No, you didn’t misread the title. It didn’t slip by the editing team as a glaring mistake. For opportunity-solving is both a process and an art that dramatically increases the likelihood of success in selling to and serving major accounts.
Let’s begin by thinking about brainstorming, the well-known creative problem-solving technique that takes many different forms. Its genesis is credited to a US advertising executive, Alex Osborn, whose books, Applied Imagination and Think Up, detailed the teaming approach he used to win business with clients like Goodrich, General Electric, Chrysler and DuPont. He figured out that in maneuvering through the swamp of problems in winning and growing enterprise accounts, having a creative process would be a significant competitive advantage. As he often said about collaboration in problem-solving, “It’s easier to tone down a wild idea than to think up a new one!”. How can you not love that thinking?
Of course, in today’s collaborative world, the team selling that’s so fundamental in working with major accounts, sets the stage for group problem-solving. That’s fortunate, because enterprise clients have a right to expect that you address their issues quickly. And since major accounts typically account for 80% of a selling organization’s business, they’ve earned that right.
But solving problems is just one of the challenges in selling to and serving major accounts. For they are vast ecosystems of opportunity – fertile fields of moist, rich soil. With a successful track record of delivery and, yes, responsive problem-solving, you earn the right to plant the seeds of growth in that soil. Enterprise accounts are marketplaces in and of themselves and most selling teams build and follow expansion strategies. Not all focus on account growth, though, as some do a disservice to the time and effort expended to win the business in the first place. And the disservice applies to the entire selling organization and its stakeholders, who depend on the growth of revenue and profits. And what of the sales team members whose compensation is directly connected to growth? The impact on them is very personal. But the biggest loser if you don’t make every effort to grow a major account? It’s the account itself. For remember, they chose you among other quality alternatives, investing in you as their partner. And now they depend on you to provide increasing value by going deep and wide in their ecosystem with your portfolio of offerings. They didn’t choose you as a one-off. That’s the credo, the enterprise selling mindset – business expansion through value growth. If you play in this space, it must be your mindset as well. In fact, it’s your duty.
Sure, there are obstacles. There’s the dreaded hand-off, sometimes executed well through seamless, teamwork after the win. But some organizations follow the “detach with an ax” strategy, with sales departing to slay the next dragon while service focuses solely on deliverables. No value growth. No business growth. Darwin always gets the last word. It’s Natural Selection. Organisms better adapted to their environments survive and produce offspring. Those not adapted, in the world of major accounts, are simply replaced by the competition. Often very quickly.
Earlier, I mentioned duty. How can brainstorming help you fulfill it to your most important accounts? By facilitating that creative focus not only on problems but on opportunities. All the typical brainstorming guidelines apply – session structure, rapid development, invested parties, supportive environments, etc. But in addition to brainstorming problems like “How to recover from the failed integration project”, effective teams attack opportunities like “How to grow our business outside the development project”.
It’s the improvement mindset – not a problem that needs fixing, but a situation with the potential to be made better, more positive, more productive. Think of “Good to Great” for situations.
In Sandler Enterprise Selling, we believe strongly in Team Storm – our practical and powerful brainstorming process. Imagine assembling a group of team members in a structured session focused on a specific topic. And think about concluding, an hour later, with 4-5 concrete actions including due dates and individual accountabilities to drive improvement. Sound like a productive hour? And we strongly advocate involving delivery team members in Team Storm sessions. They’re typically overlooked when it comes to account growth although they’re often the most informed about account happenings. I can attest that with the organizations that are the very best at “land and expand” strategies, it’s difficult to distinguish between sales team and delivery team members. Why? Because lines aren’t drawn between the two. No stovepipes. It’s about believing and executing as one team – the “account team”.
What if there’s not a specific opportunity or topic to attack in brainstorming? In and of itself, such a scenario creates amazingly fertile ground for a Team Storm session based on an open theme like “How to identify new growth areas in ABC account”. Events built on such opportunistic themes, welcoming those “wild ideas” Osborn referred to, in my experience, are often the most productive sessions of all.
So, brainstorm your problems and build creative solutions as quickly as you can. But to promote sustainable account growth, accelerate opportunity-solving as well. Your organization and your teammates will all benefit. But the real winners will be your clients, who have likely been waiting on you to proactively deliver added value for a long time. They might even decide to keep you around for the long-term.