In major account sales, you can win a new client that requires the upfront effort of standing up the account. The larger and more important the client, the more time it takes. The more complex the solution, the more your presence is necessary, even if you have excellent support. The success of standing up a new client requires more effort at the beginning when there is much work to be done, decisions to make, and when your presence can be critical to the success of the program.
The early investment means you will need to spend much less time dealing with issues later, having put the processes in place and managed the transition. The challenge is building a solid pipeline during the process of standing up a new, large client.
You Are Not an Account Manager
One of the most unhealthy trends in sales today is the tendency of people who work for sales organizations to assume another person’s role, something I call taking one step to the left. The Account Executive, wanting to make a difference for the client or being asked for help, assumes the role of the Account Manager, vacating the sales role for something more operational in nature. The Account Manager steps into the role of Customer Service, taking on the work that belongs to someone else in another department.
If you are standing up a client, it’s critical that you do so without taking the fateful step to the left, leaving your role open. It is challenging to maintain your role when the problems come to you, and issues tend to find their way to the most competent person willing to handle them. When it comes to managing clients, salespeople tend to have very high skill sets here, becoming a magnet for anything and everything that requires customer communication and decisions.
Fair enough, you won the account, and you need to stand them up. But in doing so, you cannot become the account manager.
Quarterback and Orchestra Conductor
You never see a quarterback play another position. You never see an orchestra conductor take the first chair violin. Their role is different, and it is critically important they maintain it, allowing their teammates and musicians to do what they do best.
You can have a presence, attend the meetings, make decisions, and then assign the work to the people to whom it belongs. Your role in standing up your dream client is to make sure what needs to be done gets done. You own the outcome you sold your client but, you do not own all the transactions that make up that outcome.
By establishing what needs to be done, who is doing it, and when you will follow up, you prevent changing your role from salesperson to operations, a transformation that is difficult to reverse—if it is possible at all, once your client accepts that you are there to take care of their every need.
Making Time to Sell
It feels like you are cheating on your new client. They signed the contract, and they are being launched. You are obligated to help ensure they succeed. That obligation, however, is not—and cannot be—your only obligation. You also have a responsibility to your company, and obligation equal in importance. In fact, at some point, your new dream client may be gone, and you will still be with your company (and given a long enough timeline, you will lose every client you ever win).
If you don’t continue to sell, you hurt your future and your company’s. The quarter you take off to stand up your new major account will show up two or three quarters from now when you have no deals to close because you did no prospecting and created no opportunities during the time you launched your client.
Show up at your new client’s place in the morning, get things sorted, make sure things are on track, and assign work to the people who own it. Then, get out of the building and sell for a couple of hours. Check in with your team and your client at lunchtime, if necessary, but don’t spend the day sitting passively in reactive mode, waiting for some problem to need your attention. If you need to show up at the end of the day, make it the last thing you do, and give yourself enough time to solve problems or find answers to challenges.
Your presence is important, but you need to establish a healthy pattern of showing up and leaving. If you need to be there, be there. But if you don’t, don’t hang around. This is the only way you can continue to build a pipeline while launching a new major client.
Mistakes I Have Made
I once won three major accounts in short order. I stopped prospecting completely. I lived at these three client locations, so much so, some people within the client company believed I was an employee of the company, and I looked and sounded like one. My presence on site allowed me to grow the business very quickly. Over time, all problems found there way to my desk, and in one client location, I had a desk.
Not only did I not have time to sell, but I also didn’t need to sell. I had all the business I could personally handle. The Gods of Sales frown on salespeople who stop prospecting, punishing them for their insolence and for committing the cardinal sin of not prospecting. In a very short time, I lost two of the three clients, through no fault of mine or my company.
Worse, I had no pipeline. As I was rebuilding my pipeline, I lost the third account. It was at that point I discovered the iron law of sales that requires you to prospect every day, in good times or bad times, when you have won a large account or lost one, and even if you are standing up the biggest account you’ve ever won.