Account reviews – essential sales processes or time-wasting conflicts?

sales account reviewAs most sales professionals will attest to, account reviews to discuss and decide next steps in a major deal can take up a huge amount of very valuable time. While in theory these sessions are designed to help determine the current status, potential threats and possible opportunities (SWOT if you like), in reality they can sometimes be a waste of time, particularly if no clear agenda is set. So why is this?

In my years in sales leadership where I’ve run hundreds of account reviews – and even before that as a quota carrying sales rep – this issue has been front of mind. If I’m completely honest, I don’t know how many times these sessions actually achieved the intended outcome. In fact, more often than not they fell into two ‘buckets’:

  • Bucket 1: highly confrontational and argumentative with opinions being thrown around by people with no knowledge of the account being reviewed
  • Bucket 2: “happy ears” sessions where a successful salesperson presents and no one asks a hard question.

However, I’ve recently been reading a brilliant book – Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – that I think presents some very practical techniques to solving this problem and getting account reviews to deliver on their promise.

Assumptions vs. Facts: the impact of too little preparation

If we take a step back and consider the issue in question, the major barrier to success is that quite often in an account review the sales team feels the need to assert their knowledge of the client in front of their manager and peers. On top of this, a lack of preparation often results in out of date or incomplete data being presented, which can, in turn, create over-confident statements being made. This situation is further exacerbated if other people in the meeting then decide to be aggressive towards, or critical of, the sales team.

In this hostile atmosphere, assumptions can easily be presented as facts as individuals feel unable to admit they don’t know the answer. The reviewing team takes these assumptions as facts and collectively makes recommendations about actions and tactics, which leads to faulty decisions being made.

Halo Effect

This is a somewhat obvious problem but In Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman describes the “Halo Effect” where, if the sales team is liked and they present confidently, then the reviewing team tends to believe everything they say irrespective of its accuracy.  This problem is made worse by the fact that when we are in a good mood we are less likely to analyse what we are seeing or hearing. This is equally likely to lead to faulty decisions in the review meeting.

Confirmation Bias

Another issue is what Kahneman describes as the “confirmation bias” meaning that we have a tendency to form a view and no matter what evidence is presented to the contrary we simply see it all as reinforcing – or confirming – our original view.

Three ways to make account reviews deliver success

So how can sales leaders ensure that review meetings deliver the required outcomes to progress the sale and mitigate risks?

  1. Make time for and encourage proper preparation:

If we want to get everything we need from these sessions, we simply can’t carry on making decisions based on assumptions. Instead, we need to:

  • Meet multiple customer stakeholders to probe for the deal status and then triangulate the answers to form a real fact-based assessment of opportunities and threats
  • Know how current the data is from the customer
  • Ask our resellers for their assessment
  • Power map the stakeholders involved and their influencers
  1. Set strict session rules & guidelines and make sure they are followed

These can include directions such as:

  • Facts must be identified and separated from opinions or assumptions
  • All views are valid in the review session
  • Any opinions for a brainstorm are to be written down in advance and discussed by the group. This particular advice will help avoid one person dominating discussions
  • Finally, the leader must be made aware that once they express their opinion the group will tend to adopt this as the best option – so it can sometimes work in everyone’s favour if they withhold their views until later on in discussions.
  1. Avoiding happy ears

In sessions where they is a high degree of confidence and expectation of success in an account, try using Gary Klein’s pre-mortem technique which asks people to imagine a future date when the account is actually lost and assess why that might happen based on what is known today.

For those sales leaders wanting to see greater success from account review, then, I’d definitely recommend reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It does take a little time to digest and then figure what to apply – but at least I’ve started the job for you!!