Account planning season is one of the most hated periods for many B2B sales organizations. Over several weeks, account managers fill dozens of CRM templates and spreadsheets and submit these to their leaders. One year later, everybody wonders why the “plans” did not yield the intended results. The reason: They are wish lists, lacking a customer-validated strategy. Here are seven steps to upgrade your account plan from wish list to homerun.
We all know the scenario: Its account planning season, and account managers are getting busy to revisit the account plan templates required to submit to their leaders. And we all know the questions running through their heads: What did we write a year ago? What is this year’s new template format? And how long will it take to fill the forms nobody is going to read anyway? Finally, account plans are updated – some better, some worse – and sales leaders happily tick the box in the corresponding performance indicator section. The organization then returns to business as usual for the next twelve months, before the same procedure happens again.
Of course, there will be positive exceptions. But for the majority of sales organizations we have observed in the past two decades; this scenario will happen as described. So what can companies do against it? Well, it all starts with acknowledging that account planning is not bad per se. But most account plan templates are wrongly designed – especially those in the well-known CRM systems. These “plans” focus mainly on the analysis part with aspects like sales history and forecasts, relationship and power maps, opportunity pipelines, followed by an action part with some call and meeting activities.
When it comes to strategy, however, most account plans are surprisingly “light”. If a strategy section exists at all, it usually consists of the sales goals to achieve, or – often seen – a statement like “our strategy is to become preferred supplier”. Needless to mention that this is not a strategy, but an ambition. On top, our client work confirms that over 90 percent of sales teams do not share account plans with customers. Often heard reasons are: 1. We are not allowed to share our plan, 2. the customer is not interested or will disclose the information to competition, and 3. we don’t have a good story to tell. While these points have their logic and not all are just excuses, the truth is brutal – such “plans” are not plans but mere wish lists!
Now let’s be clear: We are not advocating a costly change of CRM systems or a time-consuming makeover of account plan templates. All we are proposing is a new way of looking at account plans and making them more “real”. In turn, this will draw the attention of management from both the supplier and the customer and generate the required resources to make the plan work. The following seven steps have proven to work for B2B sales organizations across industries and geographies. Download the checklist below and write an account plan worth the time and money invested, as the following two examples illustrate.
Consider the case of a U.S.-based consumer goods company that wrote account plan after account plan, only to realize that sales were stalling and channel relationships deteriorating. Following the seven steps, the account team socialized their ideas with friendly contacts at customers. Then, the account team ran a workshop with one of the nation’s largest retail companies, where sales were stalling due to a strong focus on price and poor execution capabilities. The supplier’s account team leader introduced the three most crucial value driver areas and shared go-forward options during the meeting. Both sides agreed to work on the most promising value co-creation activities jointly. Already after three months, both companies sales figures started to grow again in the corresponding product category. In a review meeting one year after the workshop, the client team named the Triple Fit Canvas insights as the key success factor for the buy-in from their side. Finally, both sides acknowledged that the collaborative approach, as promoted via the Triple Fit Canvas, helped them significantly grow their business against market trends and even without scarifying profit margins.
Another example is a high-tech company headquartered in Europe. Realizing that their current go-to-market approach was too sales-focused, and competitors were just about to start a price war, the supplier firm used the Triple Fit process for a strategy review of its top-ten customer relationships. As a result, feasible value creation approaches were validated with customers and then implemented over six months. Afterward, findings were presented to top management, leading to essential insights: First, sales leaders acknowledged the need for further investments in single customer relationships and green-lighted first proposals right away. Second, the supplier firm’s top leaders also realized that the “pattern” of the ten customer relationships called for a new service-oriented business model, not yet reflected in their corporate strategy. Consequently, the company established a task force to explore new profitable revenue streams for both sides. In the following three years, the top-ten customers always grew twice as fast as the rest of the business.
To learn more about the Triple Fit process, and how leading companies use it to fast-track their growth plans, visit our www.valuecreator.com/tools website. If you have specific questions or experiences to share – drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org, please.