Putting Strategic Account Planning Into Practice
When mapping a hike, some calculate the mileage “as the crow flies.” That is, the mileage doesn’t represent the additional distance of summiting and descending the peaks and valleys in between the start and end points. Nothing about strategic account development is “as the crow flies.”
The sales professional must traverse every contour of the landscape. Their journey must map every inch of elevation. This level of preparation puts them on solid footing to reach their destination. It primes them for the hard yards.
The key is to become more intentional about the approach to selling.
Select The Right Customers
The key to strategic account planning is choosing the right customers. Defining which of your accounts represent meaningful opportunities allows sales professionals to prioritize efforts.
This approach works because it means investing already limited time on customers who are most likely to yield revenue. Sales professionals must consider “hard” factors, like revenue generated and product mix. They must also examine “soft” factors, like their level of access, relationships, and buying behavior.
Sales professionals need to explore which existing accounts have divisions, locations, or departments they aren’t serving. They need to identify the customer’s unresolved pain points and identify the key decision makers and influencers with whom they need to build relationships.
Sales professionals must not become too focused on the accounts that have spent the biggest totals. The idea is to look for the accounts with the biggest potential for future purchases — this is the white space.
Analyze, Then Act
Many people make the mistake of operating without a plan or setting unrealistic objectives when looking to expand existing accounts.
Analyzing the situation and then developing realistic goals and strategies enables sales professionals to position the right solutions for the right customers.
After a complete assessment of a customer’s account, the sales professional will have enough information to form a prioritized list of goals and objectives. Effective sales professionals build a list, which, as a whole, represents one outcome. Examples include replacing a competitors’ product offering or offering additional solutions to an existing relationship.
It’s essential that each of the listed goals coalesce to one picture of value for the customer because “research has found that journey performance is significantly more strongly linked to economic outcomes than are touchpoints alone,” according to McKinsey. The customer must be able to see how each interaction will progress to a singular goal.
Building to a goal means drafting an action plan. Doing so captures specific strategic objectives. Action plans also create accountability. An action plan represents a fixed definition of success that allows the sales professional to track progress and maintain momentum. The plan must be specific, clear, prioritized, and realistic.
Create Alignment, Create Value
Taking the time to find alignment with the customer offers two key benefits. First, the sales professional illustrates why they are unique relative to the competition. Differentiation is crucial, as more solutions become commoditized and more competitors enter the picture.
Second, understanding and aligning with the customer’s strategy creates value over the long term and opportunities in the short term. The sales professional gets an early indication of any capabilities that the customer is lacking. This information is valuable because it allows the sales professional to position solutions earlier and more effectively than the competition.
Creating alignment involves stakeholder analysis. Sales professionals need to understand who will make the buying decision. Some of these stakeholders will have an existing relationship with the sales professional. Others will be new. The strategic approach means engaging established relationships to expand into new ones. The process is ongoing because stakeholders enter and exit the picture.
Collaborate With The Customer
Sales professionals must stay up to date on the customer’s changing needs. Doing so requires consistent engagement. Without this level of communication, the sales professional risks presenting solutions and insights that don’t resonate.
Regular dialogue not only clarifies evolving needs, but it also boosts profitability because fully engaged customers are more profitable than average customers, according to findings from Gallup. These customers offer 23 percent more “in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth compared with the average customer.” Moreover, these customers represent this level of value in times of a good economy and bad.
In contrast, customers who are actively disengaged exhibit a 13 percent discount in the same areas. Actively disengaged customers have little or no interaction with existing sales professionals. Drive more revenue through consistent customer engagement.
Execute And Update
The customer’s business is not static. Account planning must move in lockstep with these changes. Additionally, new competitors regularly enter the playing field. Updating the strategy protects the relationship against these other players. Sales professionals need to use their access to gain feedback from the customer and adjust their approach.
Reevaluation is necessary because, as a strategic account planner, it’s critical to allocate resources to the sales that drive meaningful results. The idea is to cultivate accounts and avoid customer churn. Regular updates that respond to new developments and information ensure that the relationship stays in play. With strategic account planning, the research drives the approach, and without an ongoing dialogue, the information will become out of date.
Putting Strategic Account Planning Into Practice
Mapping a route to the closing means hitting numerous mile markers. While there may be many paths to success, the strategic account planner chooses only one. Developing an honest assessment of the target customers is essential. Doing so saves time, resources, and effort later. Strategic account planning requires:
- Defining which customers are your strategic accounts and evaluating ongoing fit; looking at both quantitative and qualitative factors
- Keeping up to date on what’s happening in your customer’s industry in order to understand customer drivers better and to identify insights
- Understanding the customer’s strategy, goals, objectives, and issues and aligning your objectives with the customer’s objectives
- Evaluating and strengthening relationships with key stakeholders
- Assessing the customer’s perceptions of your strengths and vulnerabilities and their perceptions of key competitors
- Identifying opportunities to create value
- Developing and executing a plan to achieve your objectives.
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