Building a Winning Strategy for Selling to Large Organizations

By Colleen Francis

Private coaching clients are telling us regularly how important it is for them to broaden their skills to do a better job of thinking strategically and managing large accounts. Those are areas that we are focusing on increasingly here at Engage Selling. I recognize—just as you do—that so much activity in sales today is happening at the enterprise level, so success here is vital.

Selling at the enterprise level is different compared to other levels. Conventional wisdom points to such distinctions as the fact you’re dealing with many decision makers at once and that buying decisions take longer. There is new challenge emerging, however. The rules governing enterprise sales today have changed…dramatically.

As Marc T. Miller and Jason Sinkovitz argue in their provocatively titled best-seller “Selling is Dead,” if you’re working in a growth-focused company today, there are big, big changes you need to make in how you operate and how you think if you want to avoid becoming a dinosaur. To be clear, the authors point out that despite their eye-catching title, the act of selling isn’t really dead. Rather, “the traditional sales roles, strategies and skills that organizations have relied on have become ineffective.”

This is an important shift, and it matches three important trends that I have been seeing in the marketplace today. First, it takes more work than before to pinpoint the decision makers in large organizations. Second, there is a growing risk that those decision makers will make buying decisions without your input because you are either unsuccessful in identifying them or in communicating values that they are looking for. Third, your prospective customers and buyers are actively researching on their own at the front-end to decide if you are worth investing the time it takes to build a relationship.

Given these trends, it’s important to adopt the right way of looking at these challenges and devising a winning solution.

Think like a business person who sells
Whether you’re in charge of implementing a sales strategy for a team, or are on the front lines yourself, it’s vital that you adopt the right mindset for large-account sales. Think like a business person who sells, as opposed to the more traditional approach of focusing on features and benefits to close more deals.

As a business person, think bigger with an eye to developing a long-term plan and sticking to it. After all, strategic account management is all about value alignment—understanding what executives are trying to accomplish and showing how you can help.

What does a strategic approach entail? There are three areas where you need to excel: analysis, planning and leadership.

Analysis—Invest the time and resources necessary to gain a better understanding of your market and your targeted decision makers who live in it.  I don’t just mean that you should research what a particular company does. You also need to look at their buying history with you, read their annual reports, and gauge their corporate values. Next, look at how well their needs could be met by the sales team in your organization. The outcome will be some very important strategic questions for you to answer.

Planning—Pay careful attention to how you structure your planning. A 2005 study by Marakon Associates surveyed senior executives from more than 150 large companies worldwide. It found that those companies with standard planning processes and practices made only 2.5 major strategic decisions each year, on average. Those that developed strategies continuously made more than twice as many strategic decisions per year.

Leadership—Zig Ziglar says it best: “It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you use that makes a difference.” That’s the essence of leadership and how it can be put to work for you, especially in the context of large-account selling. It’s incumbent on you to take stock of your strengths and weaknesses and to find ways to capitalize and compensate accordingly. Leadership is about more than just the power you possess as an individual to make great changes. Thought leadership on an organization-wide scale matters, too. One of the fastest ways to get noticed by senior people is to showcase what you know and what your organization stands for.

The three areas I’ve briefly outlined for you in this article identify how you can analyze, plan and showcase yourself and your organization as more than just an office of sales people. Adopting the right mindset is a good start, but there’s more that needs to be done. Implementation matters just as much as how you plan ahead. Therefore, over the coming weeks, I will be sharing with you field-tested activities that you need to master so that you can generate the sales you are looking for in large enterprises. 

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Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions ( Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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