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Turn Account People Into an Army of Salespeople

by Tim Allard – CEO Odyssey, Inc 

In a down market, why are some companies keeping existing clients and actually increasing sales with base accounts while others are barely hanging on?  One could argue that some are successful because their product or service offering is more attractive in today’s market.  Some services and products are more attractive than others, but there’s more to it then that.  In our work with clients, we’ve noticed that some have a robust account staff “sales engine” and others do not.

How Account People See Their Role

We have observed multiple clients in different divisions but in the same companies having widely different results with their existing accounts.  When we work with these people and discover where they are spending their time and energy we understand the varying results.   Some have put big numbers on the board while others are hoping to keep their jobs another year.  Unfortunately, most account/project operations people are not as well developed in sales competencies as they are in technical competencies.

Usually people on account/project teams are there for their technical or functional expertise.  They work day after day fulfilling the contractual requirements specified by the statement of work.  Their academic background is in computer science or business and their professional training is in a set of technologies and/or some business process philosophy.  That is where they are comfortable, that is what they believe they are paid to do for the most part and guess what, that is how they spend their time.  In the end, the client usually gets what they pay for, but the team has missed countless new business opportunities and has not taken full advantage of the opportunity to dramatically broaden it client contracts.

The Right Incentives

Many firms do not have effective incentives to entice their project/account people to go the extra mile to sell additional services to their client.  Most mid-level and functional operations professionals are evaluated and compensated primarily on their operational tasks. Energy, action and results follow incentives, so if your team is not putting numbers on the board, check to see if your incentives reflect your desired results.  Peter Senge, MIT Slone School of Business once told me “every system delivers the results it was designed to produce.”  That statement was never truer than in a sales environment.

Creating, Positioning and Communicating Value

Account/project operations people do want to sell new or follow-up business. In their minds they are always looking for opportunities to increase business.  The problem is they are not usually skilled at identifying, creating, positioning and/or communicating value to their clients effectively. Anyone that’s been in sales knows that it’s not lunches and golf dates that puts numbers on the board, but rather a skilled approach to creating, positioning and communicating value to the client.  When working with our business teams we hear or identify the following common reasons why sales activities into existing accounts don’t get more energy and attention:

  • We are not sure where to begin.
  • We spend too much time with unqualified prospects.
  • We try to sell to people who have little or no influence.
  • We don’t have enough time to do sales activities.
  • We aren’t sure what to say.
  • We don’t want to be perceived as a pushy salesperson.
  • We don’t understand the politics of the client’s organization.
  • We don’t know how to ask for the order.


Relationships, Positioning And Problem Solving

As you can see from the above list, most of these issues or barriers go right back to “Sales 101.”  When we are engaged in either group or individual sales coaching with our business clients we start by showing them how to build relationships, become very knowledgeable about their client’s environment and to think of themselves as problem solvers.  We have found these three areas are the least threatening ways to get people in front of existing and potential clients. Relationships, positioning and problem solving provide a rich context for coaching them in basic and more advanced sales competencies.

Relationship Building 

If you already have an established base of business in one part of an organization, you have a wonderful opportunity, if not a license, to broaden the number of client relationships you have and to increase the visibility of your firm’s unique brand and or value.  Even if you have only marginal success in growing new business, the amount of information you will gain from broadening your relationships regarding competitors, organizational political dynamics, loyalties and functional operations will be invaluable in managing your existing projects.  All things being equal, people buy from people they know and trust.  By having established relationships and credibility you make it easier for your potential clients to select you over someone else.  Lastly, having relationships with the right people is critical.  We see a lot of account operations people that are uncomfortable developing relationships with key players.  We often hear they are intimidated by them, don’t know what to say etc.  These are all valid issues that must be overcome with development and practice.

Proactive Positioning 

Understanding the client’s market, organization and technology direction and pain is key to proactive positioning.  Proactive positioning your products and services is accomplished when you are able to translate for your clients how your products and or services will relieve their organizational, market and/or technology pain.  Too often account operational people focus too heavily on the technology and not enough on the market direction or political dynamics within the client organization.

 Problem Solving – Be a Pit Bull! 

Busy executives spend time with people that are instrumental in solving their problems and helping them achieve their goals.  All great sales people are tenacious problem solvers.  Many people have a hard time thinking of them selves as “sales people” or doing sales activities because of some negative perception.  If you share this mindset, then try thinking of yourself as a problem solver that is always on duty for your current and potential clients.  In this mode you may sometimes solve client problems or offer recommendations that don’t involve an immediate sale.  After a while you will develop a reputation as a pit bull problem solver and you will have clients calling you to ask for help and opinion. Once this has happened you will have your competitors frustrated, looking for new clients and/or crying foul over the favoritism that you enjoy.  This is a beautiful thing to watch!   

Strong relationships, deep client knowledge and a problem solving attitude will greatly help you expand sales deeper into your client accounts and increase the security of your existing base of business. 

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