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Crafting Account Plans That Work

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Managing key accounts is like flying a passenger plane. Before a flight can take off, the flight team prepares detailed flight planes to ensure passengers have the smoothest ride to their destination. During the flight, pilots are constantly monitoring the current route and navigating obstacles from the cockpit, while flight attendants take care of passenger needs to keep them comfortable and satisfied. When all of this is done effectively, passengers can reach their final destination faster, more efficiently, and with more confidence in the airline.

Similarly, key accounts are best served when the account team approaches them with a detailed strategy to win their confidence. By planning ahead to anticipate needs and challenges and create valuable solutions for the accounts that matter most for the business, organizations can achieve more predictable customer growth.

While account planning is an ongoing process that requires refinement as customers navigate their journey, the first step is to outline a clear vision and approach in the form of an account plan. Learn six key sections to include in an account plan, and download the template at the end of the article.

Step 1: Background

Before diving into the technical details of the plan, start by setting the context of who the account is and what their goals are. While this background information is primarily meant to provide an overview that can help reps get acquainted with the company in question, it should still be comprehensive. Focus on breaking down the most pertinent facts into a biographical company overview and outline of company objectives.

Company Overview

In this section, present information that can help reps orient themselves with the size and scope of the company, as well as understand industry classifications and relationship background to tailor messaging accordingly. Consider including the following information:

  • Location: where is the company’s headquarters located? Where are other regional offices located?
  • Industry: what is the most relevant industry that the company operates in?
  • Annual Revenue: based on the most recent annual financial information available, what did the company achieve in annual revenue? Is there relevant news about funding or valuation to keep in mind?
  • Number of Employees: how many direct employees are there? If applicable, what is the regional breakdown of employee numbers?
  • Key Competitors: who are the top three to five competitors of the company?
  • Strength of Relationship: is the current relationship with this account strong, medium, or weak?

Objectives

Based on observations from research and account discovery, summarize core objectives that the company is pursuing in the short and long term. In exploring these objectives, it’s important to not only think about goals, but also the challenges that may be obscuring the path to these goals, key initiatives the organization hopes to launch to achieve these goals, and how they are measuring success.

  • Goals: what are the company’s top one to three strategic priorities at the moment?
  • Challenges: what are the most prominent one to three challenges the company is currently facing?
  • Priority Initiatives: what are one to three key initiatives that are relevant to the above goals and challenges currently being pursued?
  • KPIs: how is the company measuring success against these initiatives?

“In my mind, it’s observing what is needed, listening on the more people side and understanding the numbers on the more direct business side,” Dagmar Eisenbach, head of sales enablement, DACH at Salesforce. “All of this customer-centric discovery will help you build trust with your stakeholders.”

Step 2: Relationship Overview

This section often starts thin and becomes more robust as the relationship with the account grows over time. However, it is important to keep track of relevant outreach or key stakeholders involved, especially as things change throughout the sales process, to ensure the right contacts are engaged in the right ways.

History

Document critical outreach or communications that have occurred with this account to ensure all reps engaging with this account have the full context of what has or has not worked in the past. These key interactions can be summarized in a sentence or two in brief bullet points.

Key Stakeholders

Moving an opportunity forward starts with connecting with the right people. In sales today, there are increasingly more stakeholders involved in deals. As such, it’s important to keep track of who the key contacts are, their titles, and their role within the deal to ensure they are engaged properly.

Step 3: Opportunity Summary

In many key accounts, the opportunity to derive customer value is not just in securing a net-new customer, but also continuing to create long-term value through renewals, cross-sells, upsells, and more. To create a plan that can endure over time as relationships strengthen and expand, it is important to map out all past, present, and future opportunities.

Deal History

Highlight any relevant decisions in regard to past opportunities, and how those decisions translate into revenue. Consider including the following items in this section:

  • Past Wins: what opportunities resulted in a decision to buy?
  • Past Losses: what opportunities resulted in a decision not to buy?
  • Total Annual Revenue (Actual): what is the actual revenue impact that resulted from each of the decisions outlined above?

Upcoming Milestones

Looking ahead, outline future opportunities including their likelihood to result in a won deal and any potential obstacles to keep in mind.

  • Risks: what internal or external factors outside of the company’s control could impact the outcome of future opportunities?
  • Challenges: what internal or external factors within the company’s control could prevent favorable outcomes in future opportunities?
  • Projected Wins/Losses: what are the relevant opportunities that are upcoming? What is the likelihood of each opportunity resulting in a win?
  • Revenue Target: what is a reasonable ideal revenue target for this account based on projected wins and losses?

Step 4: Buyer’s Journey

Empathy for the customer is essential in order to engage with them in the ways that will resonate most and motivate them to continue their journey with an organization, and validate that the solution is indeed the right fit for them.

