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When done right, Account Planning is hugely valuable, uniting the organization with a single vision for how to best serve and grow a customer. Account plans also ensure organizations deliver more value to customers and help to drive both retention and growth.
Gartner data shows that sellers who actively use account plans are much more likely to help customers build decision confidence compared to sellers who do not. Customers who report high-levels of decision confidence are far more likely to complete a high-quality, low regret purchase.
However, the many clients find that a return-on-investment from account planning initiatives is very challenging. Low levels of account plan adoption discourage some client, others find a lack of enthusiasm from the sales team means that account planning initiatives fizzle out.
Account Planning Challenges
Common barriers to effective account planning are:
- Account plans focus on supplier-orientated goals rather than the customers business opportunity
- Account plans being a seller-only activity and not allowing for cross-functional coordination. Stakeholders internally who interact with the customer and have account knowledge to share are not included in account planning.
- Sellers view account planning as providing little value and instead view it as an activity to please management
- Account plans are not built into seller’s daily workflows and are not leveraged by sellers or the organization
Getting Account Planning Right
In order to unlock the value of account planning sales leaders need to change their perspective on account planning. Sales leaders need to shift their account planning approach from a supplier centric, administrative task to a customer-centric strategy that:
1) Focus account planning on customer needs not the seller. The focus of account plans shouldn’t be on how we sell more to the customer. Instead it should be ‘how can we enable the customer to improve their business?’ One organization we profiled as a best-practice built long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with strategic customers by embedding customer empathy into all critical aspects of its key account program.
2) Ensure account planning is a decision enabler, not just an administrative task. Sellers will be primarily responsible for owning and facilitating account plans. However, it’s important that the organization and leadership teams recognize their role in driving a broader account planning strategy.
3) Create a culture around account planning. Sales leaders should not view account planning as a seller-only activity. Instead they should focus on increasing the value of account plans where sellers should use them in their day-to-day activities. Examples of this include:
- frontline managers using account plans during coaching sessions
- Using the account plan as the basis for a cross-functional account review
This helps to ensure that sellers do not see account planning as a once and done activity but instead as an ongoing, strategic exercise to help them better engage customers.
A New Way Forward
Ultimately, organizations need to re-think their approach to account planning. Firstly, focus account planning on the opportunity a customer has to improve their business and how the supplier can support them to achieve that opportunity. Secondly, Sales leaders should not focus on account planning as a seller activity but as a cross-functional exercise. Finally, to drive an account planning culture leaders must ensure account plans are leveraged in sellers daily workflows.
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Daniel, you’ve essentially outlined the business case for a greater focus on buyer enablement in 2023. Or, did I miss something?
Hi gartner.com owner, Your posts are always informative and well-explained.