It takes both art and science to handle key accounts.
Some aspects of account planning are constructing a sales strategy, developing a consistent technique for gathering background information on important clients, and establishing relationships based on proactive management and support.
It is challenging to create a playbook of strategies that safeguard your brand reputation and foster long-term commercial partnerships without an overarching strategic framework, much alone teach your team how to accomplish the same thing. This is where account 360 comes into the picture.
Finding the time to dedicate to key account planning is one of the biggest issues for key account managers and strategic planning executives alike. You cannot, however, rely on the chance to strengthen your competitive edge and drive revenue development.
Because of this, we have developed a guide to maximizing the key account planning process, complete with a template you can use right away.
But, before we look at the template, it is important to understand the concept of account planning.
The definition of key account plan
Maintaining healthy client relationships is a must for a successful business. However, building and maintaining food customer relationships is easier said than done. Nurturing and preserving connections needs time, effort, and careful execution of strategy, particularly in B2Bs where loyalty is fought for and hard-won.
So how to manage customer relationships? Well, the answer lies with Account Management. Account management enters the scene post-sales, and the key focus here is to nurture client relationships. An account manager handling the responsibility has two key objectives –
- Retain business clients
- Work on increasing opportunities to retain clients
To fulfill these objectives, account managers work closely with the clients to understand their goals and desires and help them reach where they wish. Along with these, account managers are also responsible for careful account planning. And the most important accounts they are responsible for are called ‘key accounts,’ which require targeted planning and approach.
The process of key account planning involves outlining key information about a current customer or potential one. The information gathered includes understanding their decision-making process; their target audience and competitors; and your overall strategy to win them over, keep them, and expand your relationship with them.
While there are a number of advantages of account planning, the process also involves a few disadvantages. Let us discuss them –
Advantages and disadvantages of account planning
Helps close deals faster: The main goal of account planning is to increase revenue from current clients. Through careful account planning, you can skip over the initial stages of the sales process and concentrate on negotiating high-value deals with clients who already have good relationships with your organization and trust your offerings. This way, they can skip several steps and close deals faster.
Promotes focussed efforts: Planning your accounts could help you identify which of your client bases and accounts have the greatest potential for expansion. You may be able to target high-value clients more successfully and keep up your relationships with them if you concentrate your marketing efforts on the accounts that are most likely to generate high returns.
Helps create a customer roadmap: The focused efforts of key account planning help in creating a strong customer roadmap. Collecting customer information allows you to draw up a roadmap to understand their journey more closely. This will further help you better understand the customer’s needs and maintain consistency in your communication. This serves as a huge advantage over your competitors.
Nurtures positive relationships with the team: Account planning is a team effort that brings the entire team together to work on a detailed plan to manage customers. The account plan acts as a single source of truth accessible by the team members, so everybody knows and understands the steps to be taken.
Brings rigidity at work: One of the biggest disadvantages of planning is that it can get very rigid. During the planning process, you may start creating processes, policies, and programs in advance and you may also choose to adhere to them strictly at all times. This further leads to a lack of personal autonomy. Thus, planning fosters rigidity and dissuades personal initiative and exploration.
It is time-consuming: The process of planning involves gathering information, analyzing the information, and interpreting it. This makes the entire process extremely time-consuming, especially when there are numerous possibilities resulting from it. Therefore, account planning may come off as an inconvenient task in times when swift judgments are needed.
Fosters a false sense of security: Meticulous key account planning could lead to a false sense of security. Account managers commonly believe that “everything is fine as long as everything goes according to plan.” Considering this, there is a greater chance for them to overlook smaller and manageable concerns, which may eventually turn into major issues.
The relevance of account planning for enterprises
The entire process of account planning can assist businesses in retaining customers over the long term, further boosting the organization’s income potential. As a professional in charge of account planning, you will have to document your objectives and pertinent customer research into one document before creating an account plan for the account. This will then be used to access key information about the customer and, more precisely, adapt present and upcoming marketing.
Here are a few reasons why account planning is so relevant to enterprises –
Staying ahead of the competition
In today’s highly competitive environments, businesses need to come up with new strategies to gain an advantage over the competition. Now, key account planning can serve as an excellent strategy to do so. The process of key account planning involves you gathering customer information, including –
- Customer needs
- The customer’s aims and objectives
- The industry in which the customer operates in
- The customer’s competitors
With this information, you will have a differentiated value proposition and derive an actionable plan to beat the competition.
