What is a Land and Expand Sales Strategy?

11 minute read

Have you considered a land and expand sales strategy for your business?

Landing new business is essential for growth. But new business isn’t the only key area of focus for leaders looking to bolster revenue. When focusing on driving revenue, it’s important to take a holistic view of the account. This means looking beyond the transaction and seeing the opportunity in front of you as a long-term partnership and opportunity for continued growth. 

When approached correctly, your existing customer base can be your next growth engine. Leveraging account planning can be the best way to unlock the full effect of your land and expand strategy. In this article, we’re going to explore best practices of land and expand from an account planning perspective and share real life examples and stories from sellers who have used this strategy to succeed.  

What is Land and Expand in Sales? 

A land and expand sales strategy is all about landing a deal with a new customer, and then providing excellent service and value with the goal of growing with your customer into new opportunities as they arise. Through account planning, sellers can gain deep understanding of their accounts, build relationships that matter, and target new business opportunities in existing accounts.  

Beyond executing on what is promised, sellers can seek to expand into whitespace in their accounts through different strategies and methodologies aimed at becoming a trusted advisor. It is through attaining the lofty status of “trusted advisor” that sellers can aptly position themselves to benefit from new opportunities – and get that exclusive call to the strategy table – when new needs arise.  

The Importance of a Land and Expand Strategy: Win, Retain, Grow 

Land and expand ties into core principles of account planning, account-based selling, and effective account management. It means treating your customers as not just another number in a CRM, but instead forming a relationship with them, and becoming more than just another vendor in their eyes.  

There are three core components of any effective land and expand strategy. These are winning new business, retaining that business once won, and growing net new business opportunities.  

You may not readily think of “retaining” as part of a land and expand strategy. However, knowing what it takes to retain customers is not only effective in managing key accounts – it’s effective in expanding into new areas of business within those accounts that you have carefully maintained. A relationship that has been properly developed with a strategic customer is likely to turn into additional opportunities. 

At the end of the day, a land and expand sales strategy is all about putting the relationship ahead of all other aspects of the sale.

Benefits of Account Planning in a Land and Expand Sales Strategy 

There’s a reason that land and expand is a top strategy for sellers: it works. Leveraging account planning principles in your land and expand strategy is not only helpful – to get the maximum benefit, account planning is necessary. Here are just a few of the many benefits businesses that look to land and expand can expect to gain through strategic account planning. 

Gain New Deals 

Discussion around account planning often takes place in the world of existing customers, but it can play an equally substantial role in landing new business. The same principles that organize a team around understanding and serving a current customer will also help you to stand out from the competition when wooing a potential new account.

Ensure Those Customers are Happy 

Retaining your position within an account can be as valuable as any other sales objective. Keeping your spot not only means renewal of a hard-won deal; it also means not ceding territory to a rival, as well as setting yourself up for expansion down the road. 

Account planning makes retaining your relationship with a customer possible by making you and your company indispensable in their business’ success. 

Expand Deal Footprint and Acquire New Opportunities Before Anyone Else Can  

In addition to fostering loyal customers, account planning also opens avenues for expansion within an account by giving you a clear view of where you can create the most mutual value.

Land and Expand Sales Strategy Requires Military Precision, Discipline and Dedication 

In our book, Not just Another Vendor, we highlight the story of Scott Jackson, Senior Director, Sales Enablement, Comcast Business. Scott is no stranger to the rigor and discipline required to truly land and expand new business. After all, before an illustrious career in sales he served in the U.S. Army—first as a soldier, later as an Airborne Ranger Infantry Officer. Scott’s career has grown and changed a lot since then, eventually leading to his role at Comcast where he helps sales teams develop the skills they need to win complex deals in blue chip accounts. 

Scott’s team follows the win, retain, grow mindset to business, often focusing on landing a small deal before proving value and growing with the customer. 

How Do You Land New Business? 

Land and expand has two vital components. On the one hand, it has the component of winning the deal. Sellers can use variety of means to win new business. But to do it well, and in a way that ensures further, repeat business and room for expansion, sellers need to put the relationship first from their very first encounter.  

To get this right, Scott Jackson encourages his sellers to ask these three questions over and over: 

  1. Why change? More often than not, the biggest competitor is not another vendor – it’s the pre-existing mindset permeating the buying organization. Deeply understanding your customer’s problems – even better than they do – is the only way to overcome this all-too-powerful mindset. Inertia is, after all, one of the strongest forces in the universe. 
  2. Why now? By building relationships with key people within the account, Scott’s team earns the right to start having deeper conversations about how he can work with the business, and why the time is ripe for change. 
  3. Why us? Showing differentiation from your competition is about more than the nuts and bolts of the product and a breakdown comparison between the two. It’s about building that trusted advisor relationship and intentionally thinking bigger.  

Retaining Your Position is All About the Relationship, Not the Product 

Another story Scott shares points to the importance of relationships over everything – even the product! As pointed out earlier, the ability to retain an account is vital to land and expand. After all, you can’t expand an account that you’ve lost to a competitor! 

