5 ingredients for driving growth in existing accounts

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As part of our ECI Unlocked programme, Chris Ginnelly, ECI’s Growth Specialist for Sales & Marketing, recently shared his top secrets for driving growth in existing accounts. Tracy Ellison, Chief Customer Officer, also shared her experience of effectively transitioning to cross-sell at Ciphr.

Why is existing account growth so hard? Most companies serve and service customers well, but often it is the Account Managers, whose primary role is client service, that are now taking on the role of upsell and cross-sell. Companies can find it hard to manage Net Promotor Score, deliver great service and take on the additional selling responsibility. AMs are also often managing the account with a different contact person to the original buyer, so cross-sell means getting out of operational delivery, finding a new buying point and building a compelling proposition for them.

Often companies have sound goals but don’t know the right tactics to achieve them. If AMs aren’t taught the same processes and behaviours as new business teams, they’re put at a disadvantage. Here are five ingredients that Chris believes can help companies to deliver on those goals:

1. Conversational pain-based value propositions

If you were to ask AMs to demonstrate how they open up a conversation with a customer about a product or service they’re responsible for, what would you get? Would it be consistent, and would they know what to say?

There are some things we would hope to hear. The first is that they don’t start pitching, but instead open a conversation and test for common pains and challenges. Finding the pain point gives you an opportunity to understand if it makes sense to talk about the product at all. It also starts the discussion by focussing on addressing their challenges, making the conversation about them and not you.

People buy emotionally, they justify intellectually. That’s why a pitch shouldn’t be about your product or company. It’s also why it’s different for each customer, as they will have different reasons to buy.
Sometimes AMs can worry about pressuring people into buying products they don’t want. But if they’re testing for issues and just helping to solve them, a new sale should always be pressure-free.

2. Culture of accountability

Your team should be clear on their cross-sell and up-sell goals at an individual level and understand the weekly behaviours needed to achieve them. Often people have the goals, but not the input behaviours that lead to the outputs.

The way to achieve this is to back-cast, not just forecast. From the goal, look at what was achieved to get there. If you need x many deals, how many proposals do you need, and how many conversations drive that? This gives people digestible goals directly related to targets. And to make this work you also need a sales management process to hold people to account for achieving them.

3. Coaching competence

How much time do line managers spend coaching people as a percentage of their working week? The feedback from the group in the Unlocked session was clear: not enough. Top performing leaders spend c.40% of their time, but that’s very rare, despite it being one of their most important tasks. This is reflected in the fact that only 43% of sales managers say they have effective training prior to taking up the role. [1]

Coaching isn’t the same as training or pipeline conversations. It’s dedicated time to helping individuals improve their pitch. Account reviews should be observed, and line managers should feel comfortable demonstrating how to open conversations in front of salespeople and help them lift their performance. Call recording tools like Gong provide a great methodology for observing sales interactions systematically and helping AMs get better at winning business.

Jack Welch at General Electric ensured his approach was all about follow-ups. He believed that one of the key reasons his teams delivered high performance was because everyone knew that he would follow up and confirm that what had been changed or implemented had been done and achieved the desired outcome. Just as you do with customers, once you have a coaching session, put in a follow-up to understand how it’s gone, what’s worked and what might need some more time.

4. Right people, right seats

Job descriptions should constantly evolve, but they tend to stay static after the point of hiring. If people have been moved into cross-sell, or you are expecting more cross-sell from your AMs, the skills and competencies you now need may need to be reassessed. For example, do you need more resilience? More initiative, more desire, better questioning?

You can define these skills and competencies to assess the team, and understand what’s missing and needs training. It may mean some people aren’t right for the ‘new’ role and change is needed. Some AMs may be good at delivery but less interested in finding new buying opportunities. Getting an honest assessment of those skills and attitudes is key.

Tracy Ellison, Chief Customer Officer at Ciphr, transitioned their customer service team to support upsell. She was delighted by the enthusiasm she saw, her role was to re-think the org design for the right roles and profiles. They used psychometric profiles to understand the skills they had in the existing team and allocated accordingly and coached people to fill in the missing skills gaps.

5. Sales skills

It’s important to have a gated sales process with the key steps needed to open, qualify, develop and close. Sales is a performance role. Whereas other performance roles, like actors, practice constantly, it’s rare to find a sales team with a strong practice culture. Chris saw that working with Ciphr, the phrases, questions and talk tracks he used were practiced and picked up by the team. Practicing is a great way to embed conversational tools, integrating the new approach with their personal styles to ensure that everyone retains their authenticity.

Some AMs worry about the ethics of selling, as they don’t see themselves as salespeople. If they understand pain-based value propositions and know how to use them, they will see that all selling should be ethical. It should open conversations and make people more comfortable and confident in how they sell. Tracy at Ciphr said that a real builder of confidence was ensuring the team had the right toolkit to answer and respond to questions in a way that uncovered the truth behind the question and reduced the temptation to jump in enthusiastically but too early, or defend and justify before truly understanding the issues. Fear of not knowing the right answer or how to answer can hold people back.

Understanding the sales process and the buying process can also help you to map the skills your team needs. By simply observing your team and exploring through practice and discussion; skill gaps can be identified and therefore form the foundation of your training and coaching programme.

Driving cross-sell and up-sell is an important source of growth for many companies, getting a systematic process in place and treating AMs a little more like you might new business winners is definitely a big part of the answer.

[1] Survey done by the Sandler Research Centre

About the author

Chris Ginnelly

"I have worked on sales-focused projects with ECI portfolio companies for several years, including projects such as the development of training programs, support on team development, and targeting initiatives. I was involved in the development of the ECI Sales & Marketing Toolkit which ECI leverages to help management teams target opportunities for growth through enhanced sales performance and go-to-market strategies."

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