While many account managers are quick to voice their desire to become a “trusted advisor” or “valued partner” to their key customers, they are mistaken in believing that periodic, well defined and publicly completed sales opportunities will serve as effective pathways.  Savvy account managers don’t strive for incremental growth year-over-year, they are obsessed with developing a powerful green field strategy that expands significantly their contacts and contributions within key accounts.

Last week, we explored:

This week, we examine:

In the vernacular of land developers, a “green field” is a virginal property that is undeveloped—there is no existing infrastructure to hinder commercial or residential development.  In account management, we often use “green field” to describe the unexplored and undefined area of opportunity in a buying organization.

A green field strategy is a penetration plan designed to broach a virginal or undeveloped area of sales opportunity.  When we think of a green field, we think of two defining elements: c-suite conversations that explore enterprise level opportunities or threats not fully defined or clearly in focus.  These same two characteristics make many account managers uncomfortable.  First, they don’t know or have immediate access to the people included in the conversation.  Second, the challenge is ill defined. “If the senior executives of the organization don’t know what they want to do, how will I be able to create a viable sales opportunity?”

What Are the Building Blocks in Crafting a Green Field Strategy?

  1. Discover the Squawk

Crafting a green field strategy begins by understanding the issues, challenges, opportunities or threats that are troubling the senior leadership team of your buying organization.  Is there an internal “trigger event?” Has a new competitive threat surfaced? Are there new market headwinds that jeopardize financial growth?  Think about consolidation, cyber security, data analytics, industry regulations, cloud computing.  Each one of these topics may be creating a “green field” of opportunity that’s ignored by account managers.

This requires more than an “ear to the ground” approach; it takes a patient and persistent discovery process. Look for clues in their PR releases and develop internal coaches who meet with senior executives or hear the aftermath of their conversations. What questions are they asking in LinkedIn discussion groups? What topics are driving them to attend conferences?  Are they considering hiring consultants? If so, what’s the area of specialization?

  1. Identify The Customer’s Obstacles

Think for a moment about why senior executives have difficulty acting on an opportunity or threat.  Why not just define an initiative and assign a team to design and implement an action plan?  There are several reasons why these conversations (no matter how exciting or threatening) don’t lead to a swift and definable initiative:

  1. Explore Change Models

 Where are there precedents for addressing these green field issues? What accounts, internal specialists or professional organizations can provide insight into the change process.

Senior executives are looking for insight in three areas:

  1. Share Hidden Resources

Connect your customer with consultants or technical experts who can provide insight. What resources can the selling organization provide?

Many corporations sponsor executive briefings tailored to specific issues troubling their customers.  For example, a selling organization could arrange a several hour executive briefing (webcast with open discussion) on healthcare analytics highlighting a single case study.

Many years ago, a colleague was addressing a large group of sales executives at a national meeting.  At the end of the presentation a sales representative asked a question, “How do I discover the value I bring to my customer?”  Our friend offered the following advice: “There are three ways of providing value.  First, you can help your customer discover a threat or opportunity that was hidden. Second, you can help your customer discover a solution that was hidden. Or, third you can help your customer discover resources that were hidden.”

What Questions Can Guide Development of a Green Field Strategy?

Pursuit of green field opportunities in a key or prospective account may require months of effort to yield benefits to the selling organization.  Every strategy will be different but there are fundamental questions that should be considered in developing a green field strategy.

In developing and pursuing a green field strategy there are three essentials. First, build a strong contact base that will permit access to one or more senior executives.  Second, bring relevant expertise to the party.  A green field strategy requires strong teams and partnerships. Third, be persistent and patient.  You will need to plant and cultivate before harvesting your green field.

Parting Thoughts

There is an old story told about Zig Ziglar that is worth retelling.  At the end of one of his seminars Zig was approached by a man who said, “ Mr. Ziglar, I’ve read all your books and tried to implement your ideas but I just don’t seem to sell more than before.  What would you recommend?”  Zig gave the man a formula that we should all heed.  He said, “Stop selling and go help someone.”

That’s a perfect guideline for crafting a green field strategy.  We need to understand our customer’s needs, priorities and timeframes—then find the resources and insight essential in driving green field opportunities.  First you help; then you sell.

As always we welcome your thoughts and input. Feel free to start a discussion.