“It is the skill of having a clear and decisive vision for the future whilst staying focused on the present that makes the real difference when it comes to performing under pressure.”
Keeping the balance between staying in the present and having a clear vision for the future is not only a challenge for athletes, but also for every sales professional. I will tap again into the wisdom of Steve Backley, English Javelin athlete and three-time Olympic medalist, and map his wisdom to the world of professional B2B sales.
Short-term tactics are only successful and sustainable when they follow a broader strategy. Short-term success, which is often driven by quarterly pressures, creates the freedom and trust for executing long-term strategies to create new business in new and existing accounts. Both aspects are equally important to build sustainable sales performance.
“Whilst you will be effective in the present, as a champion, you will take control of the future by planning for what may be over the horizon.”
Balancing present and future in opportunity management
Being effective in the present (current opportunities) means understanding the customers’ present as well as their desired future. It means deeply understanding the customer’s current environmental and situational context, their stakeholders’ different viewpoints and their desired results and wins. Understanding the customer’s specific context is one essential element in designing ways and approaches to a better future state. The next element is the impacted stakeholders’ different concepts that reflect their present understanding. These concepts have to be analyzed, understood and internalized before they can be mapped to the provider’s products and services. Only then can a shared vision of future success be created, including a path to this future state to help them to achieve their desired results and wins.
That means a sales professional has to build a bridge between the current state and a better future state. Sometimes, customers have already done that on their own. This is possible when the challenge they deal with is well known. But if the challenge they have to master is new, complex and more risky, they need a sales professional to show them different ways to achieve their desired results and wins, to understand the entire impact of the situation and to create a shared vision of future success.
Creating such a shared vision together across a customer community requires lots of adaptive and leadership competencies, but it is highly valuable for both. For salespeople, a shared vision of success is the prerequisite to enter the actual buying phase and to increase significantly the probability of a win. For customers, salespeople who provide perspectives this way are highly valuable because they provide an understanding of the bigger picture, the entire impact and the best way to achieve their desired results and wins. It helps them to make their best decision.
“You will make informed decisions about your chosen path based on relevant details that you see around you. While others become obsessed by things that are unimportant, you will have a great understanding of what is appropriate. You will possess the ability to assess a situation and plan for the future almost simultaneously.”
Balancing present and future in account management
Taking the issue of balancing present and future to another level, requires understanding how account and opportunity management fit together. Account management done the right way is not about creating plans nobody is using during the year. Instead, it means understanding entire accounts from their perspective as an entity (e.g., vision, business strategy, strategic initiatives and challenges, industry trends, financial performance, etc.) and to derive a portfolio of new business ideas – so-called account leads. That is the blueprint for executing your account strategy. Also here, it is about their context, concepts and decision dynamics to derive valuable new business ideas. Analyzing and understanding the existing relationship network to identify needs – where and how to improve and to grow this network – are additional key prerequisites to derive new business ideas. In particular, understanding an account’s specific decision dynamic is highly valuable when it comes to designing engagement approaches. There is a difference between decision dynamics on a single opportunity level versus a decision dynamic culture within an account that gets manifested in various opportunities.
The main purpose of account management is strategic; it’s identifying new business ideas to create additional value for an account. These business ideas then have to be developed into leads. The best ones will make the conversion into an opportunity. Then, the cycle of balancing opportunity and account management begins again. It always requires making informed decisions based on understanding the present and the future – in both dimensions, the single opportunity and the entire account.
“Your focus determines your reality.”