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3 Common Pitfalls That Prevent B2B Account Growth

3 Common Pitfalls That Prevent B2B Account Growth

by David Ducharme

Story Highlights

  • 69% of B2B customers are not fully engaged with your company
  • Account leaders are the key to creating fully engaged customers
  • Avoid three common pitfalls when empowering your account leaders

Leaders take note.

A staggering 69% of B2B customers are ready to take their business elsewhere.

This means the majority of B2B customers are at best indifferent toward your products and services, and at worst, they are so frustrated that they are actively looking for your replacement.

This trend is only the tip of the iceberg.

Now the effects of COVID-19 are disrupting nearly everything. Leaders aiming to grow customer relationships face several new challenges: social upheaval, the trend toward commoditization and even generational differences in decision-making.

Even so, some organizations are in what seems on the surface like an enviable position -- one of only a few options for their customers -- but being the "least bad option" is not a sustainable strategy either.

The good news is fully engaged customers represent a 23% premium in share of wallet, revenue, and relationship growth compared with the average customer.

So, what's the key to engaging B2B customers and increasing share of wallet, revenue and relationship growth?

It starts with ensuring account leaders and customer teams are empowered to deliver on the organization's brand promise to customers.

Gallup has found it is nearly impossible to engage customers if you do not have a winning account leader. The probability of a B2B customer being fully engaged is three times greater when the customer is fully satisfied with their account leader!

In order to grow business, leaders must make empowering account leaders a priority. When they do, they stand to win big.

They must start by eliminating three common pitfalls that often get in the way:

  1. Leaders take a one-size-fits-all approach to different clients and customer segments and fail to capitalize on critical differences.
  2. Leaders fail to empower account leaders' decision-making to serve the client while also providing clear accountability measures.
  3. Leaders fail to identify conflict between organizational-level strategy and account-level strategy.

Pitfall No. 1: Using the one-size-fits-all approach.

Sales and service expectations can vary dramatically between customer segments, but client account teams often treat them the same anyway.

Case in point: Gallup recently met with a B2B SaaS company that had strong market penetration in small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). This organization attempted to expand into larger enterprise accounts, but they applied the same SMB structure, incentives and delivery model to enterprise clients whose needs were different.

The problem became clear when a coveted brand sought their help.

The regional-based sales and service delivery model they created for SMBs amplified conflict between sales teams pursuing this coveted brand. The coveted brand was headquartered in one region, while the prospect was based out of another region and the brand had a significant head count in all regions.

Rather than collaborating on a winning strategy, sales teams fought over who would get quota credit and what region should assume ongoing support costs.

What should leaders do?

Gallup suggests reassessing account-level segmentation to better align the organization's sales and service delivery models to meet various customer needs.

Besides traditional segmentation measures like account size and contract value and revenue, organizations must also consider segmenting accounts by the nature of work being performed, strategic positioning, and ROI potential.

What emerges is a richer view of the diverse needs of customers. When Gallup consultants arm clients with these insights -- which are not always found in traditional analysis -- leaders can make better decisions on sales and service delivery models to retain and grow accounts.

Pitfall No. 2: Failure to empower decision-making while providing clear accountability measures.

Gallup worked with a senior leader who was frustrated with account teams for not feeling empowered to do what was needed to impress customers.

The leader had given teams explicit authority to call the shots and so was puzzled when teams did not act on that authority.

But here is what leaders must realize: Even if communication comes straight from a CEO, that is not enough.

True empowerment requires structural support, changes in mindset and, importantly, clear accountability and expectations. Lack of clarity is a distinct problem in performance management today, only 26% of employees strongly agree that the feedback they receive helps them do their work better.

What should leaders do?

To get started, leaders must invest in an approach that clearly outlines expectations and outcomes that align with senior leadership's vision.

Gallup has found organizations that excel at accountability have an approach that is simple enough to fit accountability metrics on a single scorecard but sophisticated enough to go beyond the traditional success measures.

This means incorporating such things as customer feedback and account team engagement scores.

This approach contrasts with what most organizations do. Most account teams produce account plans on a quarterly or annual basis which are typically a little more than a project plan or a checklist of activities to accomplish.

This type of planning does not help move the needle on performance. The best organizations integrate data that drives these accountability measures into scorecards and dashboards.

This also means leaders have a big opportunity to improve and align their overall performance management strategy not only by clarifying expectations but also by building in a performance development approach. Ideally, using this approach, managers would coach teams to ensure overall alignment and focus coaching efforts on on-going development.

Pitfall No. 3: Disconnect between organizational strategy and account reality.

Gallup partnered with an organization that prioritized recruiting technical excellence into both their sales and account teams.

The challenge they encountered was that, while many of their sellers could convince the CIO and CTO office with relative ease, when it came to convincing a cross-functional group of buyers that included business leaders, they struggled to close the deal.

Account leaders and the organization alike were frustrated by continuing losses despite having buy-in from the CIO and CTO offices.

After conducting a win-loss analysis, Gallup learned the sales leaders were struggling to articulate the solution to the business problem the leaders were really trying to solve for, thus leading to many failed bids.

This same challenge surfaced with other customers. In these cases, account team members struggled to convince executive audiences, even though they had a lot of success with their everyday contacts.

What should leaders do?

Gallup finds the first step to solving disconnects like this is to conduct a holistic audit that assesses organizational level strategies.

Gallup typically starts by assessing top-tier accounts. This means assessing the 20% of accounts that represent 80% of customer revenue. Consultants work to review things like operating models, compensation/incentives, account-level realities, customer needs, sales talent and mindsets, and development opportunities.

This type of analysis yields actionable insights that empower leaders to identify gaps between their organizational strategy and the reality of how their account teams go about their work.

The Bottom Line: Leaders Can Make All the Difference for Account Leads

Sales and account team empowerment has always been critical, but now, in today's financially crunched, hyper-competitive market, it is more critical than ever.

Leaders must attack and eliminate the common pitfalls account leaders face.

When leaders do this, they not only stand strong amid current headwinds, but also position themselves to strategically and proactively kick-start growth.

Use data to deliver what your customers really want -- and achieve organic growth:


Shannon Mullen O'Keefe contributed to this article.

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