“To really have the best chance of finding a good fit for your solution, you need to really genuinely understand the customer’s business,” said Andy Whyte, founder of MEDDICC. “You need to understand their goals, you need to understand their challenges, you need to understand where they want to get to and what could be hurdles in the way for them there, and then see whether your solution is a good one.”

While it is important to consider all of the steps that need to occur within an organization’s sales process in order to make accurate projections, that process often does not match how customers actually buy. Reps can greatly benefit from mapping out the process through the lens of the customer journey.

Process

Mapping out the buyer’s journey is much easier to define in retrospect for existing customers, but it can also be a useful exercise to complete for new accounts. By putting themselves in the shoes of their key account contacts, reps can outline an approximate timeline and estimate the current status of the opportunity from their perspective.

  • Timeline: what are key milestones that the customer is thinking about?
  • Current Stage: where is the customer currently at in their journey?

Decision Criteria

Define the key factors that the customer is considering, based on either explicit information they’ve shared or educated inferences. Then, consider the challenges that those criteria might raise, as well as any lessons that can be gleaned from attempts to meet these criteria.

  • Pre-purchase Criteria: what are the stakeholders considering in their initial evaluation?
  • Challenges: what are the anticipated or actual challenges reps face in addressing these criteria?
  • Lessons Learned: what can reps learn from their performance in proving out each of these criteria or addressing challenges?
  • Key Decision Factors: what are the primary decision-makers basing their final decision on?
  • Challenges: what are the anticipated or actual challenges reps face in addressing these criteria?
  • Lessons Learned: what can reps learn from their performance in proving out each of these criteria or addressing challenges?

Step 5: Selling Points

Knowing what it is that the company wants to achieve, including how they will evaluate a solution and ultimately make a decision, will help reps narrow down the key selling points to highlight to capture the attention of decision-makers and prove value. In addition to strategizing key selling points, it is just as important for reps to consider and prepare for objections in order to reduce concern and instill confidence.

Solutions

Consider which products and services or combinations of multiple offerings will be most effective in helping the customer reach their objectives outlined, within the specified criteria.

  • Products/Services to Support Objectives: what are the specific products and services that best support the account’s objectives and decision criteria? How so?
  • Projected ROI: what return on investment can the customer expect from implementing each of the solutions or features outlined?

Objection Handling

A rep’s ability to overcome customer concerns can make or break a deal. When reps can ease anxieties or doubts and establish confidence that the solution is the best possible fit for their needs, customer satisfaction can skyrocket.

  • Objections (Actual or Anticipated): what are the key concerns the customer might or has already voiced?
  • Objection Talking Points: how can reps ease these concerns and create confidence?

Step 6: Action Plan

By combining all of the details explored in the previous five steps, reps can strategize an actionable approach to help the customer meet their goals and move the opportunity forward in the sales process. The action plan should include goals that the account team can commit to pursuing for the account, as well as the necessary actions needed to bring those goals to fruition.

“The follow-through is the most important part,” said Stacey Justice, vice president of sales enablement and productivity at HashiCorp. “That follow-through includes leadership ensuring that the reps are accountable to then go on and create account plans to leverage the skills, leverage the discipline, leverage everything that they learned…to be more focused on digging into an account and understanding the strategy, the growth strategy, the champion strategy, the development that comes from that.”

Objectives

While it can be easy to list off plenty of dream goals that reps hope to achieve – especially for ambitious accounts – it is important to keep the goals in the action plan focused and realistic in order to design an action plan that can lead to success. List out the top three to five objectives that all reps involved in the account can agree upon and be held accountable to.

Key Actions

Map out an action plan that includes each key action to be taken, in addition to the responsible party, deadline, necessary resources, and current status for every action to ensure that all reps are aligned on their responsibilities.

  • Action: what step needs to be taken in order to achieve the defined objective?
  • Owner: who is responsible for completing the action?
  • Deadline: when must this action be completed?
  • Resources: what additional materials might be needed to complete the task?
  • Status: is the action complete, in progress, or not started?

As the world of work and business norms inevitably change, so will customer expectations, and thus an organization’s approach to customer engagement. Through strategic account planning, however, reps can better anticipate the risks or challenges that might arise for customers and be more adequately prepared to pivot quickly as needs change.

“Practically, I think you need to leave room for the unforeseen,” said Eisenbach. “In this fast-changing world, strategic plans need to be increasingly flexible and responsive to change. It’s just not possible to think and know exactly for our forecast what will happen all of next year.”

By leveraging a thorough account planning framework, reps are encouraged to think critically about how to best engage key accounts and develop an actionable plan to do so while remaining agile.



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