In this article we examine the argument for the recruitment of dedicated salespeople in the role of B2B account based business expansion sales specialists

Account Expansion Salespeople, Customer Experience Execs., Account Based Sales Specialists… call them what you will, your business needs more of them. Why? One good reason is that there’s s large body of evidence to suggest it costs at least five times more to win a new customer than sell something to an existing one. But the case for dedicated sales people charged with winning net-new business from customers runs deeper than that.

The business imperative to maximize customer profitability

In any B2B business these days, it’s become ever more critical to maximize new product and service sales to existing customers. It’s partly because the cost to acquire new customers is that much harder.

With customers having much more control over how they are contacted by customers, and the technology enablers they have at their disposal to avoid salespeople, the buying process has transformed in the past few years. It’s now believed that up to 80% of the purchasing process for buyers happens online. With so much information online, the need to engage suppliers is left until the very last minute. Salespeople are no longer considered subject-matter experts. The Google search engine is.

Many B2B tech companies are adopting a land and expand strategy, selling simple small products that solve very tightly focused issues they can target via SEO. Then, having established a foothold with their new customer, companies will look to grow accounts with added-value services and upgrade options before expanding on to new product and service lines. US tech companies Cisco and Citrix are two such companies adopting this approach. Both companies sell broad portfolios of enterprise telecoms and technology products that include low-value items. These companies are employing dedicated sales teams to develop effective strategies to expand customer purchases to new areas of business with newly gained accounts.

The spend imbalance between new business and existing business

I’ve been surprised by the number of B2B businesses I encounter that don’t segregate their marketing budget between new and existing business sales. Some statistics I’ve come across in the past suggest that something in the order of 80% of marketing spend goes into winning new customers.

That might suggest that the other 20% of marketing spend goes into retaining and growing existing customers. But I’m not sure that’s the case. I expect the reality is instead marketing spend goes on lots of ‘projects’ that are more infrastructural (i.e. buying into marketing tech platforms etc.) or educational (such as the training of salespeople).

My own best guess would be that most of the B2B tech companies I’ve encountered spend no more than 10% protecting and expanding business within existing customers. But is it the case these customers only generate 10% of the income the company enjoys? Absolutely not.

The big difference between retention and expansion in customer account-based management

For decades, B2B companies have placed their focus on retaining customers and the way they think that happens is by delivering an excellent customer experience. Again, I’m not convinced. Even if companies DO deliver an exceptional customer experience–and few of them realistically do–my suspicion is that customers don’t make new business decisions based on an ‘okay’ customer experience. If suppliers want to see customers renewing their contracts year after year, I believe customers need to see ‘above and beyond’ value; and that doesn’t come from managing a healthy status quo in customer satisfaction. This ‘above an beyond‘ value needs to be more than they would expect from YOU as a supplier, it also has to be better than your competitors offer.

Even if you can retain your customers, growing business within them–producing net new business–doesn’t just happen. And it takes more than customer service skills to achieve that.

The skills every B2B account based business expansion sales specialist needs

Consider the motivations, skills and persona of a typical new business salesperson. You might paint them as a young buck; a money hungry warrior bent on making a name for him or herself. You could imagine a hunter personality, not particularly thoughtful or academic – but energetic, more tactically minded than strategic, determined and always prepared to overcome any embarrassment to ask for an order.

Now let’s turn our attention to the account-based salesperson. Here is a more mature personality, thoughtful and empathetic, more knowledgeable about the industry and discipline; knowledge sourced from hard work and experience. This individual looks like someone you can trust. Their ability to be credible and trustworthy–the instinct that you might feel comfortable walking through a door with them to solve a problem–is an essential quality. But part of this persona is a slight lack of energy. These individuals are often older; they’ve been in the sales game for longer. They’re after a less stressful life, hoping to play on a track record of past successes to get their kids through college in the same job; living up the good times of a decent reliable salary. The fortune they craved on their first day has lost its lustre and they’re enjoying the brand halo of working with big name customers, along with a degree of adulation from the younger salespeople, being seen as a successful large accounts manager. These individuals are content playing the relationship card and not having to push too hard. Their tact comes from knowing who to know, where to focus their energy and WHEN to push.

