The behaviours of many salespeople over the years have made buyers suspicious as to our intentions, and rightly so.
Mutual Action Plans, Customer Success Plans, Joint Collaboration plans, it doesn’t matter what you call them they’re a way for sales teams to potentially change the way buyers think of us, and in doing so, improve our results. The principle behind them is a plan that is supposed to make buying easier. They’re usually created by the seller, but they’re even better when done jointly with the buyer.
These types of plans been around for a while in Excel and Word format, but in all reality, they’re often biased and contrived seller-centric Close Plans masked as being created to help the customers. Typically, the milestones in these plans end with place order/award contract, that says it all about the primary focus.
But the winds of change have brought some fresh thinking and technology advancements, and smart sales teams have figured out that Mutual Action Plan software can give them an advantage over their competitors.
Before we jump in on how these plans can change your results let’s start by looking at the B2B sales industry and how the need for them has arisen.
Selling is tough right?
But so is buying, it’s probably even tougher.
Your customers are taking longer to make decisions, and often the decision is to do nothing.
It’s not because they didn’t have a need or a budget, it was just easier to stay with the status quo. Selling creates change and change creates challenges for buyers, and if the road to change is complicated then, if possible, they’ll try to stay where they are.
Doubling down on your sales efforts doesn’t mean you’ll win more deals, often it’s wasted effort because it has little or zero impact. It’s more likely that your efforts go unnoticed or they can create confusion or friction with buyers.
Shouting louder and more often is not the way you want to get noticed.
Getting on your prospects radar is hard, product fit and differentiation is your next hurdle.
For most sales teams this has become borderline impossible to achieve, after your pluses and minuses are compared to your competitors the customer is none the wiser on who to pick.
The old adage was that in the absence of relevant differentiation then price becomes the criteria, but even this is no longer a straight forward conclusion because it assumes the customer will buy from someone.
The people who decide and buy receive so much information and content from sales teams, subtly (or sometimes bluntly), telling them why their company and proposition is the biggest, the best, the fastest, the most reliable, most economical or whatever other words they can use to stand out. It actually produces the opposite reaction. Buyers struggle to work out what’s real and what’s relevant, if everyone is the biggest and best it creates analysis paralysis.
They can’t differentiate one vendor from another. Can you now see why so many sales opportunities get lost in the buyer’s abyss? Put yourself in their shoes, a buying experience full of complexity, confusion and conflicting information.
The future of selling
You may have heard the term ‘helping is the new selling’, and if you’re a hardened seller then you may view this with scepticism, because this is not how you’ve been trained to sell.
This is a good point to summarise the many hurdles that sales teams face today:
1. More competitors
2. More competitor marketing
3. More competitor collateral
Which adds up to lots of vendors who look, act and sound the same.
Let’s sell based on product differentiation! Hmm.. good luck with that in the sea of sameness.
Let’s follow the left jab with a right hook – decision making complexity:
1. More people involved in the process, and the number is growing
2. Making decisions collectively and by consensus
3. Buyers with a lack of relevant experience and knowledge
Can you see why selling and buying have become tougher for all those involved?
Please don’t discount the concept of helping as this should be the underlying purpose of the mutual action plan
Buyers don’t know
Time for a bit of honesty.
Do you really know what happened when your existing customers brought from you?
Don’t take a wild guess, I mean really know what they went through before buying from you.
Who was involved (by role/function) and when?
What important questions needed to be answered across the group?
What milestones had to be achieved?
What constraints did they have to work around?
What objections and/or concerns were raised within the group?
What information was helpful and what did they not have that they had to work hard to find?
What was the sign off and approval process before you got the order?
These are just some of the questions you need the answers to.
Most salespeople have never concerned themselves with tedious procedural activities, but if they did, they could be opening Pandora’s box.
What you’ll discover is that a lot of the time buyers DON’T know how to buy what you sell.
It may be that it’s something that they buy every 5 to 10 years, so in all likelihood there isn’t a process nor internal knowledge about it within their team.
