Creating an Account Plan for Any Sales Organization: 5 Components that Help Plans Succeed

Author: 
Mark Donnolo

Account planning is an essential part of any high-performing sales organization. It brings together critical information about your customer, your competitors and your strategy to win business. The problems come when you ask an account leader to stop what he’s doing and focus on a plan. More problems arise when you expect multiple people to be involved in writing the plan – to stop calling on customers, sit down, and look up some numbers or competitive information. The route to making this planning into a long-term habit is crowded with obstacles.

But it’s not impossible, and it’s well worth the effort.

Every sales organization is unique, but most have similar challenges and succeed according to a common set of principles. All sales organizations can leverage the following five imperatives as landmarks on their path to long-term account planning success and more predictable revenue growth.

1. Use the right structure. Account plans vary in length, from one page to more than 50. A longer plan isn’t necessarily a better plan. The best plan is one that creates a healthy tension between being clear and action-oriented and having enough detail to describe the strategy. The six components below encapsulate a best practices account plan for any organization. Determine the level of detail that works best for your culture and bandwidth, remembering that time spent gathering insight and planning specific actions actually saves time in the field.

  • Profile and Position gives an overview of the account and the strengths and weaknesses of the relationships. It answers the question, “Where are we now?”
  • Needs Mapping and Alignments describes your understanding of the customer needs and the organizational alignments of your team to the account. This section answers the questions, “Who are the buyers and how do we align?”
  • Goals and Strategy is where things start to get exciting. You’ve identified your current state, charted your past performance, mapped your alignments to the buyers in the account, and developed an initial understanding of their needs. The Goals and Strategy section describes your overall objectives for the account, and how you will get to your goal. It answers the questions, “What are our objectives, and what’s our overall direction to achieve them?”
  • Action Plan takes each component of the goal build and develops a tactical plan to achieve the goal. It answers the question, “What is our plan to achieve each opportunity?”
  • Team Support describes how your organization needs to come together across functions to support the account plan. It answers the question, “What internal commitments do we need?”
  • Performance Dashboard sets milestones and tracks your progress to those milestones; it also helps identify any adjustments that need to be made. It answers the questions, “How have we performed? How should we adjust?”

2. Set an effective revenue goal. The revenue goal for the account is the foundation for the account plan. It identifies your starting point from a market perspective, a customer perspective, and from your own perspective. You have booked a certain amount of revenue in backlog, renewals, or retention that you know will happen. On top of the known revenue and backlog, you have new growth you plan to close. While some of it may show up in the forecast, a lot of it will truly be part of your goals and aspirations for the account. In fact, if you do it right, your goal build will be couple of multiples of your actual goal (2.5x – 3x) and it will have some big opportunities that go beyond what you might think is possible. The C-level sets the overall revenue goal for the company, and then each account is responsible for its own portion of that. The goal build identifies specific opportunities within your account that will help you reach your revenue goal.

3. Create the habits. One of the real tricks of account planning is getting the right people -- including people on the marketing, delivery, and sales operations teams -- to make account planning part of the regular cadence of activity. We suggest:

  • Assemble the team
  • Hold a kick off meeting (virtual or in person)
  • Assign pre-work
  • Conduct the account planning meeting
  • Finalize the plan
  • Present to leadership

4. Understand the politics. Politics are enabled by people holding too tightly to their own agendas. One of our first recommendations to defuse political situations is to understand other perspectives, their goals, and their priorities. You might not agree with them, but it sets the stage to begin crossing the lines and working together toward a larger common goal.

5. Think big. Aspirational account plans are different than strategic account plans. Aspirational plans ask the sales team to grow an account into a major force, driving revenue in some companies upward of $75 million or $100 million per year for the business. It’s generally an enormous stretch, especially when the current revenue of the account is often under $5 million. It pays to think big and to plan big. To start, you may identify a few of your accounts that warrant the time and investment of an aspirational account plan. Your goal should be big enough to scare you and your team at first but somewhere in the realm of imaginable. Start with the accounts that represent sizeable opportunities, set an aspirational goal and timeframe, get your team’s head into the reality of what it looks and feels like in the future to be at that level, then work back to how you got there with the capabilities and short-term goals you need to achieve over your timeframe.

Mark Donnolo is managing partner with SalesGlobe, which helps companies connect their sales strategies to the bottom line. Mark's most recent book is Essential Account Planning: 5 Keys for Helping Your Sales Team Drive Revenue.