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Who Needs Account Planning Anyway?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017
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Account planning is an activity sales people love to hate.

It’s generally seen as a good thing to do, but who has the time? Sales people are supposed to be in the field talking to customers, not filling out forms describing how they’re going to talk to customers, right?

Actually, account planning is an essential part of a high-performing sales organization. It brings together critical information about the customer, competitors, and your strategy to win business. The account plan forces the team to acknowledge the larger revenue and product goals and agree on a set of actions to move your team—inch by inch or mile by mile—to those goals.

The account plan also serves as an accountability checkpoint. Has everyone done what they said they were going to do? Have our activities brought us closer to our goals? If not, how do we regroup, refresh, and continue forward?

Here’s the good news: Getting sales teams to make account planning a regular part of their role is not impossible, and it’s well worth the effort. To ease the process, though, I recommend sales teams start by using the right account planning structure. While the length of the account plan can vary from one page to 50 pages (depending on the complexity of your sales process and the tolerance of your account leaders to complete the plan), each account plan should contain several key sections. 

Profile and Position 

The “Profile and Position” section presents an overview of the account and the strengths and weaknesses of the relationships. It answers the question: Where are we now? Consider including reports about the financial health of your customer; your competitors and position against them; and a classic SWOT analysis detailing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of your company regarding the customer. 

Needs Mapping and Alignments 

The goal of the “Needs Mapping and Alignments” content is to describe your understanding of the customer’s needs and the organizational alignments of your team to the account. This section answers the question: Who are the buyers and how do we align? For the customer, describe the top three to five needs. Also, pinpoint key stakeholders who work with the account, including people beyond sales. Successful account teams extend to sales, sales support, operations, customer service, and marketing. When you get into the tactics of your plan, each of these teams should play a role. 

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Goals and Strategy 

This is where things start to get exciting. You’ve identified your current state, charted your past performance, mapped your alignments to the buyers in the account, and developed an initial understanding of their needs. The “Goals and Strategy” section describes your overall objectives for the account, and how you will get to your goal. It answers the questions: What are our objectives? and What’s our overall direction to achieve them? It includes the goal build that takes the overall growth objective for the account and builds up the components of how the team’s going to reach that objective. 

Action Plan 

The action plan takes each component of the goal build and develops a tactical plan to achieve the goal. It answers the question: What is our plan to achieve each opportunity?  

Team Support 

The “Team Support” section describes how your organization needs to come together across functions to support the account plan. It answers the question: What internal commitments do we need? It includes key external dependencies for the strategy. These may be factors such as market conditions, client conditions, and political or environmental conditions that are out of your control. It also includes the internal dependencies for the strategy across functions, such as delivery, innovation, marketing, finance, legal, and HR. 

Performance Dashboard 

The Performance Dashboard sets milestones and tracks your progress to those milestones; it also helps identify any adjustments that need to be made. It answers the questions: How have we performed? How should we adjust?

The account plan doesn’t have to be long or overly taxing to complete. The goal is to take a snapshot of your past, present, and future relationship with the customer and to think through ways you can solve their biggest challenges.

Editor’s Note: This is the first post in a blog series on account planning, based on Mark’s forthcoming ATD Press book, Essential Account Planning: Five Keys for Helping Your Sales Team Drive Revenue, which is scheduled to launch at ATD 2017 International Conference & Exposition.

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.

About the Author
Mark Donnolo is managing partner of SalesGlobe and author of The Innovative Sale: Unleash Your Creativity for Better Customer Solutions and Extraordinary Results and What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation. He focuses on helping companies grow profitably by developing and implementing strategies that improve the effectiveness of their customer-facing sales, marketing, and service organizations. His areas of focus include sales strategy, customer segmentation, channel strategy, sales organization design and deployment, performance management, and incentive compensation. Mark’s work spans several industries, including technology, telecommunications, business services, manufacturing, and financial services.
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