Honing Your Aim: The Art and Science of New Account Planning
If you're in sales, you know the thrill of the chase. The exhilaration of closing a deal. The satisfaction of seeing your commissions climb. But we often see salespeople taking a shotgun approach to account planning, bouncing from one prospect to another without a clear strategy. While this approach may occasionally bag you a bluebird deal, it's not the most effective or efficient way to achieve consistent success.
Instead, the most successful salespeople are like expert hunters, carefully selecting their targets and pursuing them with purpose and precision. These salespeople understand the art and science of new account planning. They let their experience and expertise lead them to million-dollar commissions. They have a plan that says, "These are the five accounts I will go pursue and why; these are the services I will present and why," and they stick to it. This is the approach we should all strive for.
The value of a well-structured new account plan cannot be overstated. It's a roadmap to success, guiding your efforts and ensuring your energy is spent on the right prospects. It helps you avoid getting sidetracked or wasting time on low-value leads. Plus, it makes you more proactive, able to anticipate needs and objections, and better equipped to build strong, long-lasting relationships with your clients.
Yet, crafting a successful new account plan is not without its challenges. Many salespeople struggle to identify the right accounts to target, lacking the tools or insights to make informed decisions. Others grapple with defining their value proposition or articulating the benefits of their services. Some may find it difficult to adapt their plans as market conditions change, while others might be unsure about how to measure the effectiveness of their strategies. All of these problems can make the process of new account planning seem daunting and complex.
How can salespeople develop and implement a new account plan to enhance their sales performance effectively?
To answer this question, we need to delve into the concept of new account planning and use our understanding of salespeople's challenges to inform our strategy. Salespeople need to systematically plan their new account, beginning with thorough market research to identify potential accounts. They should focus on accounts where they can deliver real value based on their unique strengths and the prospect's specific needs.
Salespeople must also articulate a compelling value proposition for their services, clarifying why the prospect should choose them over their competitors. This requires a deep understanding of their offerings and the prospects' needs, goals, and pain points.
- Defining the Account Plan cadence: The period the account plan covers is crucial to its success. This period should ideally be three to four times the typical sales cycle. For instance, a 12-month account plan would be ideal if an average deal takes three months. This period allows for strategic thinking and planning, ensuring the plan is meaningful and effective. It balances the need for strategic planning and the practicalities of executing sales deals.
- Using a Four-Step Approach to account planning: Effective account planning requires a systematic approach. A proven method is a Four-Step approach, which involves: Territory Planning, Account Planning, Objective Planning, and Opportunity Co-creation. This approach ensures that the account plan is comprehensive, focused on strategic relationships, and aligned with revenue goals. It also encourages customer engagement, promoting collaboration and mutual investment in potential opportunities.
- Bringing Goals to Life with Actionable Objectives: Goals provide direction but can be broad and challenging to measure. This is where objectives come into play. Objectives make goals concrete, as they are precise, measurable, action-oriented, and specific in deliverables. This combination of visionary goals and practical objectives ensures that the account plan is both ambitious and achievable.
- Utilizing pre-defined SWOT sentence structure: Writing full sentences in the SWOT analysis that provide context is crucial for an effective account plan. This practice prevents ambiguity and clearly understands the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The SWOT analysis can be used to define the specific objectives needed to leverage the situation effectively.
- Building multiple Account Plans for large, complex customers: For large customers or prospects with complex needs, multiple plans might be necessary. This approach allows for more targeted strategies and better management of resources.
- Creating holistic, multi-team plans: Account plans should not be siloed within individual teams or departments. Instead, they should be holistic, involving multiple teams within the organization. This practice promotes collaboration, ensures objectives' alignment, and leverages different teams' diverse skills and expertise.
- Raising quality through peer, manager, and customer coach reviews: Regular reviews of the account plan by peers, managers, and customer coaches can significantly improve its quality. Such reviews can provide fresh perspectives, identify potential issues, and suggest improvements. They also ensure that the account plan remains relevant and effective over time.
- Defining and agreeing upon internal resources: Clearly defining and agreeing upon the internal resources required for the account plan is critical. This practice ensures sufficient resources to execute the plan and that these resources are used effectively. It also prevents potential conflicts or misunderstandings about resource allocation.
