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Account Planning: Competitive Intelligence & “Seeking out Poison Pills” in key accounts

Jamie Shanks
Jamie Shanks
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knowledge is power

I was with a customer a few weeks ago who talked about his MOST HATED sales experiences – “when a key account a seller is working (new or existing account) with, and within 24 hours, the account goes from happy and excited to work with us, to CLOSED LOST to the competition”.  WTF?!  How can it change so abruptly?

The reality is that deals are won and lost primarily due to people.  People like people, people know people.  One of the largest (yet easiest risks to mitigate and/or know about) is the “social proximity” of your key accounts to competitors.  Social Proximity is the relationship between people or relationship between people and companies. 

As a sales leader, you can control this narrative.  You have the ability to see this information in LINKEDIN!  When you’re running your 1-on-1’s, you need to incorporate this information in your validation checking of top accounts.

Icarus (your seller) – how close are you flying to the sun on key account A, B, C?  Show me a relationship roadmap!

Account Planning - Seeking out Poison Pills

Above is a simple guide that you as a sales leader can use in your 1-on-1’s.

  • Develop a Risk Assessment criteria

In our experience, the simplest way to think of risk in an account is this:

  1. Are there people inside the key account who are past employees of your competitor?  If so – be afraid.  They can throw a wrench in your plan FAST!  HIGH-RISK
  2. Are there people inside the key account who are certified, project users, experienced, with your competitor’s platforms?  The closer they are to the buying committee, the more they’ll sway the vote.  MEDIUM RISK
  3. Are there people inside the key account who have high “social proximity” of LinkedIn connections to your competition?  As an example, do both of these companies share a work building and they have beer together every Thursday night?  Did your key stakeholder go to the same university as the CFO at your competition? MEDIUM RISK
  • Segment key accounts by risk profile

After using a tool as we’ve created above, the sales team segment their accounts into two simple categories (No Social Risk Known vs. Social Risk Known). This allows you to address the known accounts on a case-by-case basis. Remember we’re only talking about “social proximity” risk here, not the other factors that cause risk (poor usage/adoption, economics, budgets etc.)

  • Develop a Boolean Search string that all sellers can use on ALL accounts (scale)

After analyzing key accounts, begin to work down the pipeline. By developing Boolean Search strings, the sales team can analyze all their key accounts with a greater speed/scale.

  • Reverse-engineer key stakeholder’s social networks for competitive connections.

Don’t allow the sellers to get complacent or lazy about this step. Searching for some of the competitive intelligence details is quick with 1 overall company search. But reverse-engineering social networks takes time:

  1. First, you need to connect with key stakeholders
  2. Then you need to review their social networks (1 person at a time)
  3. Make the entire known buying committee (trust me, you can’t forget about “influencers” from cross-functional departments as an example).

Happy Hunting!

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