It takes a village to make a great movie. The writer, director, producer, actors, cinematographer, editor, composer and many other people need to be at the top of their game for it all to come together.
And it takes a village to close a deal.
The popular image of the account executive (or sales rep or business development executive, or whatever you happen to call them at your company) is the fast-talking, charismatic lone wolf who wins over prospects through the sheer force of his personality. That may be true in some B2C and retail cases, but a complex, six- or seven-figure B2B sale often goes on for months, rarely is closed through a smile and a handshake, and involves the quality contributions of many people in a company to succeed:
- The CEO, product managers, designers, engineers, etc. work together to create a product that provides real value for customers
- Marketing helps identify the market, creates an offering and sets a competitive price.
- Sales and marketing execs work together to create a joint understanding of the ideal prospect and marketing develops programs to build the company’s brand and generate leads.
- Using a lead scoring system, marketing should immediately qualify inbound leads and pass on only the best leads to sales. Sales should respond within a few minutes to the inquiry and not, as is the case at many companies, days later.
- Alternatively, the account executive cold calls or, more likely these days, uses Sales 2.0 tactics to “warm call” and generates a prospect who becomes a qualified opportunity.
And now that there’s a serious prospect, the account exec can really go to work. She may qualify the opportunity on her own, or possibly in conjunction with a sales engineer. In many cases she then takes on the role of the quarterback, pulling together a cross-functional team. This team works together on the offering, pricing, proposal, and presentation. The account exec may do much of this on her own in some cases, but in many cases it’s a team effort and several members of the team will be involved in presenting to the prospect (after proper rehearsal, of course), and answering follow up questions, responding to objections, and so forth.
A lot of people are involved. So what does the B2B account executive actually do?
She qualifies opportunities so your team doesn’t waste time on ones that you’re not likely to close. She communicates differentiation and handles objections. She gets to know the prospect better than anyone else in the company. She educates and challenges the prospect. She figures out who the real power is in the company, sometimes called the “fox”, that can approve the deal. She quarterbacks the internal effort, shaping the offering based on her superior knowledge of the prospect. She works with senior management on pricing and other matters. She keeps the prospect focused on what matters most for them if they start to drift off into nice-to-haves. She negotiates the contract. And a lot more.
And that’s just to close the account in the first place. After that, there’s even more work in helping satisfy the (now) client – account executives are often the safety valve when things aren’t going the way the customer expected – and grow the account.
She, or he, does a lot. But not on their own. As part of a big team.
Did you find this post useful? You’ll find dozens of actionable strategies and tactics in my interviews with 10 sales and marketing leaders.