During my career as a buy-side executive, B2B sales professionals rarely expressed interest in my company’s strategic planning process. That surprised me. In my current life in the training industry helping sales teams become Business Advisors to their customers, I’ve confirmed my fears: most B2B sales professionals are not engaged in their customer’s strategic planning cycle.
In my view this represents the ultimate missed opportunity to influence the customer’s investment decision process. So, why are B2B sales professionals MIA?
Perhaps they don’t comprehend the transformative significance of the strategic planning process. They may perceive it as an “exercise” with no apparent consequences on their relationship with the company. Or, they may confuse it with the budget planning process performed at year-end (sometimes referred to as operating planning).
Perhaps they’re more obsessed with standardizing their internal sales processes, methodologies and automation platforms. They’re focused on the short-term sales planning cycle (chasing opportunities and attempting to create demand) instead of the long-term customer planning cycle (transforming processes and creating value).
Perhaps they don’t see the opportunity for potential influence like I do. What a missed opportunity!
Timing is Everything: WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
Why do you think I’ve chosen to write this post now? Any guesses?
If your customer has a year end of December 31 (and most do) they will be kicking off their strategic planning cycle in the next few months. The second fiscal quarter often represents the sweet spot for strategic planning activities.
It’s a perfect time to synchronize your internal account planning process with your customer’s strategic planning cycle. Of course, this assumes you can disconnect from the rigid schedule of your internal sales planning routine.
The proactive B2B sales professional who succeeds in inserting themselves into the customer strategic planning cycle enters an emerging window of influence and gets the once-in-a-career opportunity to work along-side “strategy setters”. Talk about gaining competitive advantage. How great would that be?
Dirty Little Secrets about Strategic Planning
Sure, strategic planning is, well, “strategic”. When done well, it incorporates contingency and scenario planning along with strategic analysis. But it is SERIOUS BUSINESS for most organizations and it carries major implications for B2B sales professionals and their customer relationships. Traditionally, everything is on the table and becomes subject to inspection, discussion AND CHANGE!
There are many different approaches to strategic planning, but in general, companies start the process by developing a “desired future state” – by company, by line of business, by process, by function, by department.
Then, they assess current and projected external factors (demographics, customer preferences, competitor strategies, economic forecasts, regulatory implications, technology trends, geo-political issues, etc.).
Finally, they analyze the “present state” of their current business model and determine the “gaps”. These “gaps” present the ultimate opportunity for B2B sales professionals to educate and influence “strategy setters” with best practices in technology roadmaps, process innovation, employee engagement, productivity improvement, team collaboration, new product development, customer experience, supply chain, forecasting, outsourcing, learning and development, business performance management, business intelligence, globalization, etc.
In many organizations, the CIO, CTO, CFO, and COO create their own strategic plans that later get integrated into the overall plan. These C-level executives (and their teams) are very dependent on their internal knowledge and understanding of future trends and directions as they prioritize projects, perform risk analysis, and analyze the likelihood of change in their industry and in technology.
This situation presents an excellent platform for B2B sales professionals to share their understanding of future trends, critical success factors, and observations of best practices being implemented in the marketplace. Success story testimonials and white papers are particularly effective resources.
Be Proactive, Reach Out, Offer Business Advice
If you aspire to be a trusted Business Advisor, it’s important to gain executive sponsorship to work along-side your customer’s organization during the strategic planning cycle. Your “sales planning cycle” is irrelevant to your customer, so you need to get in step with their timeline.
In my career, I only had a handful of B2B sales professionals who proactively reached out to me during the strategic planning cycle to offer advice and assistance. I “sponsored” most of these people because they were proactive and seemed to be different than the traditional sales herd. They had prepared. They understood my business priorities and had insights to offer. They knew what “best practice” looked like in other higher-performing organizations. And, they were trying to be STRATEGIC and helpful.
Most importantly, they were focused on my planning cycle and not their internal sales process. So go STRATEGIC and GET GOING. What are you waiting for?
Image source: iStock