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Getting Back in the Game

Strategic Selling Skills to Find Hidden Opportunities in Your Current Accounts

What growth strategy is your sales organization pursuing as the economy begins to show signs of recovery? As the business climate improves, so do the opportunities for shifting from survival to growth mode.

Frozen budgets are beginning to thaw and companies are starting to consider funding projects deferred during the height of the recession. If your organization has been in survival mode over the past year, you may have been focused primarily on protecting your customer base. Now, the question is how best to take the first steps toward jump-starting increased sales. Should you invest in higher levels of prospecting activity to expand your customer base? Or is it more productive to seek out hidden opportunities in existing accounts?

It may seem that the quickest path to substantial new business is through the doors of new customers. Expanding the base, however, is always expensive, and at present, it may be more so. Caution is still the prevailing mood across most industries, and few firms are ready to take the risk of starting out with new suppliers. It makes sense to look for opportunities in your own backyard—in the accounts where you already have an established relationship.

The Challenge: Familiarity Breeds Entrapment

The good news about working with your existing customers is that you are already in the “magic circle” of trusted suppliers. The bad news is that the same familiarity that brings repeat business can also become a straitjacket. Salespeople become comfortable with a small number of contacts in a particular area, such as IT in the case of a technology offering. Although they may have been exhorted to call higher and wider in their accounts, it can seem risky to break out into other areas, and especially to call on executives who have little obvious reason to talk to salespeople.

Yet without such conversations, opportunities will be missed that are invisible from inside the confines of one area and level. It is at the higher levels of the organization that decisions are made about priorities and funding. Currently, many lower-echelon and mid-level managers have less budget authority than they had even a year ago, as spending continues to be tightly controlled. Customers are being especially cautious allocating still-scarce resources and are highly focused on a few strategic goals. It is in those targeted areas that the real opportunities will be found.

The key is to focus on two objectives: delivery of value to the executive and confirmation of his or her goals and CSFs.