sales management

Top 10 Account Planning Mistakes to Avoid

In B2B sales, driving revenue from existing accounts is far easier than landing new customers. With so much opportunity available, why do mature sales organizations still “wing it” in their Account Planning process?

According to CEB/Gartner research, only 28% of sales leaders believe their account management channels meet cross-selling and account growth targets. Intentional account plans provide strategic insight and game plans. This allows account teams to meet growth targets. For sales managers, account plans provide foundation for consistent coaching conversations, forecasting insight, and information on customer engagement.

Account Planning is the process of determining the best way to grow and add value to existing accounts. While many organizations engage in both Account Planning and Territory Planning, the purpose of this post is to explore the deep dive Account Planning process to dissect one account at a time.

If your team is currently digging into Account Planning, here are 10 common mistakes to avoid:

Treating Account Planning as an obligatory, administrative process.

Annual Account Planning should be a strategic and consistent set of conversations between account owners. Account Planning is a prime opportunity for those who impact your most valuable clients to step back and review each account and its potential.

This includes conversations about key client needs, relationships, goals, and seller expectations. The plan itself is the documentation of those critical conversations. Sales leaders should investigate these outputs, asking the hard coaching questions and probing for valuable insights. Done correctly, Account Planning informs financial planning and sales target setting cycles. This allows sellers to fuse their account plans into broader sales goals.

Poor account prioritization. Be clear about the criteria that identify which accounts deserve an account plan and which do not. Your best accounts deserve the rigorous attention that Account Planning provides. Don’t dilute this effort with mediocre accounts.

Cap the number of account plans per rep to reduce the administrative burden and encourage quality planning. At the same time, don’t miss the mid-sized, high growth accounts that represent your ideal customer profile. By prioritizing and putting your Account Planning microscope on significant accounts, you can steer your sales team toward winning more.

Insufficient customer knowledge.

For better or worse, Account Planning reveals just how well your sales team knows their customers. Well-developed account plans require a solid understanding of the client’s strategic priorities, markets, industry trends, financial performance, competition, market position, and key stakeholders. As a sales manager, use the Account Planning process as a valuable opportunity to help your reps locate the information gaps needed for day-to-day client interactions.

Taking an inside-out versus outside-in approach.

Since Account Plans establish your company’s goals for account growth, it is easy to fall into a self-serving, internally focused approach. Your Account Plan must demonstrate a deep understanding of client pains, key priorities/initiatives, and compelling events. You will be able to position your organization’s overall value to your client. Be wary of internal agendas that get in the way of effectively matching priorities with real client pain.

Overlooking whitespace opportunities.

To ensure that your team doesn’t miss key opportunities within accounts, make Whitespace Analysis a formal component of your Account Plans. For complex accounts, create a detailed grid with client business units listed down the left side and your company’s products/services across the top. Then, fill in which boxes are ‘Saturated’, ‘Underway’, ‘Not a Fit’, or ‘Whitespace’. Your grid offers a quick, visual method to highlight the whitespace. Other elements in the Account Plan should articulate how your team will capitalize on that whitespace.

Poor relationship assessments and engagement planning.

Many Account Plans fail to assess existing relationships across decision makers and influencers. Be specific about how to strengthen those relationships through a client engagement plan. Your engagement plan should include internal owners, expected actions, and due dates for completion. Note: sales managers should not confuse Account Planning with performance reviews. Sellers need to be brutally honest with themselves and others about the true nature of relationships at an account. If Account Plan reviews become punitive, managers will lose the opportunity to collaborate with the seller.

Skimping on goal definition.

When setting goals in Account Plans, we like to categorize them in three areas: client pain, white space, and relationships. Your goals should address specific pain points you know the client has. It should include cross-sell and up-sell opportunities. It should also establish which relationships you intend to grow. Goals should be aggressive, yet realistic, be categorized between the short and long term, and align with financial goals. When documenting goals, we encourage clients to use the S.M.A.R.T. litmus test (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely). Be sure to have them define stretch goals outside of the account plan.

Insufficient action planning with internal resources.

A great Account Plan has dedicated areas for actions, owners, due dates, and space to track status over the course of the year. These actions should include internal roles, i.e., specific names and what is expected of these individuals to achieve account goals. Consider conducting a cross-functional strategy session with representatives from sales, marketing, product, etc. to create an account strategy and action plan. Leaders should encourage sellers to involve other resources. Reward sellers for bringing the best of your organization to their customers.

“Setting, then forgetting” Account Plans.

After all the exertion to create Account Plans, don’t file them away, only to gather dust until next year! Well-developed Account Plans should serve as living documents that sellers constantly update. If the Account Plan is the documentation of a strategic conversation, then the conversation should continue until the account goals are reached. The real value of Account Plans comes with charting everything you plan to accomplish with an account, then review your progress monthly. This should happen with the sales manager and account team.

Not leveraging sales technology.

Your CRM is your repository for account data and an integral part of your team’s workflow. By integrating your Account Plans into your CRM, you can store and update those plans. This makes them easily accessible to leadership and account team members. Avoid the “set and forget” pitfall by uploading and sharing access to your Account Plans.

Account Planning is an essential part of a high-performing sales organization. Great sales leaders hold their reps accountable for developing and executing against these plans. When done well, account plans keep sellers and supporting resources strategically focused.  

Contact us to discuss effective Account Plans and how to avoid the most common mistakes.

About The Author

Author photo Masami combines the market focus and execution of a Marketing VP with the critical, data-driven orientation of a seasoned strategist. Masami is passionate about the integration of sales and marketing and helps organizations take a disciplined approach to defining sales and marketing process and enabling technologies. Over the last 25 years, Masami has served as a strategy consultant and marketing leader across Fortune 500 to start-up environments.

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