Business Transformation

Commercial Executives’ Smartest Investment: What They Already Have

Dave Irwin

Current State of Growth

In today’s economy, with sales pipelines eroding due to changes in market demand and supply chain interruptions, the safest investment C-Suites can make is in their key accounts. These accounts provide tremendous growth potential because of the existing mutual economic interest both organizations have in exchanging value, a level of trust, and the need to protect and support each other.

To lean into this opportunity, commercial leaders must embrace the idea of co-creating demand with key accounts. Customers have their own problems, exacerbated by the same environmental factors affecting every organization: changes in customer needs and buying behavior. Sales and marketing, two sides of the same revenue growing coin are prominent players in this strategy shift. Turning from an internal sales-centric view to a more balanced internal and external view that monitors account needs is the pivot that can make all the difference.  

And while executives may know things aren’t working and a shift is in order, they first need to understand the reasoning behind it. According to a recent Forrester report, B2B Leaders Usher in a New Era of Sales, “73% … say members of their sales team spend over 10 hours per week forecasting and 12% spend over 20 hours per week on forecasting. Sales professionals are most effective when they are interacting with prospects and customers, curating content, and negotiating and closing deals.”  

How can sales executives possibly create solutions for moving customer needs when they are so busy forecasting the sale of products? Particularly when the need for those products has fundamentally changed.

Putting the Customer Front and Center

It’s time CEOs look at key accounts as an investment opportunity by first consolidating disparate accounting roll-ups into a global, account-centric lens including all owned companies and global regions. This will enable CEOs to see “the big picture” – where large opportunities exist – to create areas of growth that can be systematically and continuously mined with a concentrated effort. By aligning customer feedback and perspectives with an account-centric view that spans all critical stakeholders, CEOs can better visualize the opportunity from both a financial and customer perspective.

This combination view provides an “investment portfolio” construct that augments traditional sales and marketing budgets, to allow more precision-based investments, particularly in terms of people and their time.  

For too long sales and marketing budgets carried over year after year as part of selling, general and administrative expenses based on money spent in the past, regardless of revenue growth performance.  In fact, growth is often down, and expenses are up. This misguided belief tries to reinforce that if companies spend more on what they are already doing, revenue growth will increase.

The pandemic proves that this quantitative approach does not pan out. It is routine for companies to spend many times more in sales and marketing than the actual revenue growth achieved – for far too long of time periods.  When the desired growth is not achieved, companies spend more money, making sales and marketing efficiency worse.  A racing hamster getting nowhere fast.

Illuminating the Blind Spots

Like key accounts, CEOs need to refocus how they view sales and marketing, reframing it in their minds as an investment. When handling their own money in returns, they would meticulously decide where to invest.  This is where a customer view vs a market view can bring clarity to where best to invest sales and marketing expenses – in particular where salespeople are spending time. Markets don’t spend money, and neither do salespeople. Customers do. Many large-scale key accounts spend enormous amounts of money on varied capabilities organizations can offer – but most vendors don’t realize it, see it or know how to pursue it.

There are opportunities to be found in the blind spots that were created and enhanced by organizational silos, product-driven financial reporting and an antiquated approach to market-driven methods for growth. Common pitfalls to avoid include:

  • Suppliers not measuring where they are lacking in key accounts 
  • Suppliers not knowing what the many stakeholders at an account think of them or if the right people are even aware of them
  • Suppliers being incognizant of accounts’ top priorities and how quickly they evolve in today’s environment
  • Suppliers lacking a set up to solve customers’ problems through their full capabilities – instead pushing products and expecting customers to put them together themselves 
  • Suppliers’ focusing inwardly on products rather than externally on customer needs

Co-Creating with Customers

When organizations invest in sales and marketing, commercial teams can more easily co-create demand by being aware of the interests and needs of key account stakeholders and the events affecting their business. By simply recognizing these needs and being armed with an informed interest on how to help address them, companies can anticipate account needs that are not even being shopped for yet, at multiple levels of an organization. This approach is far more partner oriented from a key accounts’ point of view, to focus on important initiatives that achieve specific economic outcomes that a group of stakeholders are focused on achieving. A whole new set of opportunities exist for companies that proactively pursue achieving valuable outcomes for their key accounts rather than simply recycling canned responses to the routine requests that are made.  

Now is the time for CEOs and sales executives to illuminate where the growth is based on key capabilities. It’s time for them to find out what customer think broadly across their organization regarding their relationship, assess different buying groups and patterns within each organization, understand what problems they are focused on solving, and be proactive in engaging to solve them. This is where intelligent investment opportunities lie – within key accounts who spend the most. Because if this foundation is solid, the growth that comes along will be able to weather whatever economic storms the market or world may throw at it.


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How to Get Started With Blockchain Adoption by Isaac Kunkel.

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Dave Irwin
Dave Irwin, CEO and founder of Polaris I/O has spent decades analyzing the correlations of data and account growth. Dave has 30 years of experience in B2B as President, GM, CMO, and CSO. He is recognized as an AI, marketing, and sales enablement expert. He is also a growth leader with a strong history of innovation.


Dave Irwin is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn.