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 MAP’s 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.

A success mutual action plan to be successful 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.

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. Rather than starting from scratch with every client, the established process saves you time.

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.

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 leadership 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 a 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 buyer’s 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 which make sure that each group of stakeholders is invested in the project.uild Out Timelines

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 buyer’s.

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 isn’t 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’s 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.

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. It’s 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 plan’s 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 client’s 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

With the cumbersome and extensive data management needs, deal management has always been a challenge for sales reps. 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 needed to holistically project manage their deals with very simple tools.

Success Plans, a new feature within Outreach, addresses these challenges by serving as a central hub throughout the deal lifecycle, helping sellers and buyers align with each other through seamless communication and achieve deal outcomes. 

While making it possible to deliver winning mutual action plans, Success Plans also takes it one step further by offering an integrated, transparent, and collaborative buying experience. As a result, teams get to improve deal accuracy, reduce deal cycles, and close faster


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