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The Importance of Strategic Account Planning

by Dan Fisher on Mar 2, 2015 9:59:48 AM

Your key customer accounts first and foremost must be protected and second, they need to be managed to grow to their full revenue potential. Failure to do so can result in financial ruin. Sales professionals including account managers need to have both short-term and long-term goals including a methodology for actively managing and growing strategic accounts. Without a strategic account development methodology including metrics to measure success, it can be difficult to assess if your account managers are simply passive “order takers” or as I like to refer to them, “relationship builders.”

In my experience “relationship builders” do nothing to help the customer or to move the relationship forward. Relationship builders are reactive in nature and simply try to find business but they can’t create business. Instead they focus on appeasing the customer and ensuring “they don’t step on people’s toes.” They don’t engage in the tough conversations because they don’t want to rock the boat. Perhaps this is one of the major reasons why IT staffing firms in general don’t engage in strategic account planning? This complacent behavior holds IT staffing firm’s hostage and eventually kills their business. Your key customers are far too important to your organization to be managed reactively.

What IT staffing firms need is a strategic account development methodology for effectively planning and growing key accounts. A strategic account development methodology provides both short-term and long-term planning for your key accounts. Like your opportunity funnel, good account plans provide milestones and expose your blind spots. They include measurable objectives that allow you to see if progress is being made. Equally important are indicators that help you identify and correct small problems before they become critical issues.

Some IT staffing firms have account managers who focus on farming and managing their strategic accounts while others have their sales people manage those accounts. Arguments can be made for both models, but what both fail to include is account planning. I’m talking about account planning that goes well beyond simply filling out an account profile template at the end of the year and never following through.

I understand that sales people don’t enjoy the planning process and the paperwork that comes with it. Account planning takes time and requires patience. I also understand that account planning doesn’t provide immediate gratification, yet requires an upfront investment in the form of time and energy with an unknown return. But when you fail to plan you tend to engage in reactive behavior and never give yourself the chance to become the incumbent vendor let alone the trusted adviser. With no planning you are not focused on your client’s critical business issues or goals. When you are not aligned and focused on helping your client achieve their goals and/or helping them solve their critical business issues you are seen as just another vendor, a commodity. And when you’re viewed as commodity the conversation always focuses on price. Do you see the pattern?

When you invest in strategic account planning you can align you service offerings around your client’s business goals, making them real business solutions. When you engage your clients in strategic account planning you can gain real insight and visibility into their business which enables you to become a part of the decision making process. This creates value for the customer, reduces pricing sensitivity when contract talks take place and makes it more difficult for a competitor to replace you.

When IT staffing firms engage in strategic account planning they; 

  • Have a road map for bringing the entire account relationship into view
  • Identify high value relationships
  • Uncover the overall account revenue opportunity
  • Identify the best sales strategies for each opportunity
  • Understand the customer’s perception of the business relationship
  • Open opportunities you wouldn’t have known about without account planning
  • Learn how to manage the business relationship to avoid pricing sensitivity
  • Avoid being surprised by loss of a key client
  • Systematically grow revenue and profitability

To learn more about strategic account development and the planning process you can check out our five week strategic account development class that is currently open to the public.

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Topics: strategic account development

Executing Your Strategic Account Development Plan

by Dan Fisher on Feb 23, 2015 6:11:36 PM

One of the things I have learned over the years is that it’s very difficult for sales reps to develop and execute account plans. There are a number of strategies and methodologies to follow but there seems to be very little support and practical advice on how to best to put it all together into an effective and cohesive account action plan, without overwhelming sales reps. After all, what is the point of putting a strategic account development (SAD) plan in place if you don’t have the tools and action plan to execute?

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Sales Coaching, Your Path to Improving Sales Performance

by Dan Fisher on Feb 23, 2015 10:18:30 AM

You know what the most powerful sales management tool is to improve sales performance?  Sales training? Nope. Reporting and business intelligence? Nope. Incentives? Nope. Performance reviews? Nope. CRM and ATS technology? Not even close.