One source of truth
As we have already discussed, the process of account planning is a team activity. It involves several members from across departments working together to come up with the best suitable plan for the customer. And to come up with the best plan, it is important to ensure that the information related to the account is easily accessible to all the members involved. A single source of truth is a fantastic way to help the teams think and coordinate strategically. The account plan serves as an excellent single source of truth.
When working on a project, the team members must have a fair idea of their contribution towards the set objectives and their progress. It is also important that there is a robust way to measure their success as a team. This further helps identify gaps in performance and address them. An account plan can help them gauge their progress as it documents what an individual is supposed to do for a customer, and it thus helps create a sense of accountability.
How SmartKarrot keeps account planning simple?
We provide you with a simple but effective way to:
- Define a customized account plan for every customer
- Track the plan and the progress/updates to it
- Share the plan with various stakeholders for visibility
Account planning terms that you ought to know
Sales account planning
This is a common term that is often used as an alternative for account planning. It involves taking the customer’s behavioral information and using it to improve the sales processes. Sales account planning aims to convert the product/ service’s users into returning customers. With the right sales account plan, you can leverage robust lead generation.
The sales account plan built by the sales team acts as a single document that includes crucial information about a potential customer or existing client, such as the considerations they make when making decisions; the businesses you compete with to close the deal with them, and your overall approach to winning them over (and retaining them).
Strategic account planning
Building long-term growth and retention strategies with your key clients can help to maximize income. These connections should be value-driven. This approach is referred to as strategic account management for enterprises (also known as key account management). In other terms, strategic account management entails selecting high-value and high-profit accounts to develop and nurture. Strategic account managers often lead these initiatives because not all accounts or consumers call for a plan. Consequently, strategic account management and account planning can work together.
Key account management
This is remarkably similar to strategic account planning. The process involves identifying the most important accounts for the business and coming up with winning strategies to win over the customers and turn them into loyal ones. This is an extremely focused approach wherein the strategies used differ from those used for account-based selling or account management. However, most organizations do the mistake of repeating the strategies for key account management as well.
Key Accounts must be managed using a dedicated key account management process since these accounts need more care, special expertise, and attention than other accounts. Dedicated key account managers, exclusive resources, and regular meetings are required to manage these accounts (KAMs (Key Account Management)).
The process of account planning follows after the identification of the key accounts. Upon the identification of these high-value accounts, the marketing team enters the situation. Based on the accounts and the action plan drafted, the marketing team will come up with the most appropriate marketing resources, assets, campaigns, and suitable communication strategies for the accounts.
But for this, you will have to gather highly specific details about the customer. For instance, by gathering information on the customer’s challenges and concerns, you will be able to pitch your product as the solution in a targeted manner.
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How to commence account planning for your business? (Template included)
Break down your account plan into ‘Objectives’ and track updates to it
This should be the first step when commencing the account planning activities. Answering questions like ‘what is your motivation for targeting the specific account,’ ‘how will the specific account impact your business, and ‘what are the steps that quantify as a success in nurturing the account?’. Answering such questions will help you in listing down the objectives for the account plan. After listing the objectives including your expectations from the account, you will also have to keep tracking your progress.
Ensure that ‘Customer Priorities’ are captured, and collaboration with ‘Key Customer Contacts’ are top of mind
When drafting an account plan, you must list down the customer’s priorities and make sure that you strategize accordingly. This will also include the distinct factors and motivators to make a purchase decision. Including these priorities in the plan will help identify what to do and what not to do.
Keep an eye on the key ‘Financial Metrics’ and the ‘Revenue Trend’
You should also focus on the revenue trends and the financial metrics to plan your budgets. You should also plan your actions based on these numbers.
Also, ensure that ‘Risks’ are identified early and ‘Mitigations’ planned for them
Finally, you will have to ensure that your account plan includes the risks you might face during the process. At the same time, it is also important that you have planned the risk mitigation strategies to handle them.
To wrap it up, we wish to highlight that account planning is a key strategic account management professionals and sales professionals use to fortify client relationships. Account planning helps organizations build long-term customer relationships for the organization.
Considering this, account managers need to ensure that they have a robust account planning process. This free account planning template will help you with it. Download it for free today and get planning…41
All the best!
Rakhin has over 10 years of experience driving business development and client services. In his prior roles, he stayed close to customers to understand their requirements and help them achieve their business goals. He is passionate about customer success.
Published November 09, 2022, Updated November 09, 2022