In a recent blog, we explored how it’s more profitable to close new deals with existing clients than it is to generate new business. But in order to identify and seize opportunities for new projects, there have to be effective systems in place for collecting and analysing relevant data, as well as planning for future growth.
This is where account planning comes into play. And, at SBR, we think of it as a team sport. In this blog we break down the key aspects of a winning account planning strategy:
Effective account planning requires time and resources, so it is essential to pick out which of your clients present the best opportunities for growth, before going all in.
It all starts with segmenting your client base:
Very often, this initial segmentation will be done on gut feeling and educated guessing, until more data is available to analyse. And it may be tempting to see the biggest clients on your books as key accounts. But do they really offer that much scope for development?
What you really want to focus on are those accounts which have the greatest scope for growth.
Maybe they have a large budget but are spending most of it on your competitors’ products and services, when you know you can do better for them. Or maybe you are particularly confident in your relationship with some of the key stakeholders in their company.
Of course, the more data you have on your client, the more informed your choices will be. So, it is essential for everyone across your different teams to have access to a centralised system of information gathering.
Our partner, Gary Smith, from the Gary Smith Partnership, offers useful software solutions to collect, centralise and track your accounts’ data and activity. The Key Account Planner app, for example, allows you to capture essential account plan and business development information, and will automatically track account plan KPI performance.
Different members of staff across your business will have different insight into your client’s company. Your customer success manager, for example, may have a privileged relationship with your client, as a result of being in regular communication with them. But one of your junior sales reps could uncover a particular factor at play during one of their calls.
Each perspective will contribute to a holistic view of your client’s position and serve to inform a more effective plan. This is why everyone on your side of the deal should be able to contribute to account planning.
According to the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), there’s an average of 6.8 stakeholders involved in making B2B purchase decisions. So, it is crucial to consider how much influence you hold with some of the stakeholders, and client-side. And kudos to you if you know the elusive 0.8 stakeholders!
We like to use this simple heat map to plot where we stand in relation to our clients:
Now for the game changer: your client should be on the team too.
We often think of account plans as internal documents – game strategies to be kept secret. Alan Morton, one of our managing directors, describes it as a common pitfall. He explains how too many companies fall into that trap of seeing it as something they do to the customer when it should be something they do with them.
In business relations, we know the importance of building trust and creating strong partnerships. So, what better way to achieve these than with complete transparency?
By taking the plan to your customer, you can test and validate some of the hypotheses that you’ve made, and shape solutions to particular challenges together. You can co-create a road map for success that aligns with both their objectives and yours. This allows for both parties to take joint intellectual and emotional ownership of the plan, making it something that everyone will work together to drive forward.
Plus, being open and honest about your business objectives with your customer can only earn you favours. Especially when they’re likely to have seen a lot of your competitors taking the ‘secret account plan’ approach.
Account planning is a continuous process, as accounts need to be reviewed and updated regularly.
Having a usable dashboard with all the account’s objectives (broader outcomes) and the steps to take in order to achieve them (activity) allows your accounts team to review progress in real-time. Defining and tracking what needs to be done, by whom, and by when, will increase accountability and drive results.
This should also promote the continuous engagement and motivation of your team, as they can track activity and celebrate the small wins along the way. Particularly in longer sales cycles, when it may take up to 18 months to meet specific objectives.
It is also vital to perform regular health checks on ongoing accounts. That’s because loyal customers can very quickly turn into ex-customers when you become complacent and stop adding value.
At SBR, we are frequently called upon to carry out independent account reviews for our clients. This may involve talking to some of the key stakeholders on their customer’s side. But it is mainly about challenging the processes in place, especially when these have gone on for a long time.
Coming in to offer that ‘critical friend’ perspective, we delve into the whys and wherefores of existing account plans’ objectives – Are they still relevant to your client? Are they still aligned with their business strategy? And a lot of the time, we find that this is not the case.
(And yes, we’re really leaning into the whole sports metaphor here)
Before any winning game, there must be effective preparation. In the context of account planning, this means identifying the key accounts to focus on for maximum ROI. It also means using the right equipment to collect and analyse data, as well as to plan for and track progress.
When recruiting your account planning team, you should include anyone within your company with relevant insight, as well as key people on the client side too. Co-creating account plans with your customers allow for greater ownership of it on both sides of the deal and ensure that the steps you take are relevant to them.
Finally, to play the long game, you must remain proactive and effectively track progress over time. You can do this internally with integrated account planning systems. But, for older-standing accounts, we recommend getting an independent reviewer to offer a fresh and critical perspective.
For more on executable account planning best practices, you can watch a recording of a recent webinar from the Gary Smith Partnership, with Gary Smith and our very own Alan Morton and Matt Best.
And if you need an independent account reviewer, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on +44 (0) 207 653 3740.
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