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Topics: sales coaching

How IT Staffing Niches Impact New Account Development

by Gerry Gadoury on Feb 2, 2015 2:25:22 PM

Opening new accounts isn’t easy. That’s not news. Competition is high; prospects are busy and difficult to reach. This also isn’t news. The answer that many firms come up with to combat this is to utilize an “IT Generalist” go to market strategy. They believe that by being all things IT to all customers they will increase their opportunities to engage more prospects (True!) and that they will have an easier time generating new business (Not True!).

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Sales Call Planning. Are you Prepared or Will You Be Left Behind?

by Dan Fisher on Jan 28, 2015 1:52:00 PM

We have reached a new inflection point within the sales profession. Look around and you will see what I’m talking about. Decision makers are more difficult than ever to get a hold of. The lines of vendor differentiation are as murky as ever. Engaging prospects in meaningful dialog and gaining legitimate consideration (to do business together) has never been more challenging. The reason for all of this is buyer behavior has changed. The world of sales has reached a new inflection point.

An inflection point can be defined as a point in time for either opportunity or failure. Looking back on the history of the sales profession there have been two major inflection points. The first inflection point occurred when Dale Carnegie opened his sales training courses in 1912 and released his best selling book, How To Win Friends & Influence People in 1936. This book remains a classic today. His philosophy was that it is possible to change other people’s behavior by changing one’s reaction to them. Many of today’s world leading organizations continue to apply these concepts.

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Maximize Your 2015 Sales Kickoff Meeting

by Dan Fisher on Jan 12, 2015 7:52:00 AM

Well here it is, 2015, a new-year which means new goals and new aspirations.  After you finish celebrating 2014 it is once again, time to hit your number AGAIN!  More than likely you will hear about this (hitting your number) at your sales kickoff meeting (if you haven’t already). Hosting a sales kick off meeting is one of the best ways to communicate your strategy and prepare your go to market plan.  Heck, companies spend millions of dollars on these meetings to make them impactful.  Yet most attendees fail to capitalize on the opportunity because they suffer from information overload from packed days followed with late nights (and usually lots of drinking).  It's all a blur!   Despite good intentions, follow up, reviewing and applying key data points and action items doesn't always happen. When that happens, you fail to see a change in behavior which means results don’t change either. Yet, you commonly see ‘A’ players knocking the ball out of the park year after year. What the heck are they doing at these sales kickoff meetings? What are they doing after the kickoff meeting? What are they doing to capture this data and maximize the opportunity?

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2015 Sales Attack -- Two Things You Must Know!

by Gerry Gadoury on Jan 6, 2015 11:00:00 AM

Do you have a 2015 Sales attack plan? It's real simple, grow what you have and hunt for new! I know this isn’t news; it’s pretty much what you’ve been told to do since you started in this business, but I want you to ask yourself a few questions:

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Topics: account development, it staffing sales

5 Tips for Improving Sales Effectiveness in 2015

by Gerry Gadoury on Dec 15, 2014 6:44:25 PM

What is the #1 way to improve Sales effectiveness? It’s the worst kept secret in the industry. Every sales person knows the answer. Every Sales Leader. Every Owner. Then why is it that people don’t embrace it? Why is it that sales people resist it? That answer is well known as well.

The #1 way to improve individual and team performance in your sales department is the same thing that every professional sports team does to improve their performance when they get caught in a slump: Drill the basics! Practice the fundamentals!

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Two Must Have's for Winning Over IT Hiring Managers in 2015

by Dan Fisher on Dec 14, 2014 11:01:18 AM

In case you haven’t noticed, today's IT hiring manager and corporate buyers in general are insanely busy. They have large teams to manage and responsibilities that continue to expand.  Their work load is unrelenting with deadlines to meet and projects and products to deliver.  If that were not enough, these IT hiring managers are bombarded with unsolicited interruptions-sales calls-throughout their day.  To make matters worse, they continue to hear salespeople push out their broadcast message or general marketing message where they focus on their company accolades and service offerings.  Because of these factors, when a corporate buyer hears even the slightest hint of a self-serving sales pitch, (we have the best candidates, our screening process is unique, I will be in the neighborhood and would like pop by for 15 minutes) they cut you off.  So today, now more than ever sales people must:

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Topics: prospecting

Identifying Your Target Market

by Dan Fisher on Dec 5, 2014 8:36:00 AM

Can you describe to me your dream customer? Tell me about the unique characteristics of this “dream” customer.  Can you describe to me the types of customers that have been the most profitable?  Which customers are the most enjoyable to work with?  What types of problems have you consistently had success in solving for your customers in the past? If you’re struggling to come up with clear and concise answers to these questions then you do not have a clearly defined target market.  

