During the account planning sessions you will have identified potential opportunities but this should actually be an ongoing activity with all priority accounts – even those not big enough to justify formal account planning sessions.
A proposition generates the interest in having a sales conversation about a specific problem. In pro-active account development we are taking the initiative to get our clients to talk through their problems with us. There will usually be three stages:
1. Problem discussed informally
2. Proposition made
3. Sales conversation begins
If we want to get into a position of being considered a trusted adviser then we need to be engaging in conversations with clients about their unresolved problems without immediately launching into a sales pitch. There is a time and a place for everything. It should be at the end of sales conversation if an opportunity exists.
This would be picking up on a problem you have already discussed informally with a specific client
Me: ‘Hi Ian, when we spoke last time you were telling me how you were frustrated that certain sales people were not cross selling enough services. I have a couple of ideas and wondered whether you would be open to meet up and go through them.
Ian: ‘Sure – when is good for you?’
Note that I have picked up on a previous conversation. It was not appropritate to start a sales conversation at the time.
When catching up with clients you should be sharing stories of problems you have solved for similar clients. Your carefully chosen story will start a conversation if the problem is big enough.
Ian: ‘Hi Richard, how are you? What have you been doing lately?
Me: ‘I am great thanks – I have been busy helping XXX to get their sales people to cross sell more services to their existing customers. The sales director was really frustrated with all the missed opportunities…’
Client: ‘That’s interesting….I am a bit busy this week. Why don’t we have a coffee next week and you can tell me more”
Here the client invited me to have an informal conversation to discuss a problem that has surfaced as a result of hearing the story.
When we are looking for problems we are more likely to find them. The way to start a conversation about the problem is just to draw the client’s attention to it. I do this in an informal way by just highlighting an observation.
With one client I was walking with them through the internal sales department and commented
Me: ‘Wow, its very quiet here – internal sales departments are normally buzzing!’
Ian: ‘Tell me about it! No one seems to speak to customers any more – it’s all email these days’
Me: ‘So how effective are they at cross-selling and up selling?’
Ian: ‘Well we are not selling nearly enough add-on services’
Me: ‘hmm Let me have a think about that – are you OK with me coming back in a few days with a couple of ideas for you?’
This would then lead to a call similar to the direct approach detailed above.
These are just a few examples. If you get into the habit of proactively developing propositions across all your accounts you will ensure you have a steady stream of leads that are far easier to close than with new clients.