- Applying the Three Handshakes Rule to stakeholder management: The Three Handshakes Rule suggests that each key stakeholder should be no more than three handshakes away from the account manager. This rule ensures that the account manager has direct access to key stakeholders, facilitating communication and relationship building.
- Using vital metrics to measure success: The success of an account plan should be measured using key metrics. These metrics provide a quantitative assessment of the plan's effectiveness and allow continuous improvement. They can include revenue targets, customer satisfaction scores, or the number of new opportunities created.
- Define the Account Plan cadence: The account plan should cover a period of three to four times your typical opportunity sales cycle. This timeline allows for more strategic thinking and execution than managing individual opportunities. If it takes, on average, three months to close a deal, then a 12-month account plan is ideal. This cadence might align with your company's financial year1.
- Use a Four-Step approach to account planning: This approach involves territory planning, account planning, objective planning, and opportunity co-creation. Territory planning entails segmenting your territory to identify customers and prospects that need account plans. Account planning is creating plans for those customers and prospects where you aim to transition the relationship. Objective planning involves building the objectives that make the goals in the account plan actionable. Finally, opportunity co-creation requires meeting and engaging with the customer to identify joint opportunities relating to the customer's projects over the next twelve months. This approach helps ensure that the account plan aligns with your revenue goals1.
- Bring your Goals to life with actionable Objectives: Goals set the direction but are often broad and tricky to measure. It's best practice to combine vision-setting goals with down-to-earth objectives. Objectives make your goals concrete, as they are precise, measurable, action-oriented, and specific in deliverables. They help take you on the journey that your goals set out1.
- Use a pre-defined SWOT sentence structure: Use whole sentences instead of one-word responses or notes to provide context and clarity in your SWOT analysis. This way, you can better define the specific objectives needed to take advantage of the situation.
It's a wrap!
The world of account planning is a complex but rewarding field that requires strategic thinking, keen insight into customer needs, and a commitment to continuous improvement. The key to successful account planning is meticulous adherence to best practices like those discussed in this article.
We began our exploration by defining the cadence of the Account Plan. The optimal period for an account plan is three to four times your typical opportunity sales cycle. This timeframe allows for strategic thinking and executing the work, which typically takes longer than a regular sales deal.
The four-step approach to account planning is a roadmap to success. The journey starts with territory planning and identifying the customers and prospects that need account plans. Account planning comes next, where the plans for transitioning relationships are made. The third step is objective planning, which involves building objectives that bring the goals in the account plan to life. The final stage is opportunity co-creation, where engaging with the customer to identify joint opportunities occurs.
It's crucial to bring your goals to life with actionable objectives. Goals set the direction, but objectives make these goals concrete. Objectives should be precise, measurable, action-oriented, and specific regarding deliverables.
Writing a SWOT analysis using a pre-defined sentence structure is another best practice. It involves writing whole sentences that provide the context, starting with the condition within your customer or prospect.
When it comes to large, complex customers and prospects, building multiple account plans is beneficial. This strategy allows you to cater to different customer segments' specific needs and preferences. Also, creating holistic, multi-team plans helps to foster collaboration and ensures a comprehensive approach to account planning.
Quality enhancement through peer, manager, and customer coach reviews is necessary. These reviews can provide valuable feedback and insights that can help improve your account plans.
Defining your internal resources and agreeing upon them is essential to account planning. It ensures that everyone on the team is on the same page about what resources are available and how they will be used. Applying the Three Handshakes Rule to stakeholder management can facilitate effective communication and cooperation among team members and stakeholders.
Finally, using vital metrics to measure success can clearly show how well your account planning efforts are working. Metrics provide an objective basis for assessing performance and identifying areas for improvement.
In the future, companies can expect to see an increased focus on account planning as a strategic tool for business growth. By adhering to these best practices, companies can enhance their account planning efforts, improve customer relationships, and drive success.
- Define the Account Plan cadence based on your sales cycle.
- Use a four-step approach to account planning.
- Make your goals actionable with precise objectives.
- Use a pre-defined sentence structure for your SWOT analysis.
- Create multiple account plans for complex customers.
- Foster collaboration with holistic, multi-team plans.
- Enhance quality through reviews.
- Define and agree on your internal resources.
- Apply the Three Handshakes Rule for stakeholder management.
- Use metrics to measure success.