Account Planning Defined

In my view Account Planning is the process of creating a blueprint for the sales team’s approach to an important account. It should result in:

  • Better alignment between the sales team and the buyers on the account,
  • Improved understanding of the account’s priorities,
  • Identification of the high probability critical business issues impacting key buyers,
  • Specific plans for building and managing key buyer relationships, 
  • Identification of new proactive opportunities, and
  • The recognition of competitive risks.

The Account Plan Lives! (It’s Not “Shelfware”)

The Seller(s) assigned to building the plan must view it as a strategic, ongoing exercise designed to direct ongoing efforts to penetrate accounts, achieve “Trusted Advisor” status on accounts and identify opportunities before the competition (we will cover the skill of Opportunity Identification in the next post).  However, in too many organizations the Account Planning process is viewed by Sellers as a once a year event, completed in part “to get management off our backs”. This results in an Account Plan becoming “shelfware” almost as soon as it has been written. However, a well thought out Account Plan is the living (in the sense of being continuously updated) strategic guide that can be used to direct efforts on the account.

Using appropriate support resources, the Seller must be capable of developing the Account Plan so that it contains all the information necessary to identify the key Buyers to be targeted. This targeting may be for a number of reasons e.g. relationship management, relationship development, and the coordination of internal resources to assist in the management of those relationships. The process must also identify high probability Critical Business Issues for those Buyers, setting the stage for translating those CBI’s into proactive opportunities.

Metrics and Evaluators

Although it is the “softest” of all skills as it pertains to specific Surgical Performance Metrics (for example, the A/B Ratio is an exact measure of a Seller’s ability to qualify), there are in fact some very useful measures and evaluators of Account Planning (and subsequent Account Development) effectiveness. These metrics and evaluators are as follows:

  • Position in the Account. Evaluation criteria include Commodity Provider, Information Provider, Solution Provider, and Trusted Advisor. I define each as follows:

    • Commodity Provider: The account perceives you as a company whose products/services/solutions have very few or no differentiators, are common in the marketplace and easily purchased; Buyers require no assistance from the Seller when evaluating purchase alternatives. The lowest possible price is one of, if not the, dominant decision parameter for them.
    • Information Provider: The account views your organization as one from whom they can seek expert advice or services to help them make the best possible choices.
    • Solution Provider: The account perceives you as an organization that can comprehensively handle their needs from concept through implementation and support.
    • Trusted Advisor: This position is the most talked about and desired but the one that eludes so many Sellers.  Here the account believes that you are able not only to understand their needs, but also to anticipate them. The account perceives that your organization will do everything possible to understand and assist them. They expect you to offer what you believe is best for them, not simply offer what they might want to hear. Your Seller is perceived to be unique because of his/her integrity, self-confidence and ability to help in ambiguous situations.
  • Progress on relationships across the account, where options include evaluating relationships against the following criteria:
    • Below the Power Line
    • Limited relationships above the Power Line
    • Extensive relationships above the Power Line
    • Relationships above the Power Line that span the CXO level.
  • Solution mix. Here evaluation criteria should include:
    • Primarily low margin commodity-type solutions
    • Limited solutions engagements
    • Significant solutions work with multiple Power promoters
    • Almost all engagements are solution-oriented and viewed as strategic by the account.
  • Sales progress against goal.
  • Client satisfaction, where evaluation criteria should include:
    • Significant account dissatisfaction
    • Account is satisfied with some but not all work
    • Account is very satisfied with all work, with minor exceptions
    • Account is very satisfied with virtually all work.

Periodically the Account Plan should be formally reviewed against the criteria shown above. The performance against each should be scored and assessed against any objectives that were set at the previous review. 

What’s Up Next?

Our next article will cover Surgical Performance Metrics for the skill of Opportunity Identification. In the meantime, provided below are some references that you may find beneficial: