Can tech solve all the challenges with Mutual Action Plans?

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Maybe, maybe not. I am afraid to be contradicting the reason for our genesis and eventual existence.

Today, we live in a world where we do not hesitate to throw tech at each problem. Because the odds are in favor of tech. The COVID-19 pandemic has ensured that tech is looked up to as a white-glove option for all problem-solving. Even industries and functions that could excuse themselves from tech interventions yielded.

What role can technology play in aiding the importance of mutual action plans (MAP)? Gartner has been punching high in this matter.

The Gartner Mayhemic Post

Gartner updates its post on Sales Tech Mayhem and Mutual Action Mania. The recent update came a week ago. Via Sales tech mayhem, Gartner describes how the sales tech market is falling into a narrow list of alpha vendors with wide portfolios of capabilities. The crowded wide sales tech landscape set is seeing some semblance of order.

The Alpha platforms (like Salesforce) are big entrenched vendors with market dominance in their primary sales tech category. These platforms are now consolidating the market further by acquiring companies in adjacent categories besides direct category competitors. Thus adding to the M&A mayhem.

The degree of the sales tech mayhem is highlighted by Gartner with the example of tech-enabled mutual action plans. It is the latest sales tech category to see M&A mayhem. According to Gartner, despite being in its very early stages, 60% of the mutual action plan tech-enabled market has already been acquired. 60% - let that number sink in.

But, why? It is only natural to question this market-shaking phenomenon.

  • Is there a strong use case to tech-enable mutual action plans? Or is the current euphoria only about searching for a new category to impact with technology?
  • Why are mutual action plans seeing increasing interest from tech vendors and start-ups?
  • Will stand-alone vendors do justice to the category? Or are alpha vendors best placed to deliver?

In this post, we delve only into the first question and seek some answers. But, first a quick refresher on mutual action plans.

Mutual action plans

A mutual action plan (MAP) is a non-binding shared document between the buyer and seller to drive alignment towards an end goal with clear responsibilities and timelines. The MAP is owned by the seller. It is a best practice to improve the odds of creating value. Unfortunately, MAPs slip to become internal compliance checklists for selling teams. The BuyerAssist blog has argued before for calling mutual action plans, mutual success plans. From a buyer's perspective, MAP becomes a compelling asset if it focuses on their outcomes and the action plan to get to their outcomes. But by design MAPs end when the contract is signed. That is why MAPs see very little adoption by the buyer and by extension the seller. Here is a little perspective on the challenges confronting mutual action plans.

Challenges with mutual action plans

The raison d'etre for mutual actions plans is ‘buyer success.’ Nothing else matters. It is indispensable for mutual success plans to deliver value to customers/buyers. The biggest challenge mutual action plans face is - not difficult to guess - adoption. The Gartner mutual action plan mayhem blog also called out this challenge. Gartner says, “It’s hard enough to achieve seller adoption. With mutual action plans, you have to hit an adoption “triple”: the seller, the buyer, and the sales manager.”

The BuyerAssist buyer engagement blog has continued to make a case for a more expanded view of buyer success. A view that covers not just the buying and selling teams but also implementation teams, users and renewal teams. This is why the BuyerAssist product philosophy is centered around “buyer success” that permeates teams beyond buying and selling. It also requires participating teams to think of a “mutual success plan” and not just a “mutual action plan.” Tech-enabled mutual success plans could help buyer-side implementation teams do away with disparate project management tech stacks. This in turn could help buyer organizations get a 360-degree view of the overall impact thus facilitating objective renewal decisions. This blog will write more on this subject in a later post.

To understand the overall challenges better, we need to get a perspective of issues that prevail across many levels.

  • Seller
  • Buyer
  • Buyer Seller collaboration

At each of the above levels, drivers and priorities differ and change.

Seller

The seller/AE can make or break the MAP. Without a doubt, the seller has to demonstrate leadership in owning, initiating, driving, and closing the MAP. The seller’s leadership drive depends on the following:

  • Selling org’s sales strategy
  • Seller preparedness via sales coaching

Sales Strategy

Seller’s leadership in seeing through the MAP is a function of the MAP’s role in the selling strategy. If the customer segments catered to are small businesses, then the relevance of MAP to the selling strategy may be questioned. When relevant, the mutual action plan is best scaffolded by an updated MAP template. Software to enable MAP could help without distracting the seller with the operational rigor of data capture and sales notes updates. Lastly and importantly, the end goal of the MAP should be ROI/customer value and not ‘contract signed.’ A goal not aligned with ROI/value will hinder the seller’s ability to prove leadership.

The role of technology in enabling sales is now proven and hygiene. Specifically to mutual action plans, many point solutions are emerging. Some have already been acquired. Thus, there is an opportunity for software to play an enabler at two levels. One, across the sales spectrum encompassing MAPs and two, at the specific level of implementing mutual action plans.

Sales Coaching

Selling teams can never have enough coaching. Just the MAPs will not ensure accurate sales forecasting and predictable sales. MAPs will need effective sales coaching to see adoption. MAPs demand active buyer-seller collaboration. It is a deemed team effort. It calls on the seller to demand action from the buyer. Sellers are reluctant to ask buyers to do the work. Coaching should empower sellers to be unabashed. The intent of this blog isn’t to get into the details of MAP sales coaching, but only to highlight the need for it. MAP coaching isn’t just to ensure successful adoption and implementation at the seller level. Effective sales coaching on mutual action plans will also go a long way in progressing towards decision intelligence selling (DQ Selling).

Software in the form of gamification, CRM, and LMS is already part of the sales tool kits. But these are capable of impacting MAP adoption but only indirectly.

The challenge only increases when we take the buyer’s perspective. Buyer enablement maturity of the buying organization would determine the degree of the challenge. Seller’s knowledge, skills, and behaviors are also critical. Sellers are expected to recognize and establish buyer preparedness for meaningful engagement throughout the mutual action plan. Because the buyer isn’t getting it easy.

Buyer

The buyer is focused completely on solving the problem for the buying organization. In this pursuit, the buyer is interested in finding the best vendor out there. It would be unreasonable to assume that the buyer should think from the seller’s point of view. It may be the last thing on the buyer’s mind. Not everything is lost though. Buyers have already acknowledged the complexity of the buying process and could do with some help. The buyer’s willingness to align with the mutual action plan process would be a function of the following:

  • Clarity on desired value outcomes
  • Internal RFP process
  • Size and constitution of the buying group

This component of the MAP process is still tricky for technology intervention. Because the MAP is initiated at the seller’s end, the software interface originates at the seller’s end. Software vendors are confronted with the following question:

“How do we get the seller and buyer on the same platform with negligible onboarding effort?”

The ubiquitous use of Alpha CRM platforms (e.g. Salesforce) combined with frictionless integrations to enable collaboration holds the potential to make MAPs successful value drivers.

Tech me, Tech me not

Technology has a role to play in enabling mutual action plans. But not everything around MAP success can be left to technology. Technology can provide the bedrock to drive the single source of truth during the buying and selling process. MAP enablement software will automatically capture data points thus driving process improvement. The data will also bring in much-needed transparency between the buyer and the seller thus driving accountability.

But not everything can be left to technology.

There are other variables too - market maturity, culture, and the buyer.

This article is being reprinted from BuyerAssist with their permission.

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