Strategic Accounts, From Planning To Management

In the last part of this series on strategic account planning and management, we focus on how to get from an often-isolated strategic account plan to an integrated strategic account management process. We have built a solid foundation over the last couple of weeks. We started the series with thoughts on, and criteria for, defining a strategic account. Then, we discussed how to use strategic account planning to create new business ideas with five pillars. And in the third part of the series, we discussed the broad range of tools, how organizations currently create and maintain account plans and how to get the most out of strategic account planning.

Why you need a strategic account management approach

In many B2B salespeople’s minds, the term “account plan” is connected to filling in a form and never touching it again. And the term “strategic or key account management” is often connected to a business unit with a similar name, or something that’s done with so-called “strategic accounts.”

Account planning and account management are two sides of the same coin – and you can’t have one side without the other. Interestingly, in B2B sales, people often try to just focus on one side of the coin, on account planning.

As reported in a previous blog, 56.5% of the participants of our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study don’t take advantage of account planning to grow their strategic accounts. Even worse, a random approach to account planning leads to a remarkable decline in win rates for forecast deals.

Treating a strategic account plan as a “filling in a form” exercise is a waste of time and resources. Instead, design it, and use it, as a blueprint for implementing the account strategy, following our five pillars. Then the output is a highly valuable asset and the foundation for a successful strategic account management process.

Five pillars of an integrated strategic account management process

These pillars are built on the assumption that a strategic account management process consists of account planning and account management, and that all of that is connected to the marketing, sales, and service processes.

  • Define the short- und long-term shared vision of success:
    First, begin to develop the account’s shared vision of success together with your network in the account. A shared vision of success is always something you feel comfortable to share with your stakeholders in this account. It should be descriptive and connected to measurable business outcomes that are relevant to the key stakeholders in the strategic account. And then, don’t forget to define your organization’s vision of success, including measurable business outcomes.
  • Define strategic account management: There are the two sides of the strategic account management coin: account planning and account management. Please check the five pillars of a valuable account planning process here. Account management can be defined in three phases, such as execute, measure, and adjust/review. The “execute” phase is the one that needs to be connected to the sales process
  • Connect strategic account management to the sales process:
    One of the key outputs of a strategic account plan will be ideas for future business – so-called account leads. These leads are not generated by marketing; they are generated from the account planning process as described above. They should advance through the regular marketing and sales process, according to the activities that have been defined as relevant for such leads. This way, strategic account management fuels the funnel and ultimately helps to grow these accounts.
  • Measure, review and adjust:
    All account activities – ongoing business and delivering value, developing relationships, creating and processing new business ideas, managing parallel opportunities, etc. – should be made transparent via an integrated dashboard. Only then can account managers and their sales managers ask the right questions and take appropriate actions. A dashboard like this also allows a much more effective cross-functional collaboration with, for instance, service, marketing, or product management.
  • Power strategic account management with account coaching:
    Finally, the sales manager’s coaching practices should also cover account coaching, which is different than other types of coaching. It should focus on the current state of account strategy implementation and next steps, as well as any needed adjustments of the strategic account plan or even the classification of the account as a strategic one.

Strategic account management involves more than enabling sales teams to create and maintain account plans. It isn’t about the plan itself. It’s about planning various scenarios. Ultimately, effective account management gives sales teams the adaptive capabilities to handle even the most challenging account dynamics.

Questions for you:

  • How do you connect the dots between account planning and account management?
  • How do you ensure that your sales managers provide solid account coaching?
  • How do you align the strategic account planning and management process with the sales process?

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