Few people take a trip to a new place without doing some due diligence. Failing to have an accurate plan, at least for the most important clients, would be like trying to run a company without a set corporate strategy. Sales leaders also need to plan ahead to help account teams better identify, develop and execute more opportunities.
“ The ideal account plan helps sales managers coach their sales teams and forecast how likely a client is to drive new business”
The value of account planning
Organizations that fail to develop and utilize account plans effectively are almost certain to leave money on the table. According to CEB, now Gartner, research, only 28% of sales leaders report that account-management channels regularly meet their cross-selling and account growth targets. A well-crafted account plan is a crucial tool in the successful management of accounts to win and maintain business with the most important and complex customers.
The ideal account plan helps sales managers coach their sales teams and forecast how likely a client is to drive new business. It also gives sellers a valuable resource for strategy and information on a prospect or client.
Make the most of account planning
Merely having a plan is not enough. Poorly designed plans add more of a burden to reps’ roles, and don’t provide clearly perceived benefits on their time investment. Tension between reps and management grows when reps see account plans as ineffective.
Effective account plans will feature:
- Frequent updates. Customers are not static, and account plans shouldn’t be, either. Make sure to update information frequently to take account of evolving customer needs, commercial opportunities and company goals. Account plans should force account teams to think critically about potential unstated and emerging needs.
- Integrate with CRM. Build account planning into a CRM system to ensure that it will be part of the sales team’s daily workflow. By embedding account planning into CRM, service leaders can maximize the availability and accuracy of current customer data to their account teams, improve user adoption rates through easy access, support team members globally and simplify account strategy as it is adapted due to shifts in customer needs, market forces and competitor offerings.
- Include others. Your sellers are the primary points of contact with customers, but they are not the only ones with valuable insight. By failing to include roles beyond account managers and their managers, valuable customer intelligence, strategic support and potential commercial opportunities are left out of plans. Consider building a cross-functional group of people from sales, marketing, product, R&D and other teams to create an account strategy that provides maximum value to the customer.
- Encourage forward-looking thinking. Account plans should always push business objectives forward. Design plans as tools to identify opportunities for upsell and cross-sell. This helps to grow business and defend against threats posed by other suppliers. Account managers will see the return on their time and effort invested in long-term planning.
- Coach the value. Account planning should not be communicated as a checklist task, but instead should be seen as a skill set that is developed and used as part of ongoing efforts to identify and pursue business. Effectively coach sellers to see account planning as a valuable part of their day-to-day roles — and a competency that will facilitate value-generating customer conversations — not just something required for compliance.