Having no clearly defined  target market is the equivalent of going to the shooting range with no target; shooting baskets with no hoop, playing darts in the dark….you get my drift.  If you are struggling with this, the good news is you’re not alone.  I see it almost everywhere I go.  It goes something like this….
After sitting through the morning meeting Jimmy the sales rep goes back to his desk to begin his day. After Jimmy spends 10 minutes reviewing email he opens up LinkedIn and his CRM/ATS and says to himself “who should I call on today?”  And this is where the paralysis by analysis begins.  Jimmy says to himself “should I call this account or that account?”  “Should I try calling the account I called on earlier in the week?  “Nobody returned my calls so probably not.”  This anguish goes on and on.

My point is sales reps really agonize over which accounts to call on and how much time to invest in an account before walking away.  (Sales managers, trust me, go sit with your reps for a few hours).  The challenge is there are tons-too many in fact-of companies to choose from.  If it’s not clear to the sales rep what exactly it is they’re looking for in a prospect account, prospecting for new business becomes extremely frustrating to the point of paralyzing.  The problem unfortunately stems from a lack of a sales process and/or poor management.  Fast forward this scenario 6 months and Dick the sales manager says “gee, Jimmy has been here for 6 months and has nothing to really show for himself.  Who are his prospects and where is his revenue going to come from?”   Jimmy has no pipeline because he has no sales process to follow nor has he been given any direction on what his target market is (other than “any company with an IT department).  Jimmy doesn’t know what he is trying to kill.  So what does Jimmy do?  Jimmy goes to and other job boards and seeks out pre-defined, oversaturated job postings. What a novel idea!  I think we all know how that story ends.  Jimmy finds himself in the HR department.



In his classic book, Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore points out that companies who try to be all things to all people have significantly higher costs, never really establish a strong customer base from which to grow and often disappear before achieving profitable growth.  This sounds incredibility similar to the IT staffing industry.  Most IT staffing firms take the shotgun approach to prospecting by simply going after any and all job orders.  In other words, they try to be all things to all people and never establish a niche or core competency.  Does your firm have a core competency?  How often does your firm say “no” to a new job order?  These are the companies that never develop a candidate pipeline and continue to rely on job boards. As a result these companies struggle to achieve consistent growth. Why is that?  The sales team is purely focused on chasing job orders rather than building a scalable and sustainable book of business.  To do the latter requires a having a clearly defined target market and go to market strategy.

Selling today is about selling where you will have the greatest likelihood for success. It’s not about calling on 200 different accounts. It’s about calling on accounts that meet your pre-defined qualification parameters.  That’s right; your prospects need to qualify for your business! Not the other way around. This is why we built the Meets Target Customer Profile component into Quota King. The tool actually tells the sales rep if the account is worth pursuing. It tells the rep if the account meets the parameters for their target market.

If you’re a sales manager or sales leader, are you certain that your sales reps understand who your target market is?  Can your sales reps differentiate between a high value prospect and a low value prospect?  More importantly, can they do it after speaking with just a handful of people in the account or does it take them 3-6 months before they realize they need to walk away from the account (or that they should have never walked away from that cash cow last quarter)?  Providing your sales team with a clearly defined target market could take weeks and in many cases months off of your sales cycle.  Think about the impact that would have on both your top line and bottom line revenue!

If you’re interested in learning more about how to develop your target market, check out our upcoming New Account Development webinar sales training program that launches on January 5, 2015.  We will be covering this topic in further detail as well as many others including cold calling, objection handling and building your value proposition.

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Topics: prospecting, target market

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