In today’s rapidly evolving sales landscape, one buzzword you’ll often hear is “collaboration.” But do we understand what it means, especially regarding closing sales?
To demystify this crucial aspect of the sales process, we tuned into a recent episode of the Predictable Revenue podcast where Collin Stewart sat down with Tom Williams, the Head of Clari Align. Their illuminating conversation peeled back the layers of collaboration in sales, revealing that it’s not just about what keeps your customer up at night but a multi-layered engagement extending far beyond the first handshake or initial pitch.
In this blog post, we’ll delve into the essence of collaboration in sales, why it matters, and how you can apply it at every stage of the sales cycle for better close rates and lasting customer relationships.
Unpacking the Three Pillars of Sales Collaboration
1. Understanding the Problem: Beyond Surface-Level Queries
First and foremost, collaboration begins with a profound understanding of your customer’s problem. Forget the age-old question, “What keeps you up at night?” That’s merely scratching the surface.
In a genuinely collaborative sales process, the buyer and seller engage in a multi-layered analysis to identify the pain points. This deeper understanding is the cornerstone upon which meaningful collaboration can be built.
In Tom’s words, good sellers do this instinctively, employing commercial insights to help customers see their challenges in a new light.
2. Trust: The Silent Enabler of Collaboration
Once you’ve peeled back the layers of the problem, the next step is to establish trust. Trust is the currency of collaboration, and it goes beyond simple rapport. To gain this trust, a salesperson must demonstrate fundamental understanding and offer genuine guidance, proving their value to the customer.
The goal isn’t just to build trust with your initial point of contact or the ‘champion’ but to extend it to other decision-makers involved in the buying process.
3. Execution and Implementation: A Two-Way Street
The final pillar involves the nuts and bolts of making the sale and delivering on your promises. This stage, often overlooked, demands as much collaboration as the first two.
Both parties bring something unique: the seller offers experience, and the buyer provides context. This symbiotic relationship forms the backbone of an effective execution strategy.
The Delicate Balance of Discovery and Structure in Sales
The power of questions in sales is like a double-edged sword. On one side, you have a natural curiosity—an essential trait for any salesperson. But here’s where it gets complicated:
- Curiosity with Intent: Your questions should go beyond mere intellectual curiosity. You’re not hosting a podcast; you’re guiding a client towards a problem they need to solve, which you conveniently have the solution for.
- Urgency Matters: Ever lost a sale because “it’s not the right time”? To prevent that, dig deep. Don’t settle for non-committal answers. Make the problem—and the need for your solution—as immediate as possible.
Mutual Action Plans (MAPs) are the secret sauce in this dance. Introduce it at the right time, not too early to overwhelm your client but not too late to lose momentum. And remember:
- Credibility First: Before getting to MAPs, what makes you worth listening to? Come prepared with industry insights that no one else is offering. That’s your unique selling proposition.
- Early Filtering with MAPs: A well-designed MAP guides you and flags potential deal-breakers early on.
Sales is a complex choreography that demands intuition and structure in the grand scheme of things. Your questions unlock doors, but your planned approach takes you and your client through those doors. And that’s where sales transcends into solution crafting. That’s where you become not just a vendor but a valued partner.
Aligning Journeys and Sharing Responsibilities
Mutual Action Plan: More Than Just a Pitch
Tom Williams hit the nail on the head: “A mutual action plan isn’t just a sales pitch; it’s a comprehensive roadmap.” Remember when he said that? If a prospect isn’t interested in plotting out how to solve their problem, that’s a red flag. You don’t just want a client who buys; you want one who believes in the solution.
📍Quick Insight: Qualify your leads by their willingness to collaborate on a mutual action plan. If they’re not interested, they might not be the right fit.
When Buying and Selling Journeys Collide
We often discuss the buying and selling journeys as separate things, but Collin and Tom suggest otherwise. They agree that these two journeys must sync up, or you risk losing momentum. So, don’t let your sales stages live in a vacuum; match them to your buyer’s journey.
📍Quick Insight: Your sales stages shouldn’t be a monologue but a dialogue that aligns with your buyer’s journey.
Taking the Long View, Responsibly
The mutual action plan shouldn’t just be short-term focused. When Collin asked, “Should the plan focus only on our part?” Tom was clear: “No, it should incorporate responsibilities for both parties.” If the late-stage decision-makers enter midway, ensure they’re clued in and accountable.
📍Quick Insight: A mutual action plan is a two-way street. Everyone, including late-stage decision-makers, should have skin in the game.
Crafting a Practical Plan
Tom suggests keeping it simple—a 4-milestone plan can do wonders. “Test your plan with a friendly, recently won customer,” he says. People-centricity is key. Knowing who will be part of each milestone gets more buy-in and speeds up the deal.
📍Quick Insight: Test your action plan with a friendly customer first. If they find value in it, new prospects will, too.
Implementation: No Surprises
Let’s avoid the last-minute ‘oh no’ moments. Be upfront about time frames for each stage. Tom and Collin agree: Clearly defined implementation windows keep everyone on the same page.
📍Quick Insight: Transparency about time frames sets the stage for a successful implementation.
Making Milestones Work for You
So you’ve set your sales milestones. Great, but what now? Tom Williams says it’s not just about the milestones but what goes into them. Think of each milestone as a little project with tasks, deadlines, and success criteria. Why? Because breaking it down helps you understand what you and your buyer need to do to move forward.
Imagine your milestones are like stages at a music festival. The first act is “Getting to Know Each Other.” No technical jargon, no complex terms, just simple, relatable language that makes both parties comfortable.
MEDDIC (Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, and Champion) is a buzzword many of us live by, but even great systems have flaws. It’s like having the best sound system for that music festival but no playlist. MEDDIC gives you the structure, but it misses the timing, which can be crucial. You need to know the ‘what’ and the ‘when.’
Everyone hates wasting time, especially on deals that won’t close. And it’s not just the sales team but also the buyer investing time and resources. With well-structured milestones, you can filter out the bad fit earlier and save everybody valuable time.
Here’s a tip: Use milestones to reset expectations. Say a buyer needs things faster than your typical timeline. Well, you can accommodate that, but maybe it will cost more. Being upfront can lead to a better deal for both parties.
Bottom line? Milestones are more than just signposts; they’re a roadmap that can lead the seller and buyer to a mutually beneficial deal.
Imagine flying in a V formation with a flock of birds, all moving in perfect harmony towards a common destination. That’s how your sales process should feel when fully aligned and optimized. This isn’t just a poetic analogy; it’s a reality you can achieve by focusing on two key aspects: credibility and consistency.
Building Credibility Early On
The first rule of any sales process is establishing trust. This comes even before your product or service enters the conversation. At the beginning of your sales calls, present a mutual action plan outlining what you’ve accomplished and what you aim to do today. This provides a structure for the conversation and builds your credibility.
When your prospects see you have a plan, you move one step closer to converting them into clients. In today’s volatile business environment, where yesterday’s assumptions may not hold, showing that you have a plan is more important than ever.
Maintaining Consistency Throughout the Process
After establishing credibility, the next step is maintaining it. Consistency is about sticking to your promises and providing a seamless transition from the sales process to implementation. There’s nothing more disappointing to a client than feeling like they’ve been handed off from a senior salesperson they’ve built trust with to a junior team member who has no idea about their specific needs.
Therefore, keeping senior stakeholders involved ensures a smoother transition and sets the stage for future upsells or expansions.
Process as a Living Document
Your mutual action plan should not be a static document but a living, breathing guide that adapts to ever-changing circumstances. When you find something that speeds up a deal, such as moving a security check earlier in the process, update the plan so that the entire team can benefit from this insight.
The Art of Implementing a Mutual Action Plan in Sales
A Mutual Action Plan is essentially a living document co-created with your prospects. It serves as a roadmap for both parties through every sales cycle stage. For instance, the CFO, often overlooked in sales processes, can significantly benefit from a MAP. It gives them a structured approach to evaluating monetary aspects and change management intricacies.
The power of a MAP also lies in its ability to elevate Account Executives from mere salespeople to invaluable advisors. Implementing this tool establishes a consultative relationship that addresses client concerns proactively, guiding them through their unique buying journey.
Where should you start with implementing MAPs? Your top-performing sellers are probably already employing a similar approach. According to Tom Williams, for MAPs to be effective, there should be a consistent inspection and adoption of best practices, as they offer a tangible way to assess the status of ongoing deals.
Bottom line? Mutual Action Plans aren’t just another sales tool; they’re a strategy for transformation. They provide a framework that empowers everyone involved in the sales process, from the CFO to the sales team, to navigate the complexities of modern sales cycles.
Navigating the Maze of Mutual Action Plans: Risks and Remedies
The Pitfalls of Over-Engineering the Process
No doubt, crafting a MAP requires effort. But too much effort in the wrong direction may backfire. Ever felt like you’re drowning in paperwork? You’re not alone. One common misstep is inadvertently increasing the administrative burden for sales reps. When a rep is already swamped with forms and meeting reports, adding another layer of complexity can lead to performance fatigue and compromise quota attainment. Therefore, aligning your expectations and streamlining tasks is crucial as a sales manager, ensuring that your reps are not bogged down with unnecessary documentation.
📍Tip: Use MAPs as a central tool for deal inspection to avoid duplication of work.
The Risk of Assumption
Have you ever lost a sale because you over-promised and under-delivered? Another risk lies in being too presumptive with the customer. You risk coming across as arrogant or out of touch when you present a MAP that outlines every minute detail—from initial meetings to renewals—without sufficient client input. A MAP should serve as a loose framework or an “idea” rather than a rigid, inflexible plan. This means allowing space for client-specific needs and challenges, making the collaboration genuinely mutual.
Keeping the Human Element
A MAP is not a checklist to tick off but a tool designed to solve your customer’s problem. If the sales rep treats it as the former, it becomes more of an interrogation than a dialogue. Understanding the ‘why’ behind each action item on your MAP is critical. This way, you ensure the customer sees value in your offering and understands the context behind each request or requirement.
📍Tip: End the conversation on value, not just a close. Make sure the customer knows the ‘why’ behind each action item.
Beyond the Close: A Long-term Collaboration
A prosperous MAP doesn’t end at the close. It’s part of a longer journey—a partnership where both parties look to make continuous improvements. It’s about an ongoing commitment to aligning strategies, reassessing targets, and iteratively optimizing the collaboration. Quarterly check-ins, for instance, can serve as moments to recalibrate the system and measure the effectiveness of the MAP. The aim? To build a lasting partnership where collaboration becomes the norm, not the exception.
Sales is a balancing act of curiosity and structure, and Mutual Action Plans (MAPs) serve as the linchpin in this complex dance. A well-crafted MAP enhances credibility and serves as a living document that adapts to ever-changing needs. It’s not just another tool; it’s a strategy that transforms Account Executives into invaluable advisors.
However, it’s crucial to tread carefully. Over-engineering the process or neglecting the human element can quickly derail its effectiveness. Done right, MAPs move beyond mere transactions to build lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.
- Unlock Your Ultimate Guide to Mutual Action Plans Now! 📊 Plus, get a FREE template to supercharge your sales strategy.
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- Discover the Secrets of Creating a Successful Mutual Action Plan. Dive into this insightful piece by Tom Williams and Alice Heiman.
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