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Engaging Prospects, Growing Clients: A Time for Real Strategy

"Nothing new, thank you," your customer says. "Like most, we're cutting costs."

But cutting a cost is something new. What is your client's strategy for each section of the income statement? More importantly, which section are they borrowing from to compensate for cuts? This answer is a strategy. Strategy is the only answer to finding funding for your sale in an economic downturn.

In my work, I've found a client's well-defined strategy aligns people like a magnet brought close to steel shavings. Pieces shift together to create a new pattern. The new shift absolutely requires what you offer, just not what you expect. Shifts require you to co-lead strategy, not be blindsided by it.

Strategy's magnetism is needed in sales, too. The Corporate Executive Board put dozens of potential growth initiatives in front of sales leaders. The latter chose creating a "sales strategy" and communicating it "comprehensively throughout the entire sales force" as their most important initiative—number one. Why communicate a common strategy so comprehensively? So "salespeople learn their part in execution." We, salespeople, need our own new pattern this year.

Any great strategy aligns a mission, values, and objectives toward a corporate vision. Those salespeople who rise above the status quo have extremely similar missions, values, and objectives, even though they work for different companies.

First, growth leaders share a mission to "lead client growth to gain my growth." Let's consider the priority that is implicit in the phrase "leading client growth."

Leading
Top performers share the mantra, "Leading works better than selling." "Leading" and "selling" have entirely different missions. Our voice, tone, and body language communicate our true mission no matter what we say. In fact, based on our findings, we should run not walk to adopt the informal title of "growth leader," a sort of "executive of client growth."

Client
This economy requires a refocus on account language. "Clients" use all your offerings. "Customers" buy a portion. Obviously, "prospects" don't buy anything yet. This language creates focus on how to progress each account this year. Which 20 percent, regardless of category, could produce 80 percent of your revenue? Refocus the Pareto Law this year.

Growth
The individual you meet today wants the same thing you do: to grow her respective number, whatever that number is—a top line, a bottom line, some vital business statistic, an award, pay, and, especially these days, tenure. We just have to learn the growth that business is requiring of them.

Values
Besides a shared mission, I find three reoccurring values among growth leaders. All seem to say, "I prepare for strategic opportunities." "I engage the right team to win." Finally, "I lead both sides of the table." Prepare. Engage. Lead. These are action verbs for sales, not the usual nouns. Three shared values equal one type of success for any customer objective.

Objectives
Having a clear objective for each customer conversation is key in this economy, and to any sales strategy. Before picking up the phone or jumping in the car, get clear on the problem. Complacent prospect? Contact, not champion? Competition winning? Consensus slowing? Expectations unclear? Contract stalled? Communication lacking? Account growth flat?

Over my next several columns, I'll offer specific strategies from my research and work with extraordinary growth leaders. The strategies target the objectives that relate to solving our most common sales challenges. The strategies expand on the action-oriented sales values of prepare, engage, and lead. Together, we'll lead client growth.

Mark Cook is the author of Sales Blazers and the accompanying Leading Client Growth. He also leads sales performance services at O.C. Tanner. E-mail him at mark.cook@salesblazers.com or visit www.salesblazers.com.