This buyer inexperience and uncertainty is a fantastic opportunity for smart well organised sales teams, but only, if managed well!
Where can you start?
It should be obvious by now; you need to understand what happens before your customers buy from you.
Don’t think of buying as the generic high-level processes identified by many sales experts with headlines like – ‘The x stages of a customer’s buying process’, because it’s a 10,000 ft category view, you’ve got to get close to really understand.
Take the time to template the different and common milestones that they went through, which roles/functions were responsible for the milestones, and what information/knowledge helped them complete the job.
If you’ve got multiple propositions then create a template for each of them.
Personally, I wouldn’t give this responsibility to a salesperson, ideally allocate someone with project delivery skills who are best equipped to do this as they often have a different mindset and approach that is more appropriate.
The important thing is to identify the points in the process that your customers didn’t anticipate because they don’t have the experience in buying what you sell.
Speak to friendly customers, learn first-hand so you can understand the details that will enable you to create Mutual Action Plans that help future customers avoid the pitfalls.
Creating Mutual Action Plans
You can still use the traditional document versions, however, the digital options available present greater flexibility, capabilities and methods for collaboration, plus they look better.
A Mutual Action Plan must include the basics:
• The desired outcomes the plans are created to help the buyers achieve
• The major activities that need to be completed, by who and when
• The status of each activity
• Identify members of both the buyer and seller companies, this is a collaboration between teams
Structure without relevance is pointless, focus on the details of the most important activities and milestones.
One words of advice, don’t start with a plan that has a list as long as your arm. Start with the headline milestones so as to not overwhelm the buyers, then add more once you’re underway.
When to use Mutual Action Plans
The right deals, in the right way and at the right time. OK, that’s obvious.
Complex and enterprise sales are perfect because the buying cycle tends to be longer and there are more things that need to be done by more people.
Consider the deal value as well, they’re probably overkill for low value sales. Set a minimum value as part of your process, but don’t make it rigid.
Timing is everything, many sales teams are too cautious and don’t want to introduce them until significant momentum or even preference have been achieved.
We recommend introducing the concept of a plan early to show an understanding and experience of their type of project. But don’t start with a full-blown bespoke plan, ease them into the idea with a typical template to get their buy-in. If they’re receptive to what they see then step it up and suggest working together to create a plan for them.
Don’t limit using Mutual Action Plan software to the buying process, it can also be incredibly complementary to the on-boarding process once you’ve secured a new customer.
Boxxstep’s Mutual Action Plan software?
For a start we don’t call them Mutual Action Plans. Buyers are less worried about mutual success and the word ‘Action’ doesn’t always generate the right response.
We created the term – Outcome Enablement Plans – because it focuses everyone on the primary objective, which is to achieve the customers desired future state and outcomes.
Our plans are just part of our wider focus on buyer engagement and enablement across your prospects buying committee. A more holistic approach through the different phases of deciding and buying.
We start with Engage to focus on who’s involved, what’s important, and the dynamics between them, including relationship mapping.
Then we move to Collaborate (Outcome Enablement Plans) and leverage what we’ve already discovered in Engage.
Our plans include everything you’d expect but we take it to a new level of buyer collaboration and enablement.
We include a buyer/seller Chat feature and we created Needs Mapping and Insights Mapping. They’ve elevated and improved the buyer’s impression of the sales teams that use them.
Always start with the purpose in mind, the plan should help the customer navigate the complexity of buying to meet a specific date and achieve specific outcomes. This is NOT about you, its about your customer.
If you do this right, you’ll be differentiating the buyer experience. According to Gartner nearly 2/3’s of buyers said they would prioritise doing business with companies who do this, so how you sell can be more important than what you sell.
Mutual Action Plan software can benefit both parties, as sellers you could see significant upside in both deal velocity and close rates.
A great plan can be a Win/Win.
You can learn more about our Mutual Action Plan sofware by by arranging to see it in action.