What is whitespace in business?
Surprisingly tricky to measure, sales whitespace is the existing opportunity within customer accounts to cross-sell and up-sell. Once your team has done the hard work of cultivating a relationship, instilling themselves as a trusted advisor, and landing and expanding a deal, without a strategy to target whitespace effectively, they are not reaping 100% of the fruit of their labor. Still, most companies undervalue this critical sales channel, often to the point where they haven’t even set up key performance indicators (KPIs) around it.
Whitespace is the most overlooked sales channel
Failing to target whitespace in existing accounts can be a major mistake. After all, existing customers are often the best source of new revenue gains.
No matter how great your sales team is and how many new prospects they bring in the door, it’s always easier and more cost-effective to upsell existing customers. Your customers already know you, see value in what you offer, and know you’re likely to better understand and predict what they’ll need and want as they grow.
Here are a few reasons why sales leaders should carefully consider targeting whitespace in accounts:
- Existing customers already have a relationship with you.
- They will be more likely to buy again from you, as long as you’ve built a strong relationship.
- Smaller to medium-sized accounts may not be your key accounts, but they offer the strongest growth potential.
- Targeting whitespace in accounts sets you up to grow with your customers.
Why do so many businesses fail to target whitespace?
Think of the metrics commonly tracked by businesses — from bookings, to billings, to their backlog, conversion rates, deal sizes, renewals, NPS, and more. What’s often missing? Tracking pipeline potential from the existing customer base.
Given targeting your whitespace is one of the most proven ways to grow net new revenue, it seems like a startling error that so many businesses fail to target it successfully. But there are several reasons why this happens.
Relationships aren’t a priority for sellers
Many sellers are still trapped in the age-old mindset that lone wolves are the strongest sellers. Predatory sales practices aren’t effective at building strong relationships, and they certainly don’t enable sellers to target whitespace down the line.
Instead of looking for easy wins, sellers who establish strong relationships with customers are at an advantageous place to grow revenue in their existing accounts.
Sellers focus on product over relationships
As you can see, poor relationships are at the heart of missed opportunities in targeting whitespace. A common issue sellers face occurs when they focus only on selling their product at the expense of understanding the real challenges their buyers face.
Sellers show up with a list of features and matrices that show X being greater than Y, gather minimum information, take what information they do have and put into the form of a proposal, shoot that proposal to their prospect, then move onto their next target.
However, this is not the basis for a strong, mutually beneficial relationship. By asking questions, and seeking to understand deeper motivations, sellers can solve challenges their buyers themselves weren’t even aware they faced.
Sales teams focus only on key accounts
Even in a strategic, account based selling approach, sales teams often get blinded by their most strategic accounts, and neglect to target the whitespace in their accounts that don’t make the top tier. In some ways, this is understandable. Key accounts are your biggest spenders and can be the bedrock for your sales organization.
However, they are often not where the biggest growth opportunities come from. Sellers that have a consistent, daily approach to targeting whitespace in their second-tier accounts and below will unlock hidden growth others will simply overlook.
Benefits of targeting whitespace – real world example
Targeting whitespace in accounts is not just a theory – it’s a proven sales strategy that gets big results.
In our recent book, Not Just Another Vendor, we highlight the story of one sales leader, Todd Adair, MHCL, Southeast Zone Commercial Manager, GE Healthcare, and how he embodied this change of mindset in order to unlock unparalleled growth in his accounts.
“In the past, our sales approach could be boiled down to three steps: here’s why you need my technology, here’s how to justify it, and now I’ll find a way to fit it into your problem,” he says.
Today, that’s been flipped on its head. “Now it’s completely different. Now we say: ‘What’s wrong with what you’re doing today? Why change? Why now? And over the course of the next six to 12 months, here’s why you should partner with me to help solve that problem.’”
Since beginning this new approach to sales, Todd and his colleagues have carefully measured the data to track how the 70-plus accounts managed under account planning principles that target whitespace fare against the rest of the accounts within the business that run with a more traditional approach. As it happens, those accounts reliably outperform, averaging 9% yearly growth, compared with 5–6% from the accounts managed more traditionally.
Whitespace Analysis – key outcomes from targeting whitespace in accounts
Increased account penetration boosts revenue
Even as account planning, account-based selling, cross-selling, and upselling are buzzwords in professional services and other B2B industries, there is often needs to be a better handle on how much opportunity exists in current accounts, or how the company is performing on delivering against that upside. Overlook this at your own peril. New logos are increasingly difficult to land as many companies pull back from trying new products or services in an effort to survive a tougher business environment.
Businesses have a better chance of selling to existing customers
According to a recent study, companies have a 60-70% chance of selling to an existing customer vs. a 5-20% chance of selling to a new customer. This could partly account for the fact that 65% of a company’s business comes from existing customers.
Your existing customers are more likely to buy from you. Again, that’s only if you’ve established the right kind of relationship. But if Todd’s story teaches you anything, it’s that it’s not too late to change. You can always seek to rebuild a stronger relationship, even if attempts to do so have been lax in the past.
Net new revenue from existing customers is cheaper
One of the most readily abundant reasons to target whitespace in accounts is that revenue acquired from existing customers is cheaper than acquiring a new business. According to Forbes, studies have found that it could cost you five to seven times more to acquire revenue from new customers as from existing ones.
If that doesn’t motivate you to build an effective whitespace practice into your daily sales motion, what will?
Whitespace analysis and targeting net new revenue in customer accounts
Targeting whitespace in existing accounts has clear benefits. But how do you ensure you are able to target it effectively?
Doing so requires a combination of understanding the people at play within accounts, collaboration on account plans throughout the revenue team, and leveraging advanced software to help sellers take actionable steps.
We’re going to walk you through several critical steps to ensure you are targeting the existing potential in customer accounts.
First, you need to look beyond key accounts.
Not all accounts are created equal when it comes to whitespace. Many offer more opportunities to grow than others.
In our recent webinar, we discussed how oftentimes lower priority accounts, those that aren’t key accounts, are where the most revenue growth can come from.
Sellers need strategies to target these opportunities in these accounts. One way our customers have done this is to take what’s working for their key accounts and walking their smaller accounts through it.
Second, you need to discover who matters
In order for your efforts to grow revenue in accounts through whitespace analysis, you need to first understand who matters in those accounts. If you don’t know which players have the power to influence buying decisions, then you will likely fail in your attempts to get maximum ROI from your efforts to target whitespace.
There are several key ways you can identify who the key stakeholders in the buying group are, and we’ll get into each important process below.
Start with influence mapping to discover who holds the power
Influence mapping helps you understand the inner workings of your account, and flank against the competition, so that these expanding buying groups don’t catch you off guard.
For more information on how to use influence mapping to identify the people that matter in your accounts, read our guide.
Try Relationship mapping to begin forming your strategy
Influence mapping focuses on the relative power or influence of different stakeholders. Relationship mapping, however, focuses on the nature of the relationships between stakeholders. It identifies the different types of relationships and the strength of those relationships. This information can be used to help your revenue team form a strategy to win over detractors to your side, and enable champions to lead the path to least resistance.
For more information on how you can better understand the relationships at play in your high growth accounts, read our relationship mapping guide.
Finally, uncovering insights will help you grow into the whitespace
As you work through an account you will undoubtedly come across countless insights into the stakeholders you are looking to win over to your side. The problem is, it can be nearly impossible to leverage those countless insights.
They get lost. Or they exist in a spreadsheet somewhere.
You need strong software solutions to turn these countless, important insights into actionable, daily sales activities. Unfortunately, few solutions exist today that can handle all of these complexities and distill them into actionable steps that complement your seller’s workflows.
Whitespace technology to help you uncover untapped potential
Now that you see what it takes to target and understand whitespace in accounts, it’s time to take action. To do that, however, you need to be backed by the right process, methodology and technology.
And that’s a tall order – a software solution that will help your team collaborate while uncovering hidden lines of influence, understanding and visualizing relationships, while documenting every incremental insight that adds up to big wins. The right solution needs to be capable of all this while also showing where your solutions have been deployed, which accounts are the prime targets for your suite of products or services, and guiding your sellers with daily actions towards making the maximum impact in their existing customer accounts.
That’s a mouthful. But in the process of seeking out the right technology to complement your efforts, you should be looking for a solution that doesn’t over complicate your seller’s jobs. It should be one that makes your seller’s jobs easier – one that creates the conditions in which they are able to thrive beyond what they could ever manage on their own.
“The magic of account planning technology comes from its ability to translate the big account planning principles we’ve been talking about into real, day-to-day activities that can be carried out by your revenue teams.” – Nigel Cullington, VP of Marketing, Upland Sales Effectiveness, Not Just Another Vendor.
The right software will help you visualize whitespace in accounts
As we’ve said, most sophisticated B2B sales leaders and organizations can’t clearly report KPIs around whitespace and the potential pipeline from current accounts. The information they need is locked in silos: individual spreadsheets, brains, and regional QBR roll-ups. It’s hidden in marketing campaigns or upsell and cross-sell motions that don’t clearly track interactions at the sales region, product portfolio, or line of business level.
Most sales reviews and account summaries lack a standard way to capture potential pipeline or whitespace opportunity, much less customer needs and pain points. Giving visibility to and measuring whitespace opportunities is the first step to developing an account strategy to unlock more revenue in your key customer accounts.
Imagine being able to discern how much potential for upsell you have across all accounts, and then setting up metrics and goals to win that business?
For example, as the sales leader of multi-product company, being able to quickly see not only active pipeline and existing business under contract, but also a summary view of new potential pipeline for a large multi-national account with multiple business lines and multiple geographies. From the summary view you can rapidly dig into the details to see a whitespace analysis that summarizes all the different business lines and all the open whitespace where you can concentrate sales and marketing efforts to unlock new potential.
This whitespace view and potential pipeline should be in your CRM, not trapped in Excel.
Here’s what the right technology will do for your sellers, in addition to targeting whitespace in accounts
In addition to giving you this ability to visualize whitespace in accounts, the right technology will:
- Keep sellers on track by bringing your organization’s best practices into their daily sales motions
- Encourage collaboration across teams by centralizing information and offering actionable guidance
- Foster more numerous, better relationships by helping teams see who they know, who they should know, and what key members of the account want and need
- Drive more pipeline and higher-velocity sales by visualizing whitespace, insights, and deal progress
- Make sellers’ jobs easier and more efficient because it is simple to use and quick to adopt across the organization.
Now is the time to target whitespace in accounts
In the current business landscape, targeting cross-sell and upsell opportunities in existing accounts couldn’t be more imperative.
According to Anne Slough, Principle Analyst at Forester, we are actually seeing a return to face-to-face selling, and the vital importance of existing customers to a business’s bottom line.
“As economic uncertainty continues to loom, a renewed focus on expansion, cross-sell, and upsell opportunities will create demand for deep relationship building through a customer-obsessed lens” says Slough. This means that effective sales strategies are resetting, putting a renewed emphasis on relationships and existing account pipeline as an important KPI.” – Ann Slough, Forester.
In a business environment like this, it is critical that sales and customer service teams have a deep understanding of their existing customers and their problems. Gathering that vital information and translating it into actionable steps towards better relationships will defend and grow revenue in your account.
After all, the best defense is a good offense. Account planning can and should be viewed as a way to defend the existing customer base, where the real opportunity is to use account planning as a proactive strategy to invest in existing customers and relationships. Deep insight, a focus on customers, and the ability to visualize whitespace are critical elements to unlock new potential and growth.
By breaking this information out of silos so it can be collected and shared, sales can form a thesis around each existing customer, furthering their sales with a better understanding of customer goals and how the company can help. That’s how to visualize whitespace and use it to shape upsell and cross-sell opportunities.
Those sales leaders and teams who can track, monitor, and clearly articulate potential pipeline as a KPI are on the right track to deliver revenue growth in any economic environment.