then be modified by company size, deal size, industry, and use case. More specifically, a mutual action plan tells reps:

  • The exact steps to follow
  • What information to track
  • Where to seek out the latest information and updates on any given account

The end result is a more streamlined and efficient flow of information between reps and the accounts they’re working on.

Mutual action plans improve win rates and drive revenue

Think of a mutual action plan as an amalgamation of the most effective aspects of every successful sales cycle. As a sales leader, you have unique insight into what works — and what doesn’t work – because you’ve seen your reps try just about everything.

A mutual action plan allows you to pick and choose what you like and throw out the rest – then, distribute across the broader team – almost like a sales coaching cheat sheet. Imagine cloning and combining the very best characteristics of each rep on your team. That’s what an effective mutual action plan template can do.

By standardizing a mutual action plan template for your team, you’re preparing them to address all kinds of buying scenarios. It allows you to share learnings in a more effective and scalable way – thus improving win rates and driving more revenue.

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How to create a mutual action plan template for your team

In this section, we’ll share our recommendations for building out a mutual action plan template. Remember, this is just a framework to help you get started. A successful mutual action plan should always stem from a two-way conversation with your buyers, rather than a rigid set of requirements to impose on every prospect.

1. Start with an objective or value statement

The last thing you want is for buyers to look at a mutual action plan and see a list of chores. When creating a template, leave space for an objective or value statement right at the top. This will help set the tone for the rest of the document, so buyers are more likely to be interested, engaged, and willing to participate. A value statement also helps everyone stay focused on the end goal.

Here’s a quick example of how you might format your value statement:

“This document is used to provide transparent, efficient, and collaborative two-way communication to assist (Prospect Company) with their evaluation of (Seller Company) as they work toward achieving (unique goal) by (ideal date).”

2. Document your buying committee and their primary responsibilities

Reserve space to document key members of the buying team. It can help to input all known and unknown personas ahead of time so your team can ask the buyer whether or not certain roles will be involved up front.

We know getting buy-in from the right team members can make or break a deal. There’s nothing worse than losing a deal at the finish line because a mystery stakeholder shoots you down in the final hour. Use your mutual action plan to uncover key decision-makers and make sure they’re looped in from your first conversation.

You can also use the template to coach your team on how to figure out who the champion is and identify where they might have the hardest time gaining approval. Understanding the ins and outs of the buyer’s team and what each member cares about can help you better equip and support your champion through their internal conversations and debates.

3. Identify key dates from both the buying and selling perspectives

Basing the target close date on your team’s quarterly goals will undermine the collaborative, buyer-centric process you’re trying to implement. Instead, format your mutual action plan around a compelling event for the buyer. This might be a project that requires your solution, a new quarter, or a strategic time for them to to hit a goal.

This will help create a sense of urgency and accountability among stakeholders. Suddenly, a slipped date or forgotten deliverable isn’t an administrative nuisance for your team, but a roadblock standing in the way of their goals.

A detailed timeline will help set expectations about how frequently you’ll need to meet, when important conversations will happen, and how much of a time commitment the buying process will be.

Timelines will look different for every company, buyer, and deal, but the types of events a sales rep might want to establish dates for include: present value proposition, outline goals and requirements, product demonstration, security review, contract approval, and implementation date.

There are many more milestones that a salesperson might include in your mutual action plan, but the above list will give you an idea of what events need to be mapped out in advance to ensure the deal stays on track.

4. Outline deliverables and action items

Successful mutual action plans reverse-engineer a target goal with a series of milestones, which are then broken down into outcomes and deliverables.

This approach connects every step to a broader goal, clearly illustrating how individual roles and responsibilities can impact the entire deal. It also leaves room for reps to present high-level milestones first to avoid overwhelming the buyer with too many details. Then, when the timing is right, your team can explore more granular action items with the buyer.

Make sure your mutual action plan template also factors in the work your team will be doing. This not only helps reinforce the mutual nature of the document, but brings visibility to your reps’ efforts, signaling their commitment to the buyer’s success.

5. Close with projected outcomes and ROI estimates

A classic mistake many reps make is to frame their mutual action plan as a means to sign a contract. Stakeholders won’t invest their time and attention if the main purpose is to help your rep close a deal. 

Instead, wrap up your template with a designated space for the implementation team to outline the post-close stage, including an onboarding timeline and projected outcomes – like what problems the customer can expect to solve by what dates, what ROI they can expect within six months or a year of implementation, and so on.

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Mutual action plan best practices

A mutual action plan template is a good starting point, but will be useless if your team doesn’t know how to use it. Training and enablement are equally imperative. Here are a few additional tips and tricks to use when rolling out your framework to your team.

Stress the “mutual” in your mutual action plan

It’s impossible to use a mutual action plan effectively without active input from the buyer. Therefore, your plan should never be treated like a one-sided laundry list of requirements, but a living, breathing roadmap for both parties to follow.

When you introduce your team to the concept of mutual action plans, be sure to stress the importance of two-way conversation. Encourage reps to dedicate a meeting to complete the plan with each prospect and get their sign-off when it’s complete.

The more your reps treat each mutual action plan like a two-way street, the more successful they will be.

Encourage reps to look at each component of the mutual action plan through the lens of the buyer

In a similar vein, mutual action plans are only effective if they frame the buying process in a way that makes sense for their organization’s specific processes, pain points, and goals. Each aspect has to reflect your buyer’s goal in order for it to be effective.

Make it clear that the mutual action plan is a rep’s single source of truth

Train your teams to use their mutual action plans to document and highlight important parts of every deal. For example, if a date is missed by either party, adjust the timeline accordingly so your buyer can see the direct impact of the date slip.

An easy way to keep the plan top-of-mind is to bring it up at the start and close of every call to review with the prospect directly. Cover what to expect next, how they’re pacing to goal, what needs to happen before the next call, and the expected outcome of each meeting.

Operationalize your mutual action plan

A mutual action plan is only effective if it’s implemented and operationalized as a core part of your selling strategy. It’s not enough to hand over a template and expect it to be successful. Instead, you must implement mutual action plans as a required, baked-in function of your selling motion.

  • Create and document mutual action plan requirements to share with your team. These requirements should set expectations around how reps should use plans throughout any given sales cycle. These requirements will aid with coaching and accountability.
  • Document where plans should live, – in most cases that will be your CRM – how frequently they should be updated, and how they align with other records and documentation required during the typical sales process.
  • Make sure your template aligns with your standard sales process. Be sure to look at deal stages, forecast probability, and other core checkpoints to ensure they align with the template you’re asking your team to use. This will help avoid confusion and maintain consistency.
  • Work with your sales operations team to see which parts of the mutual action plan can be automated. Are there reminders or notifications you can set up? Are there ways to automatically update timelines if something changes? Be sure to explore all possibilities to eliminate as much manual work as possible.

Operationalizing MAPs will help ensure your reps can consistently streamline communication with buyers, and close deals faster, even as requirements change and your selling team evolves.

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Fine-tune mutual action plans to streamline the sales cycle

While the idea of a mutual action plan seems like a no-brainer, it can be difficult for sales leaders to roll them out effectively to teams. Sometimes, motives, goals, and important context can get lost in translation. That’s where this comprehensive guide to mutual action plans comes in — it can help create more seamless, efficient sales cycles for your organization.

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