I’ve been involved with account planning programs for over 30 years — first as a sales rep, then as a sales manager, then as a sales operations leader, and, finally, as an analyst and advisor. And in all that time, resistance by sellers to the process of creating and leveraging account plans remains high.
Why? Why do sellers and sales managers resist something with so many potential benefits? What’s so terrible about building an actionable plan based on a deep understanding of your prospects and customers?
Effective account planning programs require an investment of time and energy by sellers and collaboration with multiple functional groups such as marketing, customer success, and channel partners. But the benefits make this investment worthwhile. Sellers will develop better alignment with customer outcomes and increase customer value realization, both of which lead to higher retention, increased share of wallet, and broader growth within the account.
Despite the obvious benefits, rep adoption of account planning remains low due to the high level of manual effort that many account planning programs require. Building an account plan in a Word, Excel, or PowerPoint template is not a scalable or sustainable approach. A manual account plan is static, challenging to maintain, and difficult to collaborate on — either internally or with customers and partners.
Fortunately, the last five years have seen a wave of development and automation by account-based selling (ABS) technology providers that simplify, streamline, and enhance the entire process. The tools are integrated with your CRM, leverage first- and third-party data sources, and embed AI capabilities to simplify data entry and derive insights. Examples of capabilities include:
- Prepopulate the plan with available data such as account names, structure, location, number of employees, and other firmographic information.
- Automatically create relationship maps based on contact information within your CRM and augmented with data from third-party sources.
- Automate white-space analysis based on what’s previously been sold and what’s actively being pursued (e.g., current opportunities).
- Identify potential opportunities and link customer initiatives to your solutions.
- Facilitate collaboration in a secure, controlled environment.
- Keep plans current by tracking and managing opportunities throughout the pipeline and sales process.
An ABS solution can improve the end user experience, leading to greater seller adoption and value. By reducing or eliminating manual data entry, embedding the solution in CRM platforms, and adding real-time alerts and potential action triggers, account planning and management can become an integral part of the sales motion — used daily, instead of quarterly or annually when an account plan is due. They’re easier to create, easier to maintain, more scalable, and deliver more value to sellers — it’s time to update your account planning game!