I’ve spend enough time in stifling hot conference rooms with dozens of people who clearly do not want to be there to understand the difficulties of account planning. Most sales people would rather be in front of the customer than with his peers planning how to get in front of the customer. In fact, I’ve seen the following major challenges to achieving a well-oiled account planning process.
The Organization Isn’t Committed
When a process takes hold at a grass roots level and spreads throughout the organization, it creates a powerful result. For example, if sales teams adopt a new CRM tool or a new account planning process, it can help those teams and eventually benefit the entire organization. Unfortunately, for most companies that see a grass roots account planning movement, it doesn’t gain commitment from everyone. What’s more, at some point, it leaves a pattern of ad hoc practices that benefit a few teams, but has little overall effect on results.
In our experience, most companies don’t do a great job with account planning. If a successful sales person can make his quota by doing his own thing. That’s a lot easier than stepping back and working on an account plan.
There Isn’t Strong Ownership of the Account Strategy
When I work with sales organizations on sales process and sales roles, one of the questions I ask is, “Who owns the account strategy and the account plan?” The answer to this question tells me volumes about how effective the team is.
I expect to hear a decisive and consistent answer across the organization and the accounts it covers. The plan owner could be the lead account manager, a lead account executive, a sales manager, or someone else in a leadership role with that account. But sometimes, I get inconsistent answers within a single organization that range from “the strategic account manager” to “the client service manager,” to, the worst answer of all, “it’s shared ownership.” Unclear ownership indicates a lack of accountability and a gap in leadership that can result in sales opportunities falling through the cracks. Be sure to designate ownership of the overall account planning process and the plans for each account.
Politics Get in the Way
Big quotas put pressure on revenue expectations. Control over revenue, especially big revenue in a strategic account, is valuable and can result in political behavior as people try to stake their claims and secure their resulting sales incentives. Politics often occur in an environment of perceived scarcity, which creates competition for limited opportunities.
If the team has effective account planning roles and processes, it gains the ability to think and work in an environment of abundance. This dissolves the need for politics. Give the organization a more optimistic view on the opportunities in the market and how account planning can get them there.
Account Planning Becomes
All About the Document I asked a sales executive recently about how her team does account planning, and she talked about how ineffective it was because people didn’t complete all the requisite sections. When I first discuss account planning with a sales team, they typically talk about the document they produce—the sections, how often they create it, and how laborious and painful the process is.
Account planning isn’t about the document. It’s about the client needs, the innovative ideas to meet those needs, a committed plan to address those needs, and the discipline of ownership and execution from the team. Elevate the position of account planning beyond the document. The document merely contains all of the hard work, and it will continue to evolve as the work and results progress.
Sales People Would Rather Sell Than Plan
Let’s face it: Most sales people love the pursuit; they don’t love planning. The irony is that the most successful sales teams I’ve worked with understand the criticality of account planning, and they embrace it. They link effective account planning with results in their accounts—usually big results. If a sales person isn’t a planner and thinks incrementally and transactionally, she is likely to get incremental and transactional results. If she thinks big and is intentional about operating according to a big plan, she will make different, more long-term decisions and get bigger results.
These challenges are common, but the time and effort invested in account planning pays off with more strategic conversations, more relationships with key buyers and influencers throughout the customer company, and (almost always) increased sales. Discuss these challenges with your team and find a way to overcome them within your organization.