True story from the archives: a sales team had leveraged existing relationships at a major retailer to get a meeting with senior executives including the CEO; they were aware of what a great opportunity they’d been given, and worked tirelessly on their upcoming presentation. The team did their homework – they’d carefully analyzed the retailer’s financial performance where they found an erratic, but generally declining trend in profitability. Based on that trend and their solution's capabilities, they built their value proposition and entire sales presentation around helping the company improve profitability. Their preparation was thorough, and they felt ready to wow the customer with their brilliant and well thought out proposal.
The team arrived at the customer meeting and launched into their presentation. They began by telling the assembled group that they were going to help the retailer improve their profitability – what great news! The CEO stopped them and said, “There are only three goals that I have for this company – grow revenue, grow revenue, and grow revenue. How can you help me do that?”
“Uh…” “Err…” “Umm…” *shuffle, shuffle*
There plenty of situations in your career as a seller that you’ll be unprepared for, but this scenario doesn’t have to be one of them.
There are multiple elements of the account planning process, but one of your fundamental activities should be to research & understand your client’s strategic direction, specific goals, and initiatives. Had the sales team in the story above taken the time to do this, they would have had a much different presentation (and a much longer meeting).
So where do you find strategies, goals & initiatives? Publicly traded companies are responsible to their shareholders, which means they have to report detailed information on past performance and future projections – and they have to provide the amount and type of information that makes the company attractive to investors. One of the ways they do this is to publicly disclose what they want to do, how they’re going to improve, and (sometimes) by when.
The company’s annual report can be a great source for strategic info – the letter to shareholders is typically a great place to get a layman’s perspective on strategies. In addition, it’s also common for companies to have a section within the annual report specific to strategies & initiatives that can be mined for even more detail. Other reliable sources include investor & analyst presentations, and quarterly earnings calls.
Now that you’ve found the goals – what do you do with them? Then answer is to weave them into your narrative and messaging – how does the solution you’re proposing help the customer to achieve a particular goal? Can you help them do it faster, cheaper, or more efficiently? If our intrepid sales team had completed that final step of preparation and researched the company’s goals, they would have found a public record of what the CEO shared with them and it would have completely changed their message and the end result.
Call to Action
- Go to your customer’s investor relations page on their website and review recent available docs such as their annual report, investor presentations, and recordings of earnings calls.
- Identify one or more of their goals that your solutions can impact and write a “how” statement – detail how, in business terms, the solution will help the customer to achieve their goal. Leave out those features & functions – your buying exec wants to know what business outcome you can help them to achieve, not how fast it processes data or how slick the interface is.