File this under “staying out of operations.”
As a professional business-to-business salesperson, you are going to receive and take calls from your clients when they need help. You sold the outcome, and when those outcomes are difficult to obtain, you are going to get the call, plain and simple. You brought the idea, it’s stuck, and both your client and your team need your resourcefulness and your leadership.
Fine; be the strategic orchestrator. Don’t get mired in problems.
The opportunity business
You sold an outcome that was likely based on your team solving some of your client’s business problems. You told your client that you would be standing by their side when the bullets started flying and you have to keep that promise. But your role is in leading the team. You own the outcomes, not the transactions.
To own the outcomes, it is critical that you have the leadership skills necessary to manage your own team, and probably some part of your client’s team. It also requires that you have sold inside your own organization so you can lean on those above you for the resources to get things done on your client’s behalf.
All of this is important because the role of the business-to-business salesperson is complex and complicated. You have to be able to manage existing client problems while also recognizing that you are in the opportunity business.
Balance, but not in all things
You are going to spend time helping ensure you deliver on your promises. But the bulk of your time needs to be spent creating and pursuing opportunities. You won’t get repeat client opportunities if you can’t be counted on to help them by keeping the promises you already made.
But you won’t get new opportunities if you aren’t spending the biggest bulk of your time creating opportunities by prospecting and nurturing your dream clients. You also won’t create or win new opportunities if you don’t spend more of your time in face-to-face client meetings. It’s not easy to maintain a focus on and find a deliberate balance in solving problems and pursuing opportunities, and I won’t pretend for a minute that it is.
Succeeding in sales requires that you find a balance and that it is unequally apportioned to the pursuing opportunities side.
Five tips for focusing on opportunities
First, remember that you own the outcomes that you sold your clients, not the individual transactions. You hold the meetings. You move the resources. You follow up on the agreed upon actions. You don’t do the operational tasks that solve the problem.
Two, wire the inside of your own organization to own the outcomes. Sell your managers ahead of time and get them on the team. Make certain that they understand that you are happy to own the outcomes, but that you are going to count on them to provide the resources to succeed for your clients.
Third, wire the inside of your organization more. Take everyone on your team to lunch. Bring coffee and donuts. Give the operational people a killer handoff, and do everything you can to make their difficult jobs easier. Don’t be the arrogant, condescending salesperson that believes and behaves as if their work is somehow better or more important.
Fourth, communicate with your client. Don’t let them believe that you are going to own the transactions. Instead, tell them what you are doing. Tell them what the outcome will be and when they can expect that outcome. Let them know that even if you are out of site, that you are working to keep things in motion. And, follow up way more than you believe is necessary.
Finally, don’t let the problems you have prevent you from creating and pursuing new opportunities. It’s easy to allow problems to consume you and to sit idly by while your team goes to work on solving your client’s problem. When you have done what you need to do regarding your client’s problems, trust your team, and focus your time and attention on creating and pursuing new opportunities.
Spend the bulk of your time on creating and pursuing opportunities, not working on problems. Your greatest value to your organization is your ability to sell.
Do you spend the majority of your time working on existing client problems or operational tasks or on opportunities?
How do you own the outcomes you sold your clients, without owning the transactions that make up that outcome?
What do you need to do in advance of solving problems that allow you to be the strategic orchestrator and not a member of the orchestra itself?
How do you ensure your client is confident that you are doing what is necessary to help them when you aren’t visible to them?