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Common Mistakes in Sales Management (Part 5): Crushing the Engagement Model

(This post originally appeared on LinkedIn here.)

“Move not unless you see an advantage. Use not your troops unless there is something to be gained.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The larger a customer’s organization the more communication channels an account team has to manage and the harder it is to maintain a consistent messaging into the customer organization. This is why sales people build and constantly refine the engagement model defining who communicates with whom on the customer side about what. It is the fundamental core ownership of an account manager.

A well-designed engagement model is centered on the enterprise power base of the customer, the group of people driving the culture, direction, and agenda of the entire organization. The vendor who can align themselves with this group achieves competitive immunity as they can link their offering directly to the agenda of this power base and their most influential members.

To gain this position the vendor qualifies by consistently providing value and making it recognized by the power base. For this communication channels must be established and a well-orchestrated messaging must be performed. At the appropriate point in time the vendor‘s management must be introduced to the customer‘s senior management to demonstrate the organization‘s commitment to customer success. Determining this point in time is the job of the account manager.

Unfortunately, account managers get frequently confronted with demands from their management to take them „to the top of the customer organization, now!“, regardless of whether there is a meaningful message to be sent at this particular point in time or not.

This demand will result in multiple damages:

First, the account manager will have to approach their contacts to ask for a meeting with their management without a real purpose raising question marks on their side.

Second, these contacts will have to squeeze a meeting into their management‘s busy calendars without a clear purpose resulting in internal back and forth.

Third, the power base on the customer side will discuss the meeting trying to understand whether there is anything they want to get out of it.

And, most damaging of all, other power bases (there are always several competing ones in large organizations) will now perceive the vendor as an ally of their internal opponents. Which is totally fine if you connect to the right power base.

But what if not?

What should management do instead? They must frequently review the account plan and position themselves in the engagement model, but leave the timing of their active involvement to the account manager. The account manager must leverage their management in the strategic pursuits they are driving at the point in time when the conversation has a clear, mutually agreed purpose to advance both parties‘ agenda.

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