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The Best Approach to Strategic Account Planning

Now that we have found a way to define our strategic accounts, we can focus on the next step, strategic account planning. Another highly popular topic for many account managers and salespeople, I know. But guess what? What you get out of account planning process depends on you: a plan to check a box or a highly valuable blueprint for implementing your account strategy with many new account leads. And the secret to a valuable strategic account is not the plan. It’s not filling out a form. No, it’s about the process of planning, of thinking through strategies, approaches and ideas. I usually avoid war analogies, but Dwight D. Eisenhower was spot on when he said that in preparing for battle, “plans are useless but planning is indispensable.” The same is true here.

More than 50% have no formal approach to strategic account planning.

We asked the participants of our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study how they approach strategic account planning in their organization. Overall, 10.4% said that strategic account planning wasn’t relevant to them and therefore they wouldn’t do it. Then, the data shows that 24.8% of all global participants said that account planning is left up to each salesperson. This is what we call a random approach. Another 31.7% said that salespeople are encouraged to develop strategic account plans – an informal approach. A more formal approach, which means that salespeople are required to develop strategic account plans, was reported by 33.1%. What does the data really mean?

In fact, 56.5% don’t take advantage of account planning to grow their strategic accounts.

Isn’t that scary? First of all, as we can see year be year in all our data, sales has a lot to do with consistency, precision, and focus. Don’t be fooled. Sustainable, predictable sales success doesn’t happen by accident. Nothing happens by accident. Instead, sales success, sales performance and growth require a well thought- through formal, strategic and focused approach to be able to invest sales resources in the most valuable directions.

With the random approach of leaving account planning up to each salesperson, win rates decreased to 42.9%, compared to the average win rate for forecast deals of this study of 46.2%. It’s a difference of 3.3 percentage points, and a decline of 7.7%.

Just review for a moment what such a win rate improvement would mean in your organization. Now, let’s focus on how to make strategic account planning a valuable process.

Here are a few pillars to make strategic account planning valuable:

  • Customers come first: Begin with understanding the entire context in the account (such as their business challenges, their financial performance, their business strategies and plans moving forward, etc.) and in their industry.

  • Analyze your current state: This includes existing business, customer satisfaction and problems, and financial performance. Analyze the problems you currently help customers solve and the products and services you currently have implemented. Map out your current relationship network, the kind of relationship, the quality of the relationship, and how each person acts within a buyer role. Define all necessary actions to develop your existing relationships. Then, where are your relationship gaps? Who are the executives you don’t have access to right now? Developing relationships with them should be your key focus. To do that, you’ll need the right value messages and excellent ideas to drive their performance and help them achieve their goals. That’s why the next two steps are vital for success.

  • Develop a shared account strategy: This is often overlooked, or simply reduced to “This year, I want to sell them X, and next year I want to sell them Y.” This is not a shared account strategy; this is a product-push approach that doesn’t work anymore. A shared account strategy begins with the customer’s goals and ends with how you can help them to achieve these goals, while assuring in parallel that this strategy is valuable for your organization as well.

  • Develop creative account leads to develop new business: Now is the time to put all the pieces together and to brainstorm to create new account leads. But don’t do this alone. Invite your product and solutions specialists, your industry experts, and please don’t forget your service team that often spends more time with the customers than your account team ever will. Share all the work you have done on the plan with them before the brainstorming session to get the most out of it. Capture ALL ideas, map them to the relationship network, and define the necessary actions to move the leads forward.

  • Don’t forget horizontal growth opportunities: Where can you repeat what you have already implemented? In another business unit, in another sister company, in another country, in another region?

Strategic account planning is all about developing new ideas about how to grow the account in terms of customer satisfaction, loyalty, revenue, and margin. The purpose is to create a blueprint that helps the account team successfully implement the shared account strategy.

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