When I share my “Not-So-Sweet 16 Reasons Salespeople Fail at New Business Development” with new client sales teams, this issue usually generates the most angry faces in the audience. No one shoots spitballs at me when I point out failure resulting from a lack of focus against a strategic, finite target account list. And everyone smiles when I make fun of a long, boring, self-focused “sales story” that neither grabs a prospect’s attention nor differentiaties us from competition. But when I raise my voice and emphatically state that an obsession with babysitting and over-serving existing customers is one of the most common and damaging reasons salespeople fail to develop new business, it tends to make underperforming reps uncomfortable or defensive. Then the hands start going up…
“Mike, are you saying that it’s possible to invest too much time and energy taking care of my best customers?” Yes I am! Unashamedly.
Too many salespeople love to babysit their favorite accounts. And on the surface, it all sounds so innocent. “I sold it; I’m responsible.” Or another favorite, “They trust/need me. If I don’t take care of this, who will?” Listen, I’m all in favor of taking care of our existing customers. But here’s the harsh truth: Way too many salespeople use this an excuse to never get around to prospecting. They live for the affirmation and good feelings that come from serving their accounts. They’re thrilled to over-serve these customers – particularly because they appear too busy to pursue new business.
Everyone gets it. It’s easier talking to someone you know. It doesn’t take a lot of proactive thinking to respond to a request from an important client. Plus, it feels good. It feels productive. Who could blame a salesperson for delivering outstanding service to a customer? However, in company after company, what I typically see is that the salesperson most offended by my premise that he spends way too much time babysitting existing accounts is almost always the very same rep failing miserably when it comes to hitting his new business development goals.
This is not an easy topic. The conventional hybrid hunter-farmer sales role has many challenges. All I can do is point out what I see. There is a significant opportunity cost when an account management-leaning sales rep spends 95% of the time serving existing customers. Honestly, a role where that much time is spent managing current business sounds a whole lot more like a customer service position than a sales role.