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Best Practises for a Mid-Year Review of Strategic Accounts

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conducting a mid-year review of accounts

4 March 2022Blog

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Now is the Time to Check in With Your Strategic Accounts

Today it seems that the world changes every six months. The circumstances in which account plans were created at the start of the year have changed dramatically. January 2021 marked the height of average confirmed cases of COVID in the US. It also marked the low point for business confidence in 2021. In each of the following months the picture has changed. Case counts continue to fall. Business confidence has risen.

While these trends are encouraging, there are other metrics that add complexity to the overall picture. For example, the Purchasing Managers Index has fallen from the high it reached at the end of the first quarter. Meanwhile, the real change in inventories, as measured by the US Bureau of Economic Analysts, has plummeted in the last six months. These numbers – some encouraging, others not – illustrate just how much is in flux as businesses begin to see themselves out of the pandemic. These dramatic movements have compressed an enormous amount of change into just half a year. The facts underpinning most account plans drafted at the start of 2021 have changed.

Now is the time to perform a check-in with major accounts. Sales professionals need to understand how progress tracks with the original intent. Most customer priorities have changed considerably. A mid-year reassessment not only ensures that the sales professional’s direction and messaging remains relevant, it also reveals white space in accounts that may not have been available six months ago.

Here we look at the three considerations critical to conducting a mid-year check-in with
strategic accounts.

1. Acknowledge That the Value Delivered in the first quarter May Not Carry Far In the second

The scope of changes developing today means that value offered in H1 likely has less relevance than it did just months ago. This is an important consideration because this factor can quietly destabilise a sale. The prospect is unlikely to volunteer the fact that they are facing new challenges and have new needs. Therefore, it is the sales professional’s job to explore the silent evidence that might suggest that the nature of the opportunity has changed.

This responsibility is critical for success even within pursuits that appear poised for a win. These are the opportunities that are most likely to falter because early encouragement from the stakeholders can easily leave the sales professional feeling reassured when, in fact, the circumstances supporting the customer’s initial excitement have changed. In these cases, a mid-year check-in may become a full reassessment. Sales professionals should expect that some pursuits will require a top-to-bottom review wherein the sales cycle will restart.

A new set of questions from the sales professional will likely reveal that the customer’s digital transformation efforts have intensified. These initiatives – already in place before the pandemic – have been given top priority as executives seek to integrate digital capabilities into all levels of the business. The experiences of the last fifteen months have elevated digital transformation from something that is interesting to something that is imperative. As a result, sales professionals will need to learn how their solution fits into the more complex setting of a digital framework. Moreover, they will need to gain clarity on how the stakeholders define the term digital transformation. Those two words have about as many meanings as there are businesses implementing this change. For some, the term signifies their commitment to shifting more of their business capabilities to the cloud. For others, the term may represent their plans to change their business to a frictionless subscription-based model.

The key is to understand that digital transformation is just one of several initiatives that are now considerably more important to stakeholders relative to the first half of the year. Sales professionals should investigate other important trends. These include factors like the customer’s revision of budgeted figures as leaders relearn what aspects of the business are likely to be profitable in the new setting of today. Sales professionals should also consider how the customer’s value structure has changed and how those changes make other characteristics of the solution important.

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2. Understand How the Solution Plays Into the Customer's New Need for Agility

A survey conducted by IBM gathered responses from 3,450 executives across 22 industries in 20 countries. A key finding of the research was that 86% of executives anticipate that cash-flow and liquidity management will be a key priority in the near future. This outcome illustrates the importance executives are placing on the ability to make quick agile moves. Leaders need cash at hand to execute operational and organisational changes fast.

Sales professionals should take note of this clear consensus. The same body of research concluded that “supply-chain reliability is of rising importance, with 40 percent of executives stressing the need for spare capacity to weather future crises.” Stakeholders need solutions that can change, grow, and adapt with changing circumstances. Upheaval is no longer an abstract word. Businesses now associate palpable loss from unforeseen events that threaten increasingly interconnected economies. Sales professionals need to recognise this new thinking which dictates much of the decision process at the C-Suite level.

When conducting the mid-year check-in, sales professionals should attempt to gauge just how important agility is to the stakeholders. They need to understand how their value proposition will connect with the customer’s need for ongoing flexibility. Understanding the nature of the customer’s need for agility – be it in the supply chain, IT infrastructure, or operations – is critical to the sales professionals ultimate value proposition because “there is a resiliency premium on recovery,” according to the conclusions from a McKinsey study. Their research evaluated the financial standing of 1,500 companies and learned that “top performers won’t sit on their strengths; instead, as in previous downturns, they will seek out ways to build them.”

Sales professionals can position themselves as part of that building process if they understand the customer’s rising priorities in the second half of the year. This area of analysis is where sales professionals are most likely to find new white space that may not have been present in H1. The reason: building on strengths and developing agility both require substantial investments. As these initiatives become a core focus leaders will allocate more capital to solutions that support agility.

3. Reassess How the Customer's Core Strategic and Revenue Drivers Have Changed

When conducting a mid-year check-in, it is critical to ask questions that aim to understand the major directional changes in the customer’s business. Often, strategic account follow up consists of questions that seek to clarify the detail surrounding needs and goals. In the current setting these questions are not enough. Sales professionals need to understand how the fundamentals of the customer’s business have changed.

In many cases, the customer’s ecosystem has changed. This shift is evident in the moves businesses are making to redesign their supply chain management in an attempt to endure the unexpected. This is just one example of the operational resilience that has become a central priority for so many businesses in the second half of 2021. These sweeping changes explain why more stakeholders are using descriptors like “end-to-end value-chain digitisation,” “start-up mindset,” and “sustainable operations reconfiguration.” All of these phrases signal that change is occurring in the bedrock of organisations, not at the edges.

Importantly, executives are discovering that the main revenue channels of the near future will look different than those of the previous year. This development is reflected in data from PwC showing that “CFOs are pursuing changes across many dimensions to capture growth. Changes to products or service offerings, whether new or repurposed, are by far the most pressing, according to 63% of respondents.” The most effective sales professionals will seize on this opportunity to learn how the customer’s path to profitability has changed. With this information the sales professional can more accurately assess what characteristics of their solution are both differentiated and of meaningful value to the customer. In nearly all cases, it is likely that the most salient aspects of the product or service have changed.

When relearning the breadth of changes in the customer’s business, sales professionals will need to reengage several members of the stakeholder group. This broad approach is necessary because in many cases, even the customer is seeking clarity on the change occurring within the organisation.

Stakeholders are finding their new direction. The sales professionals that track those changes, or even guide them, are poised for success. Moving alongside the customer during their journey means accepting the fact that value delivered, even in the recent past, might not propel the sale in the second half of the year. Sales professionals need to contextualise their value while exploring changes at the foundational level of the customer’s organisation.

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