There are a lot of things that might make you vulnerable when it comes to your effectiveness in b2b sales (something you should worry more about than your efficiency). There are a lot of posts here and videos on YouTube to help you improve your effectiveness.
Here, however, we are going to talk about a different type of vulnerability, the kind that really hurts salespeople. Your vulnerability is believing and behaving as if the clients you have now are going to be yours until the end of time and that you don’t need a healthy pipeline at all times and in all places.
I know of which I write here. When I was very young, I won three substantial clients in fast succession. On my way to my office, I would stop by the largest client, spending an hour taking care of their business. Leaving that client’s office, I would immediately proceed to the second-largest client, putting my time in walking their floor, making sure everything was going as planned. The third client was a large government contract that didn’t require any attention. I was making good money, and life was very good.
A year or so after I had acquired these clients, the second-largest client called me to tell me they were moving their location and would no longer need my company’s service or my help. My income shrank by a third on the day they moved their business. Not too long after that, my largest client changed their business model, eliminating any need to continue my company’s service.
As much as I thought my government contract was secure, I received notice that at the end of the year, they were changing the requirements and my company would no longer be eligible to bid on their business, regardless of how well we were doing for them.
Three Strikes and You’re Out
When I started in sales, all I did was prospect for new business. I prospected from 8:00 AM until Noon, and then I went to lunch. If I didn’t have any appointments, I would make cold calls from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM. As the size of the accounts I won grew, I spent more time acting as an account manager and less and less trying to acquire new clients.
Samuel Johnson wrote the oft-quoted sentiment like this: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Losing your income has the same effect. These events are what led to me prioritize the top of the funnel, and I hope this story serves as a warning.
How You Lose Accounts
You can lose accounts because you have done something to harm the client, but it’s more often because you grew complacent and felt a sense of entitlement, both of which indicate you stopped caring and no longer tried to create new value.
You can also lose clients through no fault of your own. Your client’s largest competitor can buy them and replace you with their existing partner. They can merge with another company, one that doesn’t believe they need what you sell at all. They can run into the kind of financial troubles that makes them the kind of credit risk your company won’t accept. A new senior leader can show up to their new job and replace you with a company that they’ve always favored–even if you are the kind of salesperson that believes relationships don’t matter.
You may take comfort in the fact that you have had a client for a long time, but you have no way of knowing when something will change. A pipeline of new opportunities is the only insurance policy available to you in sales. You pay for that policy by prospecting.
Your Greatest Vulnerability
Your greatest vulnerability in sales, whether you are a salesperson, a sales manager, a sales leader, or CEO is not having enough opportunities to allow you to grow your business. Growth requires an incremental increase in your revenue, and hopefully one accompanied by bottom-line growth as well.
- The Salesperson: If you are a salesperson, you cannot count on your existing clients to provide you with the opportunities you need to reach your goals or grow your sales. Your reliance on a single client or a small group of clients leaves you vulnerable to a single negative event. Over time, no matter how well you perform, you are going to experience a negative event, often through no fault of your own. Being exposed to that risk, however, will be your fault.
- The Sales Manager: Allowing salespeople to live on their existing clients is an abdication of your responsibilities, and doing so leaves them vulnerable to being harmed. No matter how large the account, you cannot count on it growing every year, nor can you count on retaining the account forever. Given a long enough timeline, the likelihood that you lose accounts increases.
The way that you become invulnerable is by continually prospecting and creating new opportunities to stay ahead of any unfortunate events, whether self-imposed or imposed on you by external events.
Salespeople only do two things. They create opportunities, and they pursue and win them (everything else is a commentary on these two outcomes). The difference between an account manager and an account executive is that the first doesn’t generally have to acquire new clients and the latter wins new clients in addition to overseeing their client portfolio.
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