Four Pitfalls That Derail Account Planning

In my last blog, I reviewed the third of four top strategies being used by sales leaders to achieve their 2019 objectives: expanding (vs. simply renewing) existing accounts. In analyzing the 2018-2019 Sales Performance Study, we found sales organizations that excel at expanding accounts have several things in common:

  • Their salespeople have strong customer and industry knowledge.
  • Sellers have strong and consistent customer communication skills.
  • Sales leaders note value-based selling as a strength.
  • They have a strong account-planning and management discipline.

In this blog, we are going to narrow in on account planning in more detail.

Sales organizations that excel at account planning have win rates 15.1% higher and quota attainment 14.6% higher than organizations where account planning needs a major redesign. Click here to Tweet

Account planning is certainly not a new topic, yet 60% of sales leaders said that within their sales organizations, account planning needs improvement or major redesign. Click here to Tweet

If account planning is linked to such positive results, why do most sales organizations struggle with it?

  1. The temptation is to focus on the upsell vs. the post-sell. The word “upsell” is problematic, as it conveys a focus on the seller (i.e., the seller wants to sell the buyer more stuff and/or more expensive stuff than they bought the first time). That kind of seller-centric view drives account planning in a very narrow direction. Instead, sellers should think of account management as a post-sale activity. How will buyers achieve the benefits promised in the original sale? How, specifically, will business issues be addressed? In thinking of account planning in that manner, sellers will naturally uncover opportunities to expand the relationship into broader solutions, new business units and more.
  2. Networks narrow vs. grow. In our 2018 Buyer Preferences Study, buyers told us that, on average, 6.4  B2B decision-makers are involved in making large purchases. Click here to Tweet The best sellers endeavor to engage with all of those decision-makers during the sales process. Yet after a sale is closed, the flurry of implementation activity can cause a seller (or a customer success manager or relationship manager) to focus on only a subset of those decision-makers (e.g., the user population or technical experts). The result is that the connection to the overarching strategy and goals can get lost. Be sure to use relationship maps and other techniques to fully engage all of those who made the original decision, will decide if results were achieved and are likely to make the next decision.
  3. The organization lacks a view of the full customer path. Unsurprisingly, sales organizations focus on sales processes. Those with a strong sales process have defined clear phases, seller actions, customer actions, metrics, content and more in order to advance an opportunity to close. Yet there is less likely to be an equally detailed view of the phases, tools, content and actions that should occur after the deal is closed. Of course, this is complicated structurally, as the roles involved in post-sales can be much larger than sales, to include customer service, customer success and more. If there is a view of the customer relationship after a contract is signed, that view lives as a brand promise within the marketing organization. And as we know from our blog on lead generation, sales and marketing are rarely aligned. Consider a customer journey map in addition to your documented sales process.
  4. A lack of analytics means sellers don’t have clear direction on where to spend time. Sales organizations have tons of data at their disposal, but there often is no data strategy to cover data cleansing, warehousing, governance and single point of truth. As a result, sellers working account plans are using their best guesses on where to spend their time. Sellers told us that they spend less than a fifth of their time on post-sales activities. So harnessing all of that data and applying analytics to it can help sellers make more focused used of their account-planning time. In fact, one bank we interviewed tripled the number of opportunities generated from its existing account base by applying AI to its data to predict which customers would be most likely to expand the relationship.

Any of these conditions alone is enough to inhibit the success of account planning. And, more likely than not, organizations are facing a number of these challenges. As a result, many organizations find that their success in renewing accounts doesn’t translate into true growth.

Questions to ask

  • How effective is your account planning process?
  • How well defined are the milestones, seller actions and customer expectations for post-sale relationships?
  • What kinds of accounts does your account planning process cover?
  • Who is involved in account planning (sales, service, customer success, marketing, more?)
  • What tools, data and technologies are available to sellers to assist with getting the most out of the time they spend in post-sale mode?

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