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Best Practices in Strategic Account Planning

Developing and executing a customer-focused account plan is one of the most powerful components of Strategic Account Management and is often the most neglected. You wouldn’t think of running a department or business without a written plan, but too often account managers will manage a multi-million dollar account without a documented account plan.

In the book, Building a Successful Selling Organization, the authors state that “a sharp selling organization has a defined, repeatable process to develop account plans to address each customer’s key initiatives. The account plan is the selling team’s critical path to achieving its goals—by achieving the customer’s goals. The selling team’s account plan for each customer needs to include (1) a vision for growing customer value, (2) a relationship strategy, (3) a project plan for achieving the goals, and (4) call preparation.”

Let’s examine the key components of a winning account plan:

1. Vision for Growing Customer Value.

  • Understand your customer’s business. Begin your plan with your customer in mind. Start with an understanding of the current and future state of the customer’s business and their key initiatives that will bridge the gap.

  • Position your company in terms of the customer’s business and key initiatives. Using your customer’s gap assessment as a guide, you can begin to align your company's strengths and core competencies to your customer's business drivers and competitive differentiators. Finding the highest-value linkages between your company and your customer will lead to greater loyalty and a greater share of their business.

  • Develop your solutions and declare how your offerings will bring value to the customer. Define this value in terms of how the customer will measure success. If you don’t express your value using your customer’s metrics, you will get relegated to a price comparison.

  • Develop extraordinary goals for the customer and your company. When setting your goals, ask yourself, “What could I do to make our customer extraordinarily successful”? Step back and look at the assets that your entire company can bring to bear to work the account at all levels.

2. Relationship Strategy.

Your relationship strategy encompasses discrete strategies to identify, create, develop, and nurture intentional relationships. What relationships do you need to develop to achieve your goals? What is your plan for building these relationships? What will you or your company do to help your key individual buyers succeed?

3. Project Plan.

Running your sales campaign as a project—with key milestones, owners, and due dates—ensures ownership and momentum, and develops a culture of responsibility and accountability.

4. Call Preparation.

Selling is a series of conversations leading to joint commitments to a common goal. The purpose of each sales call is to “move the ball forward.” The best salespeople prepare for these calls by determining the objectives of the meeting, something of value they can provide, good open-ended questions, and how they will open the call. When they are at their best, they will share the call plan with their customer to ensure everyone is aligned and ready to get things done.

At Critical Path Strategies, we have observed that the top 1% account managers don’t develop their account plans in a vacuum and they don’t put them on the shelf. Instead, they live by the following best practices:

  • Collaborate. Successful account managers collaborate with others on their team and—equally important—with their customer to develop the account plan. This ensures the best use of resources to achieve the greatest results.

  • Document. They document the plan clearly and communicate it regularly to instill a sense of urgency.

  • Validate. They repeatedly validate the plan with their customer to confirm that the customer agrees with their solution and value proposed. They inform them, “This is what I'm going to be working on for the next 90 days," and seek confirmation that they’ve developed the right strategy—or seek input on course correction if they’re off target.

  • Share. Sharing the account plan internally with their extended sales team ensures the team matches the customer’s way of doing business. “Zipping” the team with their customer counterparts not only makes the team perform better, but also glues them more firmly to customer needs.

  • Coach. They welcome coaching from others on how to make the plan better.

  • Update. Account planning is an ongoing process. As the customer’s business grows and changes, their needs change. Account managers stay on top of this by continuously updating and executing the ever-evolving plan.

Creating an individual long-term strategy for each of your accounts makes your every action count and advances your sales objectives in an efficient and productive way. Developing a business-to-business strategy at the customer level and executing it with consistent targeted actions will produce the highest recognized value and greatest break-through results for buyer and seller.

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