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The Missing Sales Metric That Can Mean CEOs’ Success Or Failure

No matter how great your sales team is, it’s always easier and more cost effective to upsell existing customers. That's doubly true in 2020.

As business leaders know, what doesn’t get tracked doesn’t get done.

So what if I told you that the metric tied to the life or death of many B2B companies during this crazy 2020 pandemic moment might have been a big blind spot for companies of all sizes — middle market up to the Fortune 500?

Think of the metrics commonly tracked by businesses — from bookings, to billings, to their backlog, conversion rates, deal sizes, renewals, NPS and more. What’s often missing? Tracking pipeline potential from the existing customer base.

Even as account planning, cross-selling and upselling are buzzwords in professional services and other B2B industries, there is often not a great handle on how much opportunity exists in current accounts, or how the company is performing on delivering against that upside.

Overlook this at your peril in 2020. New logos are going to be more difficult to land as many companies pull back from trying new services while trying to survive a tougher business environment.

The most overlooked sales channel

No matter how great your sales team is and how many new prospects they bring in the door, it’s always easier and more cost effective to upsell existing customers. They already know you, they already see value in what you offer and you’re likely able to better understand and predict what they’ll need and want as they grow.

Still, most companies undervalue this critical sales channel, often to the point where they haven’t even set up key performance indicators around it.

And many company leaders know it’s a missing element. According to Gartner, only 28% of sales leaders say they’re meeting their cross-selling and upselling growth targets. In Altify’s 2019 revenue optimization benchmark, only 46% of companies reported being effective at maximizing opportunity in existing accounts. This is a massive missed opportunity.

So, leaders know they are leaving money on the table. The reason is often an inconsistent approach to account planning, which includes gathering the relevant data to see the opportunity.

This is where the devil lies: it’s the detail, the minutiae that’s only found in direct customer interactions and on-the-ground work that too often goes unnoticed by the company at large.

This unseen opportunity is sometimes called “the whitespace” — the products and services of yours that your current customers aren’t using, but could. This is where there’s room to unlock lots of potential. It may seem obvious—but too often, it just isn’t done.

While sophisticated B2B sales leaders and organizations have been doing account planning for years, most can’t clearly report KPIs around this whitespace and the potential pipeline from current accounts. The information they need is locked in silos: individual spreadsheets, individuals’ brains and regional QBR roll-ups. It’s hidden in marketing campaigns or upsell and cross-sell motions that don’t clearly track interactions at the sales region, product portfolio or line of business level. Most sales reviews and account summaries lack a standard way to capture potential pipeline or whitespace opportunity, much less capturing customer needs and pain points. Unlocking and tracking whitespace opportunities is the first step to developing an account strategy to unlock more revenue in your key customer accounts.

Imagine being able to discern how much potential for upsell you had across all accounts, and then set up measures and goals against winning that business. For example, imagine as the CEO of multi-product company being able to log into Salesforce and see quickly at a glance not just the active pipeline and existing business under contract, but also a summary view of new potential pipeline for a large multi-national account with multiple business lines and multiple geographies. From a summary view you can quickly dig into the details to see a whitespace view that shows you a summary of all the different business lines where your team is working today, and all the open whitespace where you have space to concentrate sales and marketing efforts to unlock new potential. This whitespace view and potential pipeline should be in your CRM, not trapped in Excel.

It’s easier than it sounds. Many key account teams and enterprise sales teams do a lot of this account planning work today, but it’s trapped in PPT, Word, Excel, not captured in a system that shows everyone the real potential. You need to be able to see and measure the footprint of these existing relationships, and then surface that detail to outline the active opportunities. Somehow you need to be able to gather all of these disparate elements scattered across your company and then visualize the whitespace in the middle of it all.

Often it’s the technical experts, professional services team, customers success and support members who have valuable customer insights that can catalyze the existing pipeline and unlock new opportunities. They all need a seat at the table to contribute to account plans and account reviews.

Now is the time to go deep on current accounts

Covid-19 and shelter-in-place orders have changed the game for sales teams, putting a renewed emphasis on the basics of B2B selling and turning new attention to this existing account pipeline as an important KPI.

Here’s the good news: No matter how you perform in upselling, this exercise won’t be in vain. In a business environment like this, it is critical that sales and customer service teams have a deep understanding of their existing customers and their problems. Gathering that information up and looking at it will pay off regardless. After all, the best defense is a good offense. Account planning can and should be viewed as a way to defend the existing customer base.

But the real opportunity is to use it as a proactive strategy to invest in existing customers and relationships. Deep insight and focus on customers and the ability to visualize the whitespace are critical to unlock new potential and growth.

By breaking this information out of silos so it can be collected and shared, the organization can form a thesis around each existing customer, taking sales strategy a step further to better understand customer goals and how the company can help. That’s how you visualize whitespace and use it to outline the upselling and cross-selling opportunity.

Those business leaders who can track, monitor and clearly articulate potential pipeline as a KPI are on the right track to deliver revenue growth in any sales environment. Even in 2020.


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