How to Use a Strategic Account Plan to Crush Your Sales Goals

Highlights

  • The Sales Excellence Report found that companies with Strategic Account Management achieved 24 percent higher existing client sales than those without.
  • Strategic Account Planning programs shift selling to existing customers from reactive to proactive, and from random purchases initiated by customers to intentional pursuits led by salespeople.
  • A strategic account plan is the blueprint for prescriptive customer expansion and future sales.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

Here's some research you can use to grow revenues.

A study by CSO Insights found that 73 percent of sales leaders indicate that sales strategy and planning was the greatest management lever they had for achieving their goals, and 80 percent of those leaders ranked strategic account planning as very important or mission critical.

Also related to strategic account planning, the most recent research by Johnny Grow published in the Sales Excellence Report found that while only 29 percent of companies adopted formal Strategic Account Management programs, those adopters achieved 24 percent higher existing customer sales than peers without these programs.

Think about that. A single sales program that grows existing customer revenues by 24 percent. That should cause any sales leader seeking revenue growth to take note.

Strategic Account Management, sometimes called key account management, is a customer-centric selling method to increase revenues and customer share from key customers.

In my prior blog post I shared how top salespeople use Strategic Account Management to grow revenues and customer share. In this post I'm going to drill down into the Account Planning process and share how you can create a strategic account plan that works.

Strategic Account Planning

A strategic account plan is essentially a long-term sale opportunity roadmap that provides prescriptive actions to align company products with customer needs over an extended horizon.

While there may be many routes to increasing existing customer sales, the Account Plan identifies the shortest route with the highest payback for each opportunity in the journey.

Our practitioners have been designing and implementing Strategic Account Plans for almost three decades. We've learned a lot in that time, and that learning has gone into our 5 step Strategic Account Plan framework.

How to Create a Strategic Account Plan

Strategic Account Planning Process
1

Select Key Accounts

You do not want to build account plans for every account so it's important to focus on those with the biggest revenue potential.

Key accounts go by several names, such as top, major, focus, strategic or target accounts.

A common criteria should be used to select key accounts so that the target population is measurable, can be dynamically updated, and the measures can be refined with learning.

Sales growth frameworks vary but most companies choose key accounts by revenue size. Our experience has been that revenue is often a factor, but by itself is not the best factor. The best metric is usually Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) as this is a forward-looking metric that calculates the specific revenue upside for each customer.

It's also important to include qualitative factors. For example, increasing focus on customers with a culture of building vendor partnerships will pay dividends.

Finally, consider how the product you sold or other products in your portfolio may align to customer expansion. You may have sold one product to one department, but there may be additional departments, divisions or lines of business with needs you can satisfy with the same or additional products in your portfolio.

2

Apply Customer Intelligence

Customers are not homogenous, and they don't want to be treated that way.

The goal of customer intelligence is to identify customer preferences, behaviors, pain and priorities. This then enables conversations, offers and proposals that are relevant, personalized, specific and well received.

Customer intelligence is created by the transformation of raw customer data into metrics and insights about customers.

This will include things like what they have purchased (purchase history), what they chose not to purchase (lost sale opportunities), what they have purchased from competitors (third party enriched data) and what they haven't purchased but need (white space).

Insights surface things like customer problems so you can align company solutions with customer-specific supporting information. Insights identify opportunities to create value.

Customer insights may also include industry trends, challenges and imperatives that are relevant to your customer.

Many companies struggle with converting raw customer data into customer intelligence. My experience has been they usually have the customer data, although many times don't know it because it resides in so many places.

Consolidating customer data into the Customer Relationship Management system, which is the customer system of record, is your starting point. You can then parse the data into customer segments, customer insights, an Ideal Customer Profile and a 360-degree customer view. This upfront investment will accelerate and automate Strategic Account Management and deliver many other downstream business benefits.

Customer Insights Integration to CRM

Without an automated data transformation process where customer data is converted and organized into a central destination system, such as the CRM system, customer intelligence is haphazard at best. Even worse, process automation is lost and all downstream execution programs such as lead scoring, sales win plan development and strategic account management are performed manually and inconsistently, if performed at all.

3

Design the Strategic Account Plan

The strategic account plan should align customer problems with company solutions. But to that in a way that maximizes success the salesperson should answer four questions:

  1. Why should the customer complete a proposed purchase? Generic benefits won't cut it. You need relevant and personalized specifics. You need to understand the customer's pain. Unless the cost of change is less than the cost of pain you cannot expect a sale.
  2. Why wouldn't the customer make a proposed purchase? You need to identify the most likely reasons so you proactively mitigate them.
  3. Why now? Top producers identify the cost of non-action. That often creates a sense of urgency.
  4. What's the cost and payback? Unless the investment delivers a solid return, a purchase decision is unlikely.

The account plan is a sales execution roadmap. That map not only aligns customer problems with company solutions, but also aligns with the customer's decision making and procurement process.

Most opportunities involve multiple buyer roles so it's important to identify the specific pain, personal goals and professional objectives for each buyer, and design the actions to achieve their recommendations. Many CRM systems and most strategic account management apps use org charts and relationship maps to visually depict buyer hierarchies and capture essential information for each buyer.

And because you probably don't have relationships with every buyer role, the account plan will include activities for relationship expansion. That means getting introduced or reaching out to engage buyers involved in your opportunities. The relationship expansion will also prevent you from being single threaded, which means having only one contact, which can become a death nail if that contact takes a different role or leaves the company.

To maximize success the account plan should be also integrated with the company's sale methodology.

Strategic Account Planning
4

Collaborate and Update

Account plans are never stale and seldom right the first time. But they get better with each iteration.

The fastest route to improvement is to collaborate with the customer. You need to float your ideas and products to see which resonate and which don't. If done well, this collaboration will also raise some red flags that need to resolved.

Those gaps are likely to include customer goals you didn't know about. That might include a change in priorities since the last time you met, a customer perceived weaknesses of your product or the customer's perception of competitor alternatives.

If done really well, the seller gains commitments from the buyer. Those pledges may be as simple as a follow-on meeting to review an updated solution, the buyer introducing the seller to a colleague or the buyer agreeing to advance to the next step in the sales process.

The customer's business is not static so a regular cadence is needed to stay current. However, to get customer acceptance for a regular cadence you need to bring value to each meeting. Otherwise, the customer will not have time for you.

5

Review and Revise

In the prior step the seller learned what the customer liked and didn't like about a potential solution.

In this step the seller uses that input to modify or refine the account plan. Or he or she may use new information to expand the plan into other business units.

In fact, for sellers building upon an initial customer relationship, the land and expand strategy is quite common. It may be used to sell more of the same product to the same entity, sell new products to the entity or find additional company locations for the same or different products.

A good sales plan sets aside dedicated time for sellers to periodically update their Account Plans. Even better, schedule a coaching session cadence to review and update the plan. Two heads are better than one.

The output of these sessions should be an updated plan. Many times, it's a 90-day action plan. It's essential that the plan show measurable progress, and that usually means quantifiable mile markers along the journey. For example, mile markers might include engaging with a previously unmet stakeholder, getting feedback on a tentative solution or removing a red flag from the plan.

The process of designing, implementing and adjusting strategic account plans is not easy, but it is a journey with a profitable destination.

"In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."  — Dwight D. Eisenhower