Arguably one of the most underrated elements of enterprise sales is account planning. It takes time, energy, and focus away from other mid-funnel opportunities that require significant resource investment. However, even though strategic account planning sessions are viewed by the sales organization as helpful and important, they simply don’t happen often enough.
In fact, according to a recent CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, 10.4% of those surveyed said that strategic account planning wasn’t relevant to them and therefore they wouldn’t do it. The data also showed that 24.8% of all global participants said that account planning is left up to each sales professional while only 31.7% said that salespeople are “encouraged” to develop strategic account plans. Out of all participants surveyed, only 33.1% require that each sales professional develop strategic account plans. That means over 50% of sales professionals don’t take advantage of account planning to map out how they pursue their strategic accounts. This is not preparation for success given how complex enterprise sales cycles often are, and the many obstacles that have to be navigated with precision: multiple decision makers, disjointed business units, budget considerations, procurement and contract review, vendor assessment, and so on.
In the absence of proper strategic account planning, too much is left to chance or to the discretion of the sales professional who then has to make decisions on the fly, often neglecting the organization’s methodology. Next time you’re debating whether or not to mandate strategic account planning, consider this: the time spent up-front is far less than months wasted later on if a deal goes by the wayside for reasons that could have been prevented. In this article, we’ll demonstrate 5 important elements that can make your team’s strategic account sessions not only bearable, but highly productive and worthwhile.
1. Develop Criteria to Determine When an Account Will Be “Strategic”
Account planning should be an important component of any sales process, but sales professionals who focus on small business or mid-market opportunities usually don’t need to plan as extensively. That’s why it’s helpful to set up a framework to determine when an account should be considered “strategic” and when it’s simply a sales opportunity. Several factors for consideration should include:
- Horizontal growth: Is there opportunity to grow into different departments, teams, offices, or geographies in the future?
- Scaling company: Is the company growing quickly or did it just fundraise in preparation for massive scale?
- Revenue/employees: Is the company’s revenue and/or employee count growing quickly?
- Brand recognition/logo: Is the brand recognizable? Is it one that you want your solution to be associated alongside?
2. Decide How the Internal Organization Will Support Each Deal
Once a deal is considered strategic, then it’s time to determine exactly what that means to the internal organization. For example, does a strategic deal get more support? Are they provided creative resources, solutions architects, or executive involvement?
In addition, consider whether or not strategic deals will be categorized based on the criteria discussed in the first element. For instance, will there be levels of strategic deals? Perhaps level 1 is reserved for deals that are $100k – $250k ARR and support includes templates from marketing whereas a level 5 deal of $2M+ ARR gets all-hands-on-deck with major support allocated to the deal. While a sales professional should always be viewed as the ultimate quarterback, this role becomes substantially more important as resources are added, further emphasizing the value and purpose of the strategic account planning process.
3. Assess the Gap Between Current Versus Desired Business Case
One of the most important components of strategic account planning is understanding that in almost every deal, a gap exists. If the account is a new business enterprise prospect, for instance, then it’s unlikely that the first conversation or even the first year of conversations will uncover every single business opportunity available. Typically, an enterprise deal will start with conversations surrounding a singular challenge, business unit, or opportunity. That’s why determining what’s initially likely versus the ideal long-term business case is so critical. Without a detailed roadmap to guide the sales professional in her conversations, it’s unlikely she’ll bring in just the right people at just the right time to have the necessary conversations that will fully realize the deal’s potential.
4. Begin Coordinated Execution
Once the team has been determined and the gap has been assessed, it’s time to actually begin coordinated execution against the plan – i.e., the sales process. As we mentioned earlier, the concept of the quarterback is one that really begins to manifest in this stage. The sales professional must rally the team, help them understand the vision, and coordinate each onsite, each customer call, and each interaction so the prospect sees the team moving in unison. It’s during this stage that iteration is also extremely key. What if the plan isn’t working as intended? What if the team isn’t able to engage the necessary stakeholders? What if the executive team pushes back in ways that weren’t considered? By continuously reviewing and optimizing the plan, sales professionals and managers alike can measure what’s working and what’s not so they can make adjustments on the fly.
5. Revisit Account Details Regularly and Make Adjustments to Process
Like anything in sales, a deal is never actually done – even after the contract is signed. Selling needs continued iteration and strategic account planning is certainly no different. Again, 1:1 coaching also plays a significant role in this stage of the process. Sales leaders can bring in their experience and use strategic account planning as an ongoing exercise to help guide sales professionals and insert their experience. Rather than set strategic account planning sessions to occur at a specific time each year or each quarter, it’s best to make them ongoing and a part of weekly 1:1 discussions so no detail is left undiscussed for too long.
With the right process in place, strategic account planning doesn’t need to be painful or even terribly time-consuming. Think of it this way: any amount of time that is spent planning and researching an account on the front end is time and effort saved on the back end when the deal avoids stalling at the proposal stage. By emphasizing the importance of strategic account planning and by making it a part of weekly discussions, your sales team will have a significant advantage over the competition. Better yet? You’ll be better positioned to expand the account for years to come and build a long-term partnership.