Account planning is hard. Once you master it, however, the outcomes are extraordinary. A wise soul once said, “If something seems too hard to do, then it’s probably worth doing.” This is a sentiment I often hear echoed by companies undertaking strategic account planning. Let me repeat: Account planning is indeed very hard. Why? Account planning suggests that companies widen their focus from short-term, opportunity-driven conversations to long-term customer-centric conversations. Like daily exercise—which we all know is good for us but is incredibly hard for most of us to actually do every day—account planning requires a high level of discipline, cadence, and commitment. Finally, many agree that sales leaders are spread pretty thin. In fact, according to a 2014 Harvard Business Review article, “The average span of control for US sales forces is 10-12 sales people per manager.” Despite these challenges, companies still believe that great account planning will lead to material gains in revenue, profit, and share of wallet and that their overall win rates and customer satisfaction levels will go up. Beyond the financial impact, however, there are often these three extraordinary outcomes from great account planning:
Outcome 1: Mutual value creation for the customer and your company (i.e., as the partner) When done right, companies endeavoring to author an account plan start with the customer’s strategies, goals, and objectives first. They clearly identify what the customer’s value drivers are, where the customer has challenges, and how the customer wants to evolve and grow. In this regard, more and more companies are introducing collaborative account planning with open communication and engagement directly with customer representatives. With the customer at the center, the company is then ready to identify where they (as the partner) have opportunities to help enable the customer’s strategies and objectives. Those opportunities are what translate into new expansions, revenue, and profits. In the end, mutual value is created when the customer achieves their goals at the same time that the partner company grows.
Outcome 2: Strengthened focus on account-driven actions makes opportunity-driven actions much easier It has been my experience that sales leaders and executive management spend countless hours doing opportunity qualification, scoping the opportunity, guesstimating the likelihood to win, and aligning opportunity support resources accordingly. These types of opportunity-driven actions become exponentially easier when the opportunity has emerged as a result of a well-thought-through strategic account plan. Why? Because if a company—all the way from executive management to sales leaders, operations, and the salesperson—has already aligned on the long-term strategy for expanding and retaining a key account, it is much easier to rationalize how emerging, discrete opportunities with that account do (or do not) align with it.
Outcome 3: Paving the way for doing things right instead of doing the right things “Doing things right” means a company has adopted a proven process for how to get the best results. A great account plan establishes the “what” of the right things to do in a thoughtful, careful, and intentional way. Once the account plan is in place, the team surrounding the customer—from operations to customer service to sales—can turn their focus to doing things right—that is, the actual execution of services and solutions. In this regard, a great account plan helps the team to stop asking, “Are we even doing the right things for the customer?” at every turn. Instead, armed with knowledge of what the right things are, they can invest their time and effort in actually getting those right things done successfully. Want to read more on this topic? Here some resources I recommend: