By: Nicholas Mistretta
It’s always easier to paint by numbers than it is to sit down in front of a blank canvas and create something new, and this approach can be adapted specifically for your account planning needs. What’s to follow in today’s article is a strategic account planning template that you can use to win new key accounts or grow existing ones.
You may recall from previous articles that you must first change your mindset when dealing with your strategic accounts. You’re a partner, not a vendor. A problem solver, not a salesman. And as such, you have to think differently and plan differently.
The strategic account planning template below, including some account planning tools, is meant to help you improve relationships with your key accounts by:
- Understanding your customers’ business goals and identifying opportunities
- Identifying and reducing risk
- Delivering value to your client
- Creating value for your organization
- Increasing revenue
You want to show your strategic accounts that you’re invested in their success, challenges, and goals. But you also want to create a strategy for mutual success, where both sides win. That’s the only way successful partnerships last.
Perhaps it will help to think of your strategic account planning template in simpler terms. It should help you figure out where you are now with a particular client, where you want to be, and how you’re going to get there.
Therefore, your account planning template will be more Rand McNally road atlas than Picasso’s painting of The Old Guitarist. But that doesn’t mean it still can’t be a masterpiece, and that will be determined by how well you fill in the blanks and connect the dots.
Your strategic account planning template for greater success
Will time and effort be required when filling in your template details and all the research and resources that go into it? You bet! Will it be worth it? If done the right way, the potential ROI from a great account planning template has no limits, or as Michael Jordan once famously said, “The ceiling is the roof.” (That’s OK, we know what he meant.)
1. Your customer’s business overview
Your goal in step one is to gather as much information as you can on your key account’s business so you can better understand their wants and needs. In doing so, you can create that value we mentioned above. And what happens when you create value? You make your organization indispensable.
This should never be thought of as a one-time exercise. Change is always happening whether we see it or not. Goals and objectives change over time. Markets shift and businesses expand. And new technology comes along that turns everything upside down.
Write everything down about your strategic client – from names, main contacts, and year founded, to annual revenue, number of employees, and the date your relationship with them began. Everything that’s relevant, and in the beginning, it may be better to have too much information rather than too little. At least until you get a better sense of what data is necessary.
Take note of all the information you’ll need to help define your customer’s goals and strategies for reaching those goals.
2. Understanding your customer’s key objectives
In this step, you’ll want to ask your customer about their business. And listen strategically while they talk, rather than what most of us do in casual conversations, which is to passively listen and wait our turn to speak.
You want to get a better feel for:
- The challenges they currently have
- How they’ve tried to solve them, what’s working, and what isn’t
- How they measure success and the time frame for measuring
- Their short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals
- Key projects now and in the near future
- Their KPIs – key performance indicators
Keep in mind what your objective is during this step – to figure out what your strategic client values most, and this may sometimes require reading between the lines, which is why being a great listener is so crucial. By better understanding their expectations and goals, you’ll build more customer loyalty, and keep the wolves at bay (i.e., the competition).
Jeff Bezos once famously said, “Focusing on the customer makes a company more resilient.” There’s that win-win end game we keep harping on.
3. A better understanding of the client landscape
Large corporations are complex machines made up of flawed human beings all trying to get ahead. It’s important that you and your team understand the organizational chart, the important players, and the decision-makers. And this can change based on different product lines, different divisions, and geography.
The point of this exercise is in knowing the right person you should be dealing with. Think Godfather II. Would you go to Fredo Corleone to strike up a deal with the family or Michael?
Find information on what job titles you should be targeting for your products. Use past performance – which titles served you well in the past, allowing you to get your foot in the door or the information you needed to help move forward with that client.
Part of your strategic account planning template includes assessing the client landscape, and to do that, you should get information on the following:
- Your relationship history with the client
- The client’s organizational chart
- A whitespace map – opportunities for added value – upsells, cross-sells
- Project status reports
- Customer value scorecard – client satisfaction, objectives, performance/KPIs
- Net promoter score – percentage of customer rating recommendations likelihood
4. Delivering value across the client’s organization
This step gets to the heart of your client’s products and revenues. Identify where you’re currently adding value, what the ROI is for that value, and if any gaps exist in the value chain.
Specific things you’ll want to examine are:
- Their white space analysis
- Current sales performance
- Current margin performance
- Successes and failures over the last 12 months
Now it’s time to analyze your key account’s top competitors.
5. Analyze the competition
As a partner, the only true way to understand your clients’ needs is to better understand their competition. When dealing with simple accounts, your relationship was very transactional – how much can I sell them today. But with strategic accounts, your partnership must be more strategic.
Part of that challenge is in helping those customers differentiate themselves from their top competitors. For each strategic account who you’re creating an account planning template for, consider the following:
- Your client’s top competition
- The competition’s strengths
- The competition’s weaknesses
6. Identify value-based selling for key decision-makers
When is the last time you sold to a company versus an individual at that company? Understanding human nature will be helpful.
Take the organizational chart you created in a previous step in your account planning template and expand it to include motivations and criteria for each key decision-maker in your key account.
Then use value-based selling points to target those individuals to whom you’ll be selling. Salesmen sell based on an empty slot on a shelf. While trusted partners understand how their selling points match the goals for each decision-maker.
Identify each of the following for the key decision-makers within your strategic accounts:
- Evaluation criteria
- Key decision criteria
- Key selling points
You must understand how the people inside your key accounts make decisions and what criteria they use to do that. Those great listening skills we mentioned earlier will serve you well once again.
7. The customer relationship – goals and strategies
Use the motivations from the above step and the organizational chart from step three to find relationship targets (key players) with the greatest opportunities for engagement. Those that can provide the most productive outcomes for both the customer’s business and your own. Remember, mutual success is the goal; that’s what a true partnership is built upon.
Start by being honest about where your relationship status currently stands. Have you ever watched a movie where a guy proposes to a woman who obviously isn’t interested, while you cringe with embarrassment simply because he misread the relationship? Don’t be that guy.
You’ll want to determine the following:
- Your current relationship status – are you seen as a trusted partner or simply a vendor?
- Who are the core business partners?
- Answer the who, what, where, how, why for all relationship targets
- A progression strategy to strengthen those key relationships
8. Identifying opportunities, targets, and risk
To this point, you’ve gathered and analyzed a lot of data – customer objectives, motivations, and important relationships with key decision-makers. You’ve decided which products or services you can suggest to help your clients reach their goals.
This step is about making a list of relevant goals for your strategic accounts and identifying internal and external blockers. Then it’s time to face the final hurdle – operational restrictions.
You may find certain roadblocks in place for the delivery of products and services. You may find opportunities to automate certain aspects of the client’s business, or specific processes that can have a greater impact on their success.
At this stage, you’ll want to identify:
- Operational restrictions
- Barriers, limitations, and risks
- Cross-sell and upsell opportunities
- Methods to align your customer’s needs with your products or services
- Long-term revenue goals
9. Creating your action plan for success
Much of your strategic account planning template to this point has revolved around gathering data and becoming more familiar with your key accounts and the key decision-makers inside those accounts. So, by now you should know the problems and potential solutions, the steps required to get there, the necessary resources, who should perform each step and by when, and how you can measure accountability.
Identify all the tasks you’ll use to achieve positive results and assign them to the right people. This will include primary tasks, milestones, and sub-tasks if required.
Your action plan should contain the following:
- The customer’s top five objectives
- Critical resources for achieving those objectives
- The assignment of each task
How do you measure success? You quantify with data. Some specific areas you’ll want to assess are:
- How to improve results with fewer resources (cost-conscious)
- How to achieve the same results with fewer resources (cost reduction)
- How to improve quality or user experience (satisfaction)
- How to reduce time or unnecessary steps (efficiency)
10. Strategic account planning review
You should review the entries in your strategic account planning template as often as necessary. As we mentioned earlier, things tend to change and sometimes those changes happen quickly.
Consider using the following schedule for this last step:
- Bi-weekly – check-in by email to get status updates on the account plan
- Monthly – schedule a client call and go over their account plan updates or changes, if objectives have changed, and anything else
- Quarterly – Put together a one-hour progress report that outlines challenges, unexpected events, new opportunities, successes, failures, and decisions for moving forward
Review the process to date, the timeline involved, and the next steps. Ask yourself if you’ve prioritized value opportunities correctly. And ask the client for relevant resources to secure buy-in as you continue working together to achieve their long-term goals.
The emphasis should always be on collaboration and positioning yourself as a beneficial and mutual partner. Your strategic clients will value you much differently and begin to see you as an indispensable member of the team, rather than someone trying to make a quick buck with a quick sale.
Let’s conclude this article on strategic account planning templates with a quote from a gentleman who’s seen a bit of success in his life:
“The key is to set realistic customer expectations, and then not to just meet them, but to exceed them – preferably in unexpected and helpful ways.”
– Richard Branson