It’s Account Planning Season

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Now that SKO season has passed, we’ve got our annual quotas, we’ve started rebuilding our pipelines after depleting them at year end, we’re into account planning season. It’s time to pull out those powerpoints you updated a year ago, blow the digital dust off them, and update them.

We plug in the new numbers—the account financial performance in the past year, our quotas/goals for the account. We may update the plan with key accomplishments from last year, new org charts, and a few initiatives we plan for next year. We present the plans, management nods their heads in the right directions, perhaps making a few suggestions. We finish the presentation, filing the account plan away, not looking at it until next year.

That’s how I, and thousands of peers did account plans. And, if I’m to be honest, as a manager and executive, too often, that’s what I accepted as account plans.

And it represents such a lots opportunity, both for us, and for our customers–the accounts for which we are creating these plans.

Account plans can be very varied, depending on the types of accounts you service, your own business strategies and priorities, the solutions your accounts have bought.

At the most basic level, an account plan is a structured prospecting plan. Too many organizations and sales people don’t understand this. They will look at a territory, whether a geographic area, an industry, or something else, developing prospecting plans to acquire new accounts within the territory. They will develop marketing programs, prospecting programs, all sorts of thing to find and engage prospects within the territory.

The account is just another view of a territory. It is an enterprise, but one in which we have the opportunity to identify many more new customers and opportunities to serve them. It may be expanding our relationships with current customers, it may be identifying new divisions, business units, locations. It may be moving into new functional areas.

Just like any other territory, our goal is to find opportunities to expand our relationships, our abilities to create value, and grow our share and revenue with the account.

Many consulting and vendor organizations have created specialized programs leveraging ABE, ABM and other account based focuses. In reality, the underlying principles are the same as any other territory planning–it’s just customized for the account (and in our territory planning we customize our approach to the territory. For example our programs into the healthcare territory will be different from financial services and from manufacturing. You do this don’t you???)

We can be very simplistic in our account plans (just as with our territory plans). We can look at: What are our growth goals with the account? What are we going to do to find new opportunities within the account? How many opportunities do we need to identify and qualify, to build our pipeline? What are the activities we need to do in order to achieve these goals? What prospecting programs, what marketing programs, and so forth? What does this mean on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis?

Now, we have something we can review and track on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis. We can monitor the plan against the goals, we can adjust the plan based on what’s happening or not happening. It’s just the same as what we do in looking at territories, except we have defined the territory as a single account. (Of course, I’m making the dangerous assumption that we do disciplined territory planning, rather than just any number of random activities to achieve our goals.)

At this very most basic level, the account plan moves from something we do once a year, to a living plan that guides our activities, and is adjusted based on results or changes with the account.

We can raise the level of play in our accounts, just as we do within territories. We can look at what’s happening to the account? What’s happening in the industry, with their customers, with their competition? What are their growth goals and key initiatives? Where are they having problems? Are there opportunities they may be missing? Where can we be most helpful with what they are trying to achieve?

Again, this creates a series of activities that we explore with people in the account. We do this, at least in theory, with everything else, we look for customers that have the problems we solve and incite them to solve them, this is no different with the account.

There’s the mistaken view of account management, which is purely defensive. People use the concept of farming (a concept that is dangerous for our customers and for us, a concept that should be banished by anyone involved in selling!). It focuses on how we maintain/protect the relationship with the account, perhaps grow it, certainly get renewals. It’s focused on keeping the customer happy, or at least minimizing their dissatisfaction.

But this isn’t helping the account! It’s just maintaining the status quo. It’s not focused on helping the account grow, change, improve, and innovate. If we reflect on how we got the business in the first place, it was disrupting the status quo, it was helping the customer change, grow, improve. In doing this, we created great value with the customer. So if that’s what caused great shared success with the customer, doesn’t it make sense to continue this? Doesn’t it make sense to look beyond protecting the current business, but looking at how they can improve, or looking at other problems other challenges within the account?

This strategy of continuing to help your customer improve, innovate, and grow, continuing to disrupt the status quo is supported by research. Customer retention, customer loyalty, customer growth is maximized by helping them change. Keeping them happy and delivering on our commitments is table stakes, but if we expect to grow our relationships, they expect us to do more than doing what we said we would do when they first bought.

So much of our account planning is based on things we hope to do to the customer (in my more cynical moments, I rephrase this on what we inflict on the customer). But what if we took our account planing even further, what if we looked at it from the point of view of what we can do with the customer? How do we make account planning a collaborative activity with the customer?

The most powerful account plans are those which we develop with the customer. It’s not a “once a year” process, but an ongoing partnership in identifying opportunities to work together in achieving our shared goals. We attain the highest value when we develop a true partnership in working with our customers.

Imagine the new account review, not one in which sales managers review the plans of the sales team, but one in which sponsoring executives from both the sellers and customers sit down and review the collaborative plans of their teams. This is, possibly, the pinnacle, of creating value with our customers. But it isn’t wishful thinking. This is commonplace with most high performing sales organizations. They have become as important to the customer and their success as the customer is to the success of the sales organization.

Account planning and execution is hugely powerful. But we misunderstand it, and don’t achieve the results we should. Perhaps, it’s time to change this….

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