Could either of these personalities drive net new business sales within existing accounts? I would say no.

Expansionist salespeople need to be a blend of both of these personalities, which makes them harder to find. Working with existing customers means they’ll have to be team players, willing to cooperate with customer service people and respect their judgements if they have reservations about pushing for new revenues when existing projects are still not performing as thy should. Yes, they will need all of the empathy, guile and strategic long-term planning skills of a large account salesperson, but they also need to be on the lookout to make a name for themselves. They still want success and remain money hungry (‘coin operated’) but with the experience to know when to push to close deals.

That persona might suggest someone who has a strong sales experience but not necessarily within the company. Perhaps they made the wrong career decision earlier in their working life and found themselves trapped selling for a lesser business that paid bills for a while. They might be getting older in their years but haven’t really made their name in sales as they’d wanted to: They still have something to prove. With children growing up and moving out, they’re more prepared to take risks on their job role. Maybe they were recently divorced and have more time to give.

These salespeople need to listen, learn, strategize, build tactical plans… but then close. This kind of raw talent is essential for the expansionist role. Young bucks will upset too many customers, while account-based salespeople won’t be desperate (enough) to win new business.

Is it reasonable to expect new business sales or account based sales people to manage retention and net new growth in customers?

As you might imagine, I would say no–and it’s not just because of the personality and motivation factors I’ve just described.

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Unless pay plans change, new business salespeople with accounts in their territory will always pay lip-service to them because they know new business deals is what drives their pay packet and career reputation. They need new account wins for their CV, not the sale of another product line to an existing customer.

Similarly, Account Based Salespeople are hard-coded to manage the big picture outcomes and health of their accounts. But then, the farmer personality of the Account Manager reduces their effectiveness to win net new business. They simply aren’t hungry enough to put that extra degree of effort needed to open new doors in accounts. So long as their boss sees that the customer is happy and growing (somewhat), they know their paymaster will be happy enough.

There are two other very good reasons to consider…

The PROCESS is different

To sell net new business to existing accounts, salespeople must follow a completely different process. The five common steps are:

1. Profile

Identify metrics of customer account and appetite for growth (e.g. satisfaction, delivering promises, resolution of concerns, health of relationships and status of champions, ability to pay, profitability, profile fit of account  etc.).

2. Evaluate

Evaluate opportunity for new business (apply G.R.O.W. and Job-To-Be-Done methods).

3. Risk Assess

Qualify whether risks associated with any pursuit may result in negative impacts on current business activity.

4. Engage

Create opportunities to start a conversation, spark interest and raise appetite for future purchases.

5. Propose

Design and propose new solutions according to customer needs.

To ask salespeople to juggle between two different processes would be both unreasonable and distracting. It would make performance appraisals very difficult.

The RISKS are different

Selling new products to existing accounts represents a higher risk to the business compared to new business sales. There’s always the risk that customers will be upset or distracted by new product sales. In consequence, they may decide to go to another supplier. They might also lose their focus on more profitable projects that have already been won and are considered ‘in the bank’. For this reason, expansionist salespeople need to work WITH Account Managers and Customer Service colleagues, not against them.

Account ownership

This starts to raise the question WHO is ultimately responsible for the account. My personal take would be the Account Manager should be the ultimate guardian of the customer interest (under the watchful eye of the Sales Director. But this is not without its challenges. Sometimes, Account Managers can play on their seniority in the pecking order of the sales department and work hard to ‘get in the way’ of net new business if only to put one over their net new sales colleagues. These relationships need to be carefully managed.

In summary

You need dedicated sales roles for net new account expansion business because:

  • You’ve got the wrong personalities in your sales team today
  • They need to be rewarded differently
  • They will always prioritize their ‘majority’ role
  • Expansion sales follows a different process that salespeople will need to know intimately and focus on wholly
  • Selling ‘net new’ to existing customers carries higher risks