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Why a Collaborative Approach to Account Development Creates Better Outcomes

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richardsonsalestraining5 September 2014Blog

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Ask most people, “What word stands out to you in the phrase ‘Collaborative Account Development?’” Most point to the word “collaborative” — working together. In the case of sales, this is working together, with a client, to meet client needs.

However, a tendency of companies is to try and sell by telling the clients what they can do for them rather than by working together as partners to build solutions.

Adopting a Collaborative Approach to Account Management

Why should you consider adopting a more collaborative approach to working with large clients? Being collaborative allows you to differentiate your personal brand and create mutual gain for your client’s organisation and for your company. As a result, you become known to your client, and within your own company, as a person who can bring real value to both organisations.

Because the business environment in which your clients operate has become more challenging, you need to increase your proficiency in identifying and meeting needs in order to have credibility as a trusted adviser, one who helps the client decide how to buy and doesn’t just sell.

In the current business environment, strong external forces are shaping how companies act and react. Globalisation has changed who companies sell to, who they buy from and where they locate operations. Fewer resources have intensified the search for value at a specific price point. People are less certain and more anxious about their jobs and financial security of both their firms and themselves. There is more regulatory oversight and consumer scrutiny of firm’s actions.

Four major challenges are emerging for most businesses:

  • Renewed Emphasis on Price — Price has always been important in business. In today’s environment, there is much more reluctance to spend (or invest money), and thus funding is carefully scrutinised. Clients feel like they have to look longer and harder in order to justify why they are buying a particular solution at a specific price. As pricing pressures increase, more and more firms find clients trying to “commoditise” the solutions that vendors provide.
  • Greater Complexity — The business environment has become increasingly complex. An IBM study of more than 1,500 CEOs cited increasing complexity as a major challenge to the managerial and leadership ranks of most companies. A majority of the CEOs in the study did not feel confident that their organisations had the ability to successfully adapt and respond to this complexity.
  • Higher Levels of Ambiguity — Ironically, as access to information has proliferated, the level of ambiguity in the business environment has increased. This uncertainty makes it hard to determine what long-term strategies and short-term tactics will be most effective in reaching business goals and even whether those goals are still relevant. High levels of ambiguity create a tendency to preserve the status quo, although this is rarely an effective means of increasing revenue, saving on cost or proactively managing risk.
  • Decreasing Client Loyalty — The last decade has seen a divergence between client satisfaction and client loyalty. It used to be that when you checked with a client and the client said they were satisfied, this meant they would pick you over your competitors. Now, a client may say that they are satisfied or even very satisfied and still switch to a competitor. Long-term client loyalty is eroding.
What is the result of these forces on how you sell to your large clients?

Clients take time to really weigh value vs. price, which puts an emphasis on being able to quantify the value that you bring to the relationship. Clients are struggling with complexity, so trusted business advisers are needed to help them organise that complexity and, whenever possible, simplify rather than add to it. Higher levels of ambiguity means that most buying decisions are now made by consensus. This involves many more stakeholders than before, and salespeople need to develop coalitions in favour of changing the status quo. The decrease in client loyalty means that salespeople need to be continuously bringing new insights and ideas about how to help stakeholders improve their business performance and gain recognition from those stakeholders for the value created.

Collaborative account development helps you look at your client’s needs from the point of view of the client while bringing in an outside objectivity. You will be able to elevate the level of your relationships with specific clients in order to have a “seat at the table” as their trusted business adviser. Clients don't care about your latest product or your industry-leading service if it is not relevant to their goals, objectives and business challenges. What your clients want from you are ways to better manage their businesses, which is what a trusted business adviser does. By consistently following this process of understanding your client’s business intimately, aligning your account team with the client, and engaging stakeholders to validate and modify opportunities to work collaboratively together, you create value for that client and earn a place in their decision-making process.

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