As the pressure builds for most Internet-related companies in 2001, this seems like a good time to retell the story of the blind men and the elephant.
Three blind men stumble upon an elephant. Each blind man grabs on to a different part of the animal. The first man, feeling only the elephant’s leg, declares the object they have come across must be a tree trunk. The second man, holding the elephant’s tail, assures his friends that they have found a snake. And the third man, touching the elephant’s ear, announces that it is most certainly a fan. Since they do not have the benefit of vision, they cannot see the big picture — the whole animal — and, as a consequence, they draw the wrong conclusions.
In an ideal world, when it comes to account strategy, sales pros always want to see the big picture, or “the whole elephant.” But in the real world, day-to-day firefighting works against that desirable position. The result: missed opportunities to increase or win business. But a strategic-thinking exercise can help. The following exercise will force you to step back and see just what in the world you are dealing with, not to mention what opportunities exist for modifying or redirecting your activities to gain more business. And people who periodically take the time to step back, look at the big picture, and plan new strategies based on what they see are usually the people who win bigger, better, and longer-term business.
You can try this exercise by yourself or, even better, with your sales team. (Remember: Two heads are better than one.)
- Select a category of accounts (or a single account) whose business you want to grow or win (e.g., the hotel industry).
- Hang sheets of flip-chart paper around the room. Allow a couple of hours for your meeting.
- As a group, make three lists for your chosen industry/account on the flip chart. On the first list, make a bulleted list of all the things that are going well for that industry. On the second list, write all the problems or challenges that specific industry faces. And on the third list, put all the trends that could affect this industry negatively or positively.
For example, flip-chart lists for the hotel industry might look like this:
- WHAT’S GOING WELL
A lot of successful renovations
A growing conference-center business
Strengthening through consolidation
Improved gourmet dining
PROBLEMS AND/OR CHALLENGES
Videoconferencing, which may reduce the need for businesspeople to visit clients in person
Signs of overbuilding
Adjusting to changing population demographics
Computer tracking of guest needs and preferences
Growth in amenities (e.g., in-room Internet access, CDs and CD players, spas)
Packages catering to families
Suite versus single-room offerings
- Next, brainstorm. For each item on the first list, ask yourself how many different things could be done to add value (e.g., an email marketing idea? sweepstakes? sponsorships? leveraging databases? or other?).
For each item on the second list, ask yourself how many different things you can do to help solve each problem (e.g., an offline tie-in that drives users to an advertiser’s site? a joint effort with another advertiser?).
And for each item on the third list, ask yourself how many different things you could do to play off each trend that occurs in the industry (e.g., develop a new size/type ad or any and/or all of the previously mentioned ideas?).
- On new flip charts, list ALL of the ideas that come up, whether they are practical or not. In true brainstorming fashion, build on one another’s ideas, and don’t immediately dismiss any. You will wind up with lots of ideas in a relatively short time.
- Once the brainstorming is complete, put your evaluation hats on. Review the ideas that you like, those that fit, those that leverage your expertise and resources, and those that will have a high bottom-line payoff.
Time Well Spent
I have facilitated several meetings where this exercise was completed, and a lot of very good ideas came from it; some of them were even implemented to successfully bring in business. In my experience, sales reps raved about how much they enjoyed the session, how much they got out of it, and how important it is for them to step back periodically to view their accounts from a broader perspective.
An added bonus was how good, both personally and professionally, it felt to give themselves the luxury of a relaxed and strategic “group think.”
Does it cost you selling time to do this? Absolutely. But in today’s competitive world, where you are only as good as your last idea, what’s the cost of not doing this exercise on a regular basis?
Here’s to successful selling!
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