Focus on the Critical Few

We are well into Q1 of a new calendar year and, if you’re in sales, that often means a slight feeling of angst as you look out to the rest of the year and wonder if you’ll achieve your sales goals. No doubt, you did your best to finish 2015 on a high, and now you need to rebuild your funnel for 2016. Early in my sales career, I was extremely active, but not always productive. The turning point for me came when my sales manager pulled me aside and made a comment that would change my life. He said, “Adrian, you’re good! But do you know the difference between those who are really good and you?” To which I replied, “No. Please tell.” Then he said, “You chase everything. The exceptional sales people can smell if the deal is real”. That was a significant turning point in my sales career. I had never considered that every deal might not be real. I began to value my time and only make myself accessible to buyers who were serious about buying. Eventually, I only began to focus on million-dollar deals or greater. With this new approach, I consistently exceeded my numbers every quarter and every year.

Fast forward to today and the need for sales people to focus on the critical few is even greater. The challenger, however, is that buyers today are more sophisticated and more demanding, because the challenges they face are more sophisticated and more demanding. Your top accounts no longer need or want a sales person. They do, however, need a partner. The effort required to engage in partnership dictates that you are selective about who you provide this level of support to. If an account is critical and serious about engaging you, you need to engage them accordingly.

No doubt, as 2016 rolled in, you engaged in planning for your territory. Did you, however, engage in planning for the success of your critical accounts? Do you have a strategic account plan that documents what you understand about the strategic context, the external pressures and the internal obstacles your account is facing? Have you taken the time to understand who all the key stakeholders are, what is important to them and the level of influence they have over each other? Do you really understand your value proposition the way your key stakeholders would understand it? That is to say, rather than articulate what your solution does, are you able to articulate the business impact that it has on the account? Can you break that business impact down by functional areas within the account? Can you assign an economic value to that impact? Finally, do the stakeholders know how well you understand what they are trying to achieve and do they collaborate with you as a partner that is committed to helping them achieve their success while you achieve yours.

This type of approach requires a lot of heavy lifting. You’ll be unable to do it if you treat all accounts the same. Take the time to develop a set of criteria that you know that any accounts that satisfy that criteria will matter strategically to your business. You’ll find that less than 20% of the accounts that you are pursuing will satisfy your strategic criteria, but they will be responsible for generating 80% of your results. Wouldn’t you agree that if they are responsible for a disproportionate amount of your results, they deserve a disproportionate amount of your attention? You simply can’t be great today if you treat all accounts equally so focus on the critical few.

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