One of Scott’s sellers had held an account for 10+ years. Rather than take it for granted over the years, he had made it a priority to establish himself as a trusted presence. At every step, he made sure that his customers knew that they were heard and understood, and that Comcast was aligned internally to help solve their problems. 

But one day, bad news arrived: The customer wasn’t renewing. They had decided they needed a different product mix—one they could only get elsewhere. 

The two sides parted ways. 

That, it seemed, was that. Until the rep got a call 16 months later. The customer was in the middle of an implementation with the other vendor, but it just wasn’t working out. The customer wanted a rep who knew how to solve their problems. They wanted Comcast back. 

“We were so well connected across the organization,” says Scott, “all the way from the seller up to our CFO. Everyone had relationships they were responsible for, not only just to cover, but also to evolve, mature, nurture and advance. That was a big part of why they came back—we knew their business and they were well covered before they walked away.” 

Ultimately, their customer decided that partnership was even more important than product. Regardless of specs, they knew that in returning to Comcast, they’d have access to a group of people working together to further their goals. And that proved to be the most valuable product capability of all. 

Where Can You Expand Your Footprint? 

For a land and expand strategy to be effective, there has to be opportunity for growth. 

One of the best strategies to ensure your ability to land and expand is to win a small deal – even if it’s not one you normally would consider qualified – if it means instilling yourself well within the account.  

One seller who was able to leverage this tactic was Sarah Walker, Managing Director, Enterprise, Cisco. 

In Sarah’s previous role she focused on a rigorous qualification process to ensure her sellers are going after the right kind of deals. When one RFP came through that didn’t quite pass muster but was in an industry that offered a lot of growth potential, Sarah was intrigued.  

Ignoring the request wasn’t an option. But bidding on something her team couldn’t win also didn’t feel right. Instead of blindly going all in or out, Sarah contacted the company and asked for an informal session with its CIO. 

After talking to the CIO and establishing a relationship, she learned that the RFP in question was just one of many to come. Even though the deal didn’t look like a great fit on paper, landing it would mean getting ahead of the competition, opening up massive opportunities down the line. 

Thanks to Sarah’s rigorous approach to qualification and uncompromising focus on relationship-building, her team created a foothold that grew by leaps and bounds. 

Use Industry Insights to Expand Business in Accounts 

Getting back to Scott, his approach to expanding business also highlights a key technique sellers can leverage when targeting accounts: bringing industry insights into play. 

“Let’s bring them the business insights we have from working in this industry and proactively tell them about what we’re seeing other grocers doing and how we can help this company create similar value,” says Scott in describing his approach. “What kinds of solutions are these other companies using that we can now sell to this brand, knowing their big-picture goals?” 

With these questions in mind, the revenue team can map out the existing opportunities in front of them. This starts by pulling a list of all the solutions similar customers are using. How many of these does the customer already have? How many are they missing? 

“We call that the solution landscape—others call it whitespace analysis, but the same ideas apply,” Scott says. 

“We’re simply trying to match what’s working and use that as a jumping-off point to expand. Once we know what they’re missing, we orient to help them see why doing more business with us and buying these products will help them accomplish their big goals and create the competitive differentiation they’re after.” 

Land and Expand Process – Nine Step Action Plan 

Putting these lessons into action is possible, and it can be done through nine main steps 

These steps cover the three principal areas discussed in the land and expand strategy – those being: win, retain, and grow  

  1. Form relationships with the right people – this can be through executive sponsor programs (in Scott’s case they used a program called Exec Connect) or through existing relationships your team has.  
  2. Seek deep customer knowledge – understand your customers’ businesses as well as they do or better! 
  3. Align with customer’s priorities by understanding what they need and proposing novel solutions that they themselves might not have even thought of.  
  4. Leverage the whole team and their knowledge to ensure customers’ needs are met. 
  5. Deliver consistent value through internal collaboration, thereby avoiding random, uncoordinated contact, making sure everyone contributes to the relationship. 
  6. Build trust through focusing on customer priorities, providing real value, and creating a wide set of relationships with the people who matter.  
  7. Understanding your customers’ business priorities enables you to understand your customer’s business priorities and ensures you are seen as a trusted advisor. This way, you’ll know about the latest opportunities as they come up. 
  8. Think steps ahead to ensure you are solving all of your customers’ priorities and showing you are there for the long haul. 
  9. Take what you learn into the next opportunity by showing what great looks like in their industry and showcasing the best practices, solutions trends and other insights customers can use to help move the needle.  

Final Thoughts

Gaining a deep understanding of your customers allows you to see where products fit in the larger narrative that is motivating your buyers. This enables you to successfully land that new deal, retain it, and then eventually grow it. Like these sellers, if you seek to put the relationship first, and gather your entire team behind that one noble goal, you can also benefit from unexpected, run-away success.  

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