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    What is strategic account planning and how does it drive growth?

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    What is strategic account planning? The question seems simple on the surface, but ask five salespeople, and you’ll get five different answers.

    This points to a persistent problem in the sales industry, which is that most sales departments are not managing their strategic accounts optimally, and are leaving a lot of unrealized growth on the table.

    I wanted to answer the question here by going straight to an expert, so I spoke with Steve Andersen, Founder and President of Performance Methods, Inc (PMI) board member at SAMA, and co-author of Beyond the Sales Process. Here’s his answer to “what is strategic account planning,” and what you need to know to do it right.

    1. What is strategic account planning?

    Strategic account planning is the process of developing an approach to grow more revenue from an existing account.

    Strategic account planning is most often conducted between a salesperson and a sales manager, reviewing data and discussing how best to get the account to spend more money with their company.

    From its very start, strategic account planning is often done poorly.
    Steve Andersen, PMI

    “Our experience is that most of today’s sales leaders started their careers in the ‘hunting’ new business/business development side of sales,” says Andersen. “Many have never served in an authentic account management role. This means that their ‘sales mindset’ going into the deployment of account planning is oriented to driving current revenues rather than future growth.”

    This mindset limits the effectiveness of account planning and sets up an adversarial relationship with the customer.

    At Membrain, our account growth module is aimed at helping to shift this mindset. We want sales departments to be thinking about strategic account planning in an entirely new way.

    “In the old mindset, sales managers find it challenging to embrace the total value of account planning because they tend to see its impact primarily in opportunity management,” says Andersen.

    Instead, we and our partners encourage salespeople and their managers to think in terms of account growth. This change in mindset requires looking at each account as a relationship and treating the account growth cycle as a means of seeking growth both for and with the client.

    For the client: How do we provide them with more value, so that they can grow and achieve more of their goals?

    With the client: As they grow and our value grows, what additional products and services can we bring to them to help them continue to grow?

    In this new mindset, strategic account planning becomes about analyzing how to maximize value in both directions.

    2. What common mistakes do sales professionals make in account planning?

    Andersen says that the mistakes made in strategic account planning don’t stop at the beginning, but continue throughout the process.

    “Sales professionals struggle with the ‘tyranny of the urgent,’” he says, “and fail to balance short- and longer-term priorities effectively.”

    He also cited these six common mistakes:

    1. They fail to achieve internal alignment with their cross-functional team members
    2. They struggle with external alignment with the key customer stakeholders and never effectively align their team with the customer’s team
    3. They focus too much on the account ‘plan’ (the noun) and not enough on the account ‘planning’ (the verb)
    4. Their account planning mindset is skewed: they ‘see the customer’ through the lens of their product, rather than through the lens of customer value.
    5. Their understanding of their customers is not nearly as complete as they think it is and ultimately becomes more about what the customer is doing with them today rather than what will matter most to the customer tomorrow
    6. They fail to engage the customer in the account planning process with them

    Often, these mistakes can be traced to a lack of relevant information and process for approaching the customer with a growth mindset.

    3. What do sales professionals need to know to get account planning right?

    Effective account planning starts with the proper mindset, and it’s founded on good information.

    According to Andersen, in order to get account planning right, salespeople need to have:

    • A deep understanding of the customer’s business, including past, present, and future objectives
    • Clarity regarding key customer stakeholders: Who they are, and what success looks like to each one
    • Clarity regarding their internal stakeholders and account members, and what matters most to each of them
    • A true understanding of the account’s history and the organization’s track record with the customer, as well as how the customer really feels about it
    • Clearly defined growth goals and strategies that can be articulated and spread across their own organization

    I agree with Andersen, and add that you also need to have an actionable, process-based plan that is easy to execute in the field. Without this last part, goals and strategies too often remain locked in heads and spreadsheets rather than becoming reality.

    Membrain’s account growth module provides clear visuals that enable salespeople and their leaders to easily see the important information about each account, to build an action plan, and to embed it into each team member’s workflow so that the plan becomes action.

    I highly recommend working with a professional to develop a strategic account planning model that is flexible and effective for your team in helping your customers to grow. Andersen’s organization helps customers develop solutions that fit their business, complete with integrated process, opportunity management, and equipping sales leaders and managers for collaborative planning with their key and strategic accounts. By using best practices inside of Membrain’s account growth module (currently in early access mode), you can make it easy to take the planning you do with your sales development expert of choice and apply it in the field.

    Happy account planning and growth creation!

    George Brontén
    Published June 17, 2020
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.

    Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn