How to use mutual action plans for sales success

Posted January 14, 2022

By Serena Miller

Editor, Sales Best Practices at Outreach

Although modern buyers are typically well-informed and savvy purchasers, experts believe that buying has become more difficult than selling. In fact, in a survey of 250 B2B customers, 77% rated their latest purchase experience as extremely complex or difficult.

Today's buyers struggle to navigate data security requirements, stakeholder consensus building, and complex internal processes that often include legal and other unfamiliar administrative asks.

This paradigm shift means buyers have higher expectations of sales reps than they did in the past. Sales reps need to go beyond just selling to enable B2B buyers to overcome their challenges at each key decision point.

A mutual action plan is a framework to help sales teams anticipate and address buyer pain points. It's a strategic tool that helps you prioritize serious buyers, collaborate with them, and take the deal from a theoretical discussion point to the finish line with ease.

What is a mutual action plan?

A mutual action plan (MAP) is a document created in partnership between the seller and buyer that outlines crucial steps, milestones, and deadlines required to complete the buying process. Also referred to as a joint execution plan, mutual success plan, mutual evaluation plan, or close plan, it helps bring visibility and alignment to the priorities and timelines involved with the buying process.

Since selling and buying organizations typically have different deal life cycles and processes, the MAP is essential to laying out how the diverging processes overlap and how stakeholders from both sides can collaborate to expedite the final sale. For instance, the MAP might indicate that the buyer needs their legal team to sign off on security compliance and the seller has to provide supporting data to fulfill this requirement.

At the time of the MAPs creation, the buyer already has the intent to purchase. However, there is often still uncertainty about what needs to be done and when to complete the buying process. This lack of clarity can cause the sale to drag on, causing frustration for both sides. This is why it is in the seller's best interest to initiate the creation of a MAP.

For a mutual action plan to be successful, the document must have:

  • Clear definition of tasks and milestones, roles and responsibilities, and deadlines. This helps promote ownership, accountability, and faster deal closure.
  • Active engagement from the customer. A MAP should be a real solution to the customer’s pain points, not a just theoretical and one-sided plan for the seller.

In essence, a MAP creates a shared buying process in which the seller shifts focus from how to sell to how to help the buyer buy, and the buyer gets assistance in the form of a concrete plan.

Why does the sales team need a mutual action plan?

A MAP is as much a conversation and communication tool between the seller and buyer as it is a deal closing plan. It lends the clarity often missing in a deal lifecycle and helps the seller understand the pulse of the customer at all stages. Let's look at a few ways in which a MAP can make a difference:

Accelerated sales cycle

The buying process is long and complex. The Gartner buyer survey reports that a typical buying group consists of six to 10 stakeholders, each of whom consults four to five sources of information. It takes time for them to arrive at a consensus, with 95% of the buying groups revisiting decisions as new information emerges. A MAP bridges these conflicts and expedites the sales cycle.

a MAP keeps keeps. The Success Plan is the project plan for transacting the deal and repository for all resources, meetings and recordings, so if a new AE is assigned to a deal, they can quickly get up to speed and keep the deal rolling.

Standardization with templates

While a proactive sales rep might create their own shared document or spreadsheet to serve as an ad hoc plan, it's rare to see a standardized process across an organization. This means many organizations are leaving the time-saving benefits of process standardization on the table.

The framework of a successful mutual action plan can be used repeatedly, with changes made for specific use cases and segments. You can create separate templates based on the buying company size, industry, deal size, and other factors. It's about taking your winning formula and applying it all over again to a new customer, with a few tweaks.

A pre-set methodology

MAPs offer a structured way for sales reps to engage with the buyer. It's an effective tool for new reps and inexperienced buyers who are finding their footing, or even for experts who want to save time and not get lost in ambiguities. They are also a repeatable way to make sure your sales team follows best practices or specific sales methodologies like MEDDPICC. Rather than starting from scratch with every client, the established process saves you time and ensures consistency across large selling teams.

More closed deals

A MAP may not always result in deal closure, but its probability of success is greater. Customers are three times more likely to buy a bigger deal with less regret when suppliers provide information perceived as helpful in advancing the purchase process. Outreach's data confirms this: opportunities with a dedicated mutual action plan within the Outreach platform are 26% more likely to close than those without one.

Documentation of the sales process

Unfortunately for some teams, sales accrue without insight into the precise reasons that led to deal conversion. MAPs encourage documentation, which allows you to break down the sales process into discrete, actionable steps.

After the sale, the plan becomes a shared record of what the customer cares about, which is top of mind during customer onboarding and implementation. Knowing what worked and what didn't provides the types of insights that drive further process standardizations and enhancements.

Better forecasting

With a MAP, you can predict the timeline of the deal with more accuracy. That, in turn, helps you and your leadership team allocate budget and resources efficiently. You also get a better sense of the incoming revenue stream.

How to build a mutual action plan

Building a MAP takes some effort, but once you have the details in place, it can set the right framework and tone for engagement with the buyer. The format of your plan can vary from one organization to another, but it should contain the following fundamental elements to achieve intended deal outcomes.

1. Include a value summary

A MAP should have a value summary right at the top. This is usually around two to three sentences explaining the value add of the solution for the buyer. A value summary should use buyer-centric language and might cover the following:

  • The impact to the actual product users
  • The expected increase in productivity rates or decrease in manual effort
  • The impact on purchase margin
  • The benefits to the buyer’s end user

A customer may intuitively feel that the purchase will lead to certain benefits, but the value summary nudges them to further introspection. It's also a simple mechanism to address the concerns of naysayers.

2. Name all important stakeholders

As a sales rep, you have to recognize that you're not dealing with a single buyer. While you may be interacting with just one or two individuals, you'll need to convince a buying committee with many decision-makers. And, how do you convince them? By first knowing who they are. Only then can you tailor your strategy.

Interestingly, even your counterparts on the other side may not know the complete stakeholder list at first. But that's the very goal of this exercise to remove the element of doubt.

3. Nail down deliverables

The biggest chunk of the MAP is the list of deliverables. You can come up with this list through different approaches. Each of these approaches centers the buyers perspective:

  • Find out what tasks have to be done to convince each of the stakeholders. This could include action items like additional product demos and prototypes of use cases.
  • Trace the approval hierarchy on the buyer side and define tasks that make sure that each group of stakeholders is invested in the project.

4. Build out timelines

Adding timelines to MAP deliverables helps you track progress at frequent intervals, and course correct if necessary. It also acts as a predictive tool for sales reps and leaders.

Deciding on dates and deadlines requires conversations and alignment of the deal cycle on both ends. As a seller, you might want the dates to reflect sales cycle steps such as discovery, qualification, and validation. This is your language, not the buyers.

Instead, we recommend sellers translate their process into buyer-centric language, or terms that the customer would use. For instance, instead of step one being the qualification stage, you could describe it as education and awareness, followed by presenting a proof of concept.

5. List each party's responsibilities

For each deliverable on your plan, assign owners to build accountability. While defining owners and their responsibilities:

Ensure there are joint owners for each deliverable, one each from the seller and from the buyer side. Sellers may feel the pressure to do all tasks on their own, but this isnt practical. Only through continued engagement from the buyer, can a MAP deliver results.

Be as specific as possible. For example, instead of just assigning a deliverable to the legal team, list individual stakeholders. This increases accountability and allows for easy transfer of ownership if teams change.

6. Focus on customer outcomes and ROI

A MAP is only complete after you deliver the customer their objectives and ROI, not when you close the deal. This means that the deliverables should include onboarding and implementation, and in some cases, revenue targets as well.

Besides overall ROI targets, define outcomes for each deliverable as well. Frame specific success criteria around the successful completion of the plan deliverables.

Example mutual action plans and templates

There are many different tools to help create a successful plan. As a free starting point, reps can build simple collaborative documents in Google Docs or Google Sheets that include key details like: objective, actions, timeline, responsibilities, resources, risks and mitigation strategies, communication plan, milestones, evaluation, and signatures.

There are, of course, some limitations of a DIY approach like this. Reps have to keep track of yet another document during the sales process, keep it up to date throughout the sales cycle, and continue to remind stakeholders of its value.

That's where dedicated mutual action planning tools come in. In Outreach, for example, Success Plans automation to your qualification and sales methodology while mapping to your CRM fields, making it easier for different teams to follow a consistent playbook a remove duplicative admin work.

Mutual action plan challenges and solutions

Implementing a mutual action plan doesn't come without its challenges. That's no surprise because this requires people from two different organizations to come together and implement a common project. That level of coordination takes work, but being aware of these obstacles is the first step to overcoming them.

Achieving true buy-in from customers

Sometimes, plans fail because they are overly sales-driven, and buyers are not as committed to it as they should be. Its also likely that your main counterpart from the buyer side is enthusiastic about the project, but the rest of the team is not.

A key part of overcoming this challenge is to ensure that the right stakeholders and decision makers are in the mix on the client side, rather than placing the onus of the plans success on just one person. To achieve this, widen your engagement by interacting with multiple stakeholders as you draft the plan.

Staying true to the timeline

A MAP may diverge from the originally planned timeline and cause frustrating delays for sales reps. Your customer may not share the same sense of urgency as you. This is common as a customer juggling multiple projects may end up deprioritizing your project or not losing the laser-focus they had at the beginning of the process.

The solution to this problem lies in the way you position the problem statement. Rather than pitching it as the delay impacting deal closure timeline, highlight the impact of slipped date through its effect on the clients ROI and business objectives. Missing milestones at any point in the process will push out their ultimate goal.

Incorporating all relevant data

MAP implementation is a data-intensive process. You need to record dependencies, milestones, status updates, communication logs, and more. There are many moving parts, and the timelines and even the deliverables could go through multiple revisions that require tracking.

A simple spreadsheet doesn't suffice for such exhaustive information storage. The best way to address this limitation is to adopt a software platform or workflow management tool that can help capture and simplify the continual updates needed for each step.

Achieve sales success with mutual action plans

Deals today involve an increasing number of stakeholders, making it nearly impossible to manage and close deals without an agreed-upon plan from the start. To close the gap, reps have needed to create, update, and collaborate with clients on lengthy spreadsheets with multiple tabs, Google docs, and slides, while sustaining long-term engagement from the buyer. Essentially sales reps have had to holistically project manage their deals with very limited, inefficient tools.

Success Plans within Outreach help sellers align and collaborate with their buyers to drive smooth, predictable purchase processes. At the same time, leaders can operationalize their sales methodology to drive greater qualification consistency and success across the organization. As a result, teams get to improve deal accuracy, reduce deal cycles, and close faster

Want more MAP best practices?

Outreach recently hosted a live webinar, "How to use mutual action plans in Outreach to shorten deal cycles and boost win rates," Watch the replay to see Outreach sales manager Christine Allanson and top AE Grace Presnick walk through their MAP best practices. Together, they'll show you:

  • How sales leaders use Outreach to operationalize qualification methodologies like MEDDPICC, MEDDIC, BANT, or SPIN— ensuring sellers consistently and continuously qualify deals
  • How top-performing AEs use mutual action plans to align with all stakeholders all the way to close
  • How to use mutual action plans to avoid potential deal-killing scenarios, such as a departing champion or new stakeholders entering the deal.


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