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    How to stop failing at account management

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    The words we use affect the way we think. Positive, uplifting words can induce a positive, uplifting mood and an optimistic approach to tasks. Negative, depressing words can have the opposite effect.

    I talk a lot about how the words we use affect sales. At Membrain, we’ve transformed the way we think by deliberately choosing the words we use to talk about key concepts.

    For instance, we think carefully about the words we choose to talk about our customers. We don’t discuss “opportunities” anymore, instead focusing on “projects.” We stopped talking about losing sales, and started talking about archiving projects.

    These simple shifts in the language we use to describe our work results in powerful shifts in how we think about the work itself. In the course of these efforts, I have come to believe that the way we talk about account management and account planning is negatively affecting our mindset in regard to it. I believe the way we talk about “account management” and “account planning” is one reason causing us to fail at it.

    I propose a simple shift in words to accompany a shift in mindset and approach.

    The problem with “account management”

    In sales, the term “account management” refers to activities associated with maintaining and growing relationships with existing customers. We also sometimes use the words “account planning” to refer to planning activities aimed at making more money from the same customers.

    The trouble with the word “management” is that management is a static word, associated with maintenance and troubleshooting. It encourages a mindset of “not losing” rather than a mindset of “growing together.” Coupled with the fact that the word “account” already has connotations meaning “something you withdraw funds from,” this unfortunate phrase encourages salespeople to treat customers as though they are resources that must be maintained and managed in order to extract resources from them.

    “Account planning” is slightly better, because at least it implies proactivity and forward momentum. Account planning may include activities aimed at “finding white space” and “increasing share of wallet.” However, the use of this dry term still implies that the account is a resource to be drawn from, rather than a relationship to be nurtured and grown.

    A better way to think about accounts

    “In account planning, the mind often goes to ‘avoid churn,’ ‘protect revenues,’ ‘secure renewals,’” says Dave Brock, author of Sales Manager Survival Guide and CEO at Partners in Excellence.

    If we want to grow customers, we can’t be in ‘protect mode,’ but we need to be in a growth mode.
    Dave Brock

    I agree.

    At Membrain, we’ve stopped talking about account management and started talking about account growth.

    I like the word “growth” because it counteracts the attitude that an account is something to be withdrawn from, and eliminates the idea that “account management” is about preventing loss.

    In addition, “account growth” means so much more than simply “grabbing more wallet share.” It reminds us that as the customer organization grows, so does the account. It encourages a mindset among salespeople to focus on helping the customer organization to grow and approaching the relationship as a way to find “wins” that benefit everyone.

    Instead of focusing on what else your sales team can grab from an account or how they can prevent losing the account, the term “account growth” focuses attention on how your team can work with and help the client organization derive more benefit and grow as a result.

    How to stop failing at account growth

    Obviously, simply changing the words you use won’t automatically make your salespeople pros at account growth. It can be a powerful first step, however, when accompanied by effective action.

    • Develop an actionable process that includes best practices for engaging with accounts
    • Make account growth activities a routine part of your salespeople’s workflow
    • Align your efforts with the future outcome that the client is looking to achieve and how you align with that
    • Make customer research easy to access and use, so it’s not just another administrative chore
    • Provide visual tools that help salespeople see where and how much growth opportunity is present in each account
    • Identify the people, their roles and responsibilities, and visualize your relationship with them, and how they'll influence joint efforts
    • Train salespeople to think in terms of growth instead of management

    Many of the tools you’ll use for account growth will be similar to tools used in account management. You’ll still look for "white space," and you’ll still want your teams to engage in collaborative account planning.

    But what changes is how you build and grow the relationship, with an eye on success for everyone, with the focus on the customer.

    I’m excited to share that our team is in the process of developing an account growth module designed to help your teams take action and grow your accounts more successfully. We hope it will make account growth easier, more scalable, and more productive.

    We’re designing the features of the module based on our own experience and the experiences of our partners and customers. I’d love to hear what you think should be included. Contact me and let’s talk.

    George Brontén
    Published February 26, 2020
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.

    Find out more about George Brontén on Twitter or LinkedIn

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