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In sales organizations, we place significant emphasis on landing and developing new accounts. It’s completely justified, of course. But with what I like to refer to as the “tyranny of the urgent,” we can lose sight of the customers we already have and the importance of growing our existing accounts.

So how can we get past this quarterly, monthly, and even weekly urgency and make room to expand our relationships with existing customers? First, it requires a mindset shift and a willingness to allocate a bit of mindshare and focus to calculated growth. Deliberate, planned growth with the customer at the center is what it's all about in terms of driving business in your account base. And getting started is really as simple as thinking about it in terms of a four-piece jigsaw puzzle.

First, you’ll need a plan, and your entire account team will need to support it. We find that the best approach to building effective customer-related plans is to engage in a team-based planning process. After all, shouldn’t the people who will ultimately execute on the plan and make the promises come true have input into the plan’s creation?

As you prepare to plan, keep in mind that there are three potential dimensions in planning:

  • Am I planning to engage?

  • Am I planning to win?

  • Am I planning to grow?

When Dave Stein and I wrote our book, Beyond the Sales Process, we interviewed a number of highly successful salespeople and account managers. By simply talking with top performers about what they do, how they do it, and why they do it, we observed and modeled a set of interconnected behaviors. What we found was that the first two questions — planning to engage and win — were capturing most of the focus, with little mindshare left over. Yet what we all know is that the actions that are taken after the last sale have everything to do with effectively positioning the salesperson before their next sale.

Now that you have a plan in place, the question becomes “What are you going to do with it?” Many of us have participated in account planning processes in which plans were developed with the best of intentions, only to observe later that when all was said and done, more was said than done. For most salespeople, their largest and most strategic customers are irreplaceable assets, and failing to implement plans to grow these accounts is simply not an option.

If your plan represents your intention to co-create value with your internal team and with your customer, then it’s the execution of your plan that will determine whether this value ever becomes a reality. And since it must be important to your customer (or they wouldn’t have collaborated with you in the first place), there’s a high likelihood that if you don’t deliver against your promise of value, then someone else will.

No one builds a plan to grow an existing customer relationship with the intent to fall short on follow-through, but even the best-laid plans can fall victim to non-execution. While there are plenty of reasons for execution shortfalls, the two that we see most frequently in our work are the tyranny alluded to earlier, as well as internal misalignment. Both have to do with reaching agreement on what matters most, which can be difficult when it comes to agreeing on priorities that are focused on growing customer relationships.

If planning invites us to gaze into the future, then review must be an invitation to take a peek into the past. Too many times, salespeople, account managers, and their teams work their plans only to rush off to the next action item without thoughtful reflection on the impact of what has just been accomplished — both internally, as well as externally with the customer. If our planning and execution efforts have been successful, then there should be evidence in the form of past proven value co-creation to reflect what has been achieved, and there’s every reason to pause for a moment to articulate and celebrate this success — across our own organization as well as with the customer.

The customer is certainly keeping score of your planning and execution, and to deprive them of the opportunity to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and what could be done differently next time is to put both parties at risk. Assuming the creation of past proven value, discussing this with the customer is likely to result in the co-discovery of new opportunities – and it is this momentum from past successes that has proven to be so powerful in planning to engage, win, and grow. On the other hand, if there is a bit of past proven disappointment to be discussed and vetted with the customer, the sooner we discuss and resolve it the closer we are to the next opportunity.

Finally, just when we start to be comfortable with our plan, we feel the need to change it. Why? While it could be because we need to course-correct and adjust accordingly, the more predictable reason is that the customer’s business will transform, their success criteria will change, and hence, our plans to engage, win, and grow with them must evolve as well.

When you put the puzzle pieces together, this approach to planning forms a virtuous circle with the customer at the center. Effective planners engage their teams and their customers in the planning process with them because they realize that by expanding the planning process to include these vital stakeholders, their likelihood of success increases. After all, if we’re going to commit the time and effort to build plans to engage, win, and grow with our customers, it only makes sense to make them a reality.

For most salespeople, their largest and most strategic customers are irreplaceable assets, and failing to implement plans to grow these accounts is simply not an option.”

Steve Andersen | President and Founder, Performance Methods Inc.
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