In sales, we often talk about focusing on the low hanging fruit: the easy wins that are well within reach, that we’d be crazy not to harvest while we can. And to an extent, that’s absolutely right – if there are deals within your grasp, why wouldn’t you scoop them up?
But the thing is, “low hanging fruit” doesn’t come from nowhere. Fruit grows from a tree – just as deals grow from your pipeline. If you want to keep harvesting that fruit year after year, you have to take the time to nurture it and keep it healthy. You don’t let the tree shrivel up and die.
That’s where account planning comes in. Account planning, when executed effectively, allows you to keep your sales pipeline healthy by creating, developing, and winning business that delivers mutual value. The important words here are ‘mutual value’. In a world of better informed buyers and more competitive pressures, sellers who focus on what is truly good for their customers are those who develop long sustainable relationships and reap the rewards.
But account planning isn’t easy. We know from our studies that lots of companies know the value of account planning, but still fail to make it a regular part of their sales process. To avoid this happening, it’s crucial to avoid these 10 common mistakes.
1. You Haven’t Defined What Account Planning Actually Is
Account Planning is NOT a buzzword that should be used as a catch-all for strategy, or for chasing big accounts, or just an excuse to micro-manage the performance of your salespeople. It’s about building long-term business relationships in a complex marketplace that enables you to create, develop, pursue, and win business that delivers mutual value. The important words here are ‘mutual value’. In a world of better informed buyers and more competitive pressures, sellers who focus on what is truly good for their customers are those who develop long, sustainable relationships.
2. You Don’t Have a Strategic Process in Place
“Having a strategy” isn’t the same as “hitting a sales target”. Too many managers take the view that it doesn’t matter how you make your number so long as you get there. But if you want reliable results quarter after quarter, you need a systematic, repeatable process for your team to follow – and to improve upon each time.
3. You Don’t Have Alignment Across the Organization
There’s a tendency in large organizations for individual departments to focus in on their own needs, goals, plans, and budgets. Internal conflicts, rivalries and siloes like these are anathemas to account planning and management. To function at its best, you need to establish shared goals across the whole business. If you’re all pulling in different directions, your carefully crafted strategy will end up in shreds.
Account Planning is a team event, and it’s critical that strategic account teams – across all roles – are equipped with expert knowledge of all areas of value you can deliver to clients. This is not to say that everyone must be an expert on everything, but team members in customer-facing roles must be able to speak fluently at a minimum about:
- The range of customer needs you solve.
- Your products, services, and overall capabilities as solutions to those needs.
- The marketplace.
- Your company and your value proposition.
- The competition and how you win.
4. You Haven’t Defined Roles Well Enough
What exactly is each person involved in your strategy actually doing to make it happen? Are you allocating the right people to the right roles, in order to play to their strengths? Do they understand what’s in their remit, and what isn’t? Who deals with which problem, and why?
5. You Haven’t Made Sure Everyone’s On Board
There’s no use pouring your energies into developing a comprehensive account planning strategy if it’s then going to sit in a drawer and gather dust. Every single person in the organization, from top to bottom, needs to understand and embrace what you’re aiming towards, where they fit in, and exactly what’s needed from them to make it happen.
6. You Haven’t Set Clear Objectives
You need to develop objectives for each target unit so that you have a good picture of the overall revenue potential your effort represents.
Current opportunities that you are pursuing need a Revenue Objective. You should have one for each Plan Unit (Division or Account) that you have selected, focusing on the combined revenue from your current opportunities in that unit over the duration of the plan.
Every Plan Unit that has a Potential Opportunity needs a Business Development Objective that focuses on qualifying, in the short term, your future opportunities.
In addition to Revenue and Business Development Objectives you also might require broader objectives that apply either to the Plan Unit or to all of the Plan Units that you have included in your plan. These objectives — which may include Marketing, Partnering, Relationship, etc. — ensure that you utilize all of the resources available to you to effectively maximize your position.
7. You Haven’t identified The “Right” Opportunities To Explore
Fundamentally, Account Planning enables companies to align their solutions around their client’s business goals, making them real business solutions. But, as you only have finite resources, you need to be able to identify the opportunities that are worthwhile pursuing.
For a transaction to be successful, there has to be mutual value for both parties. It’s helpful to represent this mutual value by plotting twin axes of ‘Value to You’ and ‘Value to Customer’. The aim is to find those intersections of what is important to you and important to them.
When building this map, consideration ought to be given to factors such as:
- Good short term revenue
- Good future revenue
- Highly profitable
- Low degree of risk
- No strategic risk
- High strategic value
- Competitive Position
By doing this, we can identify the deals/accounts/business units where we can add most value to the customer while offering strong revenue potential and strategic opportunities for us. This then provides a framework for prioritizing future sales efforts & resources.
This allows you to uncover the untapped penetration opportunities and revenue possibilities within the account. Based on the relative mutual value of these opportunities, you can then decide which ones to pursue.
8. You Haven’t Identified The Key Influencers Within Your Customer Organization
Being able to identify the key people and their influencers, and determine who is on your side and who might be an adversary, is essential for building the customer relationship. If you don’t have the knowledge or tools to map out the political structure of your customer’s organization, you will find it almost impossible to become a trusted advisor.
9. You Don’t Know Enough About Your Customer
Developing an account plan is very difficult unless you know your customer inside out. This involves researching a number of areas: goals, markets, industry trends, competitors, relative market position, financial performance, merger and acquisitions activity, and the structure of the account itself.
Account Planning is about creating value, not just communicating it. First, you need to understand what the customer values before you know how to position your value.
10. You Haven’t Focused Enough On Creating Mutual Value
When the customer makes a buying decision, the risk shifts from the supplier to the customer, and the impact on the customer of a poor buying decision is usually greater than the impact on the salesperson of a lost sale. Your job is to align your account planning efforts with the customer’s Goals, Pressures, Initiatives, and Obstacles in order to minimize the perceived risk of choosing you and your solution.
Your ultimate objective is to maximize your penetration in the account in a way that maximizes Mutual Value. Once you understand the people and the problems and have developed a trusted relationship with your customer you can identify areas of opportunity – the “white space” in the account – where your solutions can add value to the customer.
Organizations are usually comfortable articulating the value for their own products or services, but are less adept at understanding and communicating value to the customer. Just 61% of salespeople think they’re good at uncovering their customer’s business problems, a recent survey of ours uncovered. And only 54% know how to access key players to discover this critical information.
Preparing and executing Account Plans involves dealing with facts, people, actions and outcomes. But effective Account Planning also ensures that results are measured against targets, communicated to all stakeholders, and targets are revised accordingly. This is why we continually stress that the Account Plan should be a dynamic document that is constantly updated, not something you do once, leave on the shelf to gather dust for 11 months and revisit when you next have to do a plan.
Account Planning takes a lot of time and effort. But for those organizations who are fully committed to the Account Planning process, the upside is well worth the pain.