Account planning provides a structure for sales and sales enablers to determine what’s important—and what’s not—when pursuing customers. As competition in markets increases, account plans become critical to reaching goals and achieving growth. Here are five reasons account planning can make a difference in your sales organization now. 

1. Competition Is Out There  

Markets across industries have become more competitive over the past 20 years. Most industries have experienced an increase in the number of competitors, some enabled by new technologies. There’s also a higher level of sales talent due to the professionalization of sales careers and growing number of colleges and universities that offer degrees in sales. In addition, customers are more intelligent and better informed about what they need.

You need to know more about your customer, better understand their needs, have a differentiated value proposition, and have an actionable plan to beat the competition. Account plans provide data that pinpoint the market share, level of competition, and the strengths and weaknesses not only of your position but of your competitors—all of which contribute to the predictability of whether or not you can hit your goals.

Account plans demand acknowledgement of these challenges, and demand that these challenges are defined specifically. You know there’s competition, but who is it? How much market share do they have? What value do they offer? Account plans also require specific actions to overcome these challenges.  

2. Account Plans Coordinate Teams 

Most individual sales reps are great at the tactical level. But accounts typically require larger coordination—either between accounts or within the same account, depending on its size. Account plans also reveal how well you work together as an organization within the account. How does the sales team work with the technical organization? How do they work with the marketing organization or operations? In addition, account plans help improve your capabilities because you’re engaging many organizations. Without account plans, sales operates by gut. This means that marketing, technical, and operations react without the advantage of a plan. 

 3. Your Account Is One Piece of a Larger Puzzle 

Every company has financial goals, and whether a public or private company, stakeholders need to understand how the company is performing against those goals. CFOs and financial leaders must present this information and demonstrate they have a plan to achieve those goals. But people in the sales organization—and typically only the sales organization—know what’s going on at eye level. Account plans help to communicate that bottom-up view. The sales organization has an opportunity to discuss what their customers are doing, for better or for worse, and offer valuable information about how sales will achieve its goals. 

4. Account Plans Create Accountability  

The sales team needs a way to measure its success beyond whether each individual achieves her quota. The team needs metrics, goals, and milestones to work toward. Account plans create a record of what an individual is supposed to do—both the actions and the goals—that can be used in performance metrics.

For example, “You said you were going to close this $50,000 opportunity with ACME. Did you?” If not, look back at the activities that were supposed to lead to that sale and ask: “You said you were going to call Don Draper two months ago. You also said you’d ask for introductions to Betty and Bob in the production division. Did you?” If a rep has worked the plan and it still hasn’t worked, she has a defense. She did what she was supposed to do, but the plan hasn’t worked so far. It’s time to tweak the plan. If she didn’t, it’s an opportunity for specific coaching on follow-through. 

5. Account Plans Assess Sales Skills 

Account plans act as a foundation for capability development. Do the sales people have the skills to get to the correct buyer? If not, what type of training is needed? At which points in the account plan are account reps succeeding? At which points are they falling down? Account plans can offer evidence of the types of training or coaching necessary at an individual and team level.

Want to learn more? Check out Essential Account Planning (ATD Press, May 2017) and join me at ATD 2017 Conference & Exposition for the session: Strategic Account Planning: The 5 Imperatives.