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B2B Sales: Why Your Account Growth Strategy Needs an Update

August 13, 2018

Contributor: Kelly Blum

Gartner Vice President Scott Collins on what B2B sales leaders can do to grow accounts, not just retain them.

A commercial strategy focused solely on attracting new business and “maintaining status quo” with existing accounts will no longer suffice in today’s B2B sales environment. Sales teams must figure out how to balance retaining and growing existing accounts if they’re going to stand up to competition in the long term.

“ Teams that can deliver ongoing customer improvement conversations increase their ability to grow that account by 48%  ”

Ahead of this year’s Gartner CSO and Sales Leader Conference, we caught up with Scott Collins, VP, Team Manager, Gartner, to ask what sales leaders can do to overcome this challenge and balance the retention and growth of existing accounts today.

Why do so many sales organizations find it challenging to attract new clients and simultaneously retain and grow existing clients?

Leaders and commercial organizations have inadvertently created a system that focuses account management teams on loss prevention versus growth — an “anti-shrinkage system.” Gartner surveyed more than 700 B2B customers and uncovered three key problems with this system that make it difficult to focus on growing existing accounts.

First, metrics and quotas are geared toward bringing in new business rather than growing existing accounts. Second, sales professionals in account management roles are more risk averse when it comes to new opportunities in their existing accounts. And lastly, sales organizations widely believe that delivering exceptional levels of product success and service will lead to account growth.

We see countless account managers attempting to exceed customer expectations through service and support without any measurable commercial benefits.

How can sales leaders best achieve both growth and retention goals?

Our research identified one account strategy that will drive both growth and retention: a strategy we call “customer improvement.” Account management teams that can deliver ongoing customer improvement conversations increase their ability to grow that account by 48% and increase the likelihood of renewing or retaining the same amount of spend by 94%.

For this strategy to be effective, sales leaders need to enable their teams to deliver customer improvement consistently. Our research shows that it’s important for leaders to know that this isn’t only about seller skills, but about organizational support, enablement, tools and team design. That’s really exciting, given the broad challenges of finding sales talent in today’s market.

Learn more: Drive Account Growth

What are the key factors in customer improvement?

There are three critical elements:

  1. Provide customers with a unique, critical perspective on their own business and market that they previously failed to appreciate or acknowledge.
  2. Paint a vision of the customer’s future business. These conversations are forward-looking, as opposed to the more common appraisals of past experience (“Here’s what we’ve done with you over the past year in our relationship”).
  3. Provide customers an ROI on the entirety of the commercial relationship. Customers want to see the overall value of their partnerships with suppliers, not just ROI on products, services and solutions.

What should sales leaders consider when designing their team to better enable customer improvement?

A customer improvement strategy that enables and supports growth may require a new team design. If sales leaders can more clearly scope individual roles to drive growth, retention and support the customer, then they can more easily drive the desired commercial outcomes.

We’ve seen this demonstrated in the rise of customer success teams — teams solely focused on retention and renewal, across different organizations. These teams allow sales organizations to position commercial teams for growth while delivering customer improvement activities to existing customers.

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