October 8th, 2020 | Sales Best Practices

How to ensure your Action Plans are "Mutual"

Jan Ropponen

Founder, Axend - Delivering Sales Growth

The golden rule in sales has always been to have a clear next step defined together with the customer.

Unfortunately in today’s modern sales environment, if all you have is just a next step, you’re doomed for failure. I’ll give you a couple reasons why this is the case.

In 2014, CEB revealed from their research that there were on average 5.4 stakeholders involved in B2B purchases. This same figure went up to 6.8 stakeholders in 2016, and 10.2. in 2018.

This means that deals are getting more complex, and touching more departments and levels of the buyers organizations. If all you have is one next step after each call and meeting, you are basically driving to a destination far away with a blindfold on.


Sales is no longer pushing, it's about facilitating the buying process!

Due to an increase in stakeholders the buying process has become complicated and sellers need to have way more vision than before.

The best sellers are not pushing their solutions, but enabling their customers to see what they could be doing better to reaching their goals. They find the right stakeholders to collaborate with and guide the various stakeholders along in their buying process.

To guide all the necessary steps along the way you need to have a great understanding of how customers typically buy, but also a great ability to connect with multiple stakeholders.


In 2018 I had the chance to do a research project about the habits of world-class account executives who focus on complex opportunties. (More about the research here: www.secretsofsalesinnovators.com)

A few key findings in the research were the importance of co-creation and collaboration. One key tool that many of the researched account executives spoke about, was the mutual action plan.

I coach a lot of sales professionals, so I know that just having a great template for creating a mutual action plan is great, but it doesn’t guarantee that it is used correctly. There are many things that need to go right in order for you to actual say that you truly have a “mutual” plan.

Here are three key challenges your sales team must overcome to successfully use mutual action plans:

#1 - Don't push the plan

Just showing a customer a timeline, with common steps and getting them to accept the steps is not even close to being “mutual”.

Of course having a pre-filled out timeline and getting the customer commit to that is better than having no timeline, but this is not good enough to properly collaborate and get the customer to commit.

To make an impact, create each item in the action plan together. The best situation is when the sales person guides the discussion and all items in the action plan are derived from the customers mouth. This guarantees that they are committed. It is no longer the sales persons plan, it’s truly mutual.

#2 - You need the right people

Each item in the action plan should be created with a key stakeholder, preferably your champion. Many sales professionals often mistake a coach for a champion, and the difference is huge. A champion needs to have some political power and have an incentive to team up with you. If they can’t make things happen in their organization, then they are not a champion.

#3 - Outcome first

There are two ways of creating a timeline in the mutual plan. You can start from today, and work your way through all the necessary steps towards reaching an agreement. That’s ok, but not optimal.

All selling should be focused on helping customer’s reach certain outcomes. The best mutual plans are created by starting from the customers desired outcome, and then back-tracking through everything that needs to happen in order for them to be successful. Eventually you will have a realistic plan in place to achieve the outcome.

What's the benefit of the Mutual Action Plan?

Mastering how mutual action plans are created will this lead to many wonderful benefits, such as: higher win-rates, shorter sales cycles and minimizing the time spent per deal.

If you’re working on complex deals, you cannot afford to waste time and make mistakes. The best way to avoid these is the ALWAYS remember to do everything together with customers, that includes Mutual action plans.

Jan Ropponen’s mission is to enable sales executives to increase revenue by becoming more valuable to their customers. The guiding principle that Jan follows is simple: the more value salespeople create, the better they perform.


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