4 Critical Steps for Long-Term Sales Account Planning

Several years ago, I worked with a large company on their account planning strategy. It was not their first attempt at account planning. In fact, it was not their second or third attempt at account planning. This company had tried and failed to establish an account planning practice for nearly a decade.

This was a company of engineers, and their biggest problem was that they were too smart. Each time the account planning process was announced, individual teams began to tweak the documents, and the process, and their communications. Almost everyone offered “improvements,” and the end result was an account plan that was so involved no one had time to complete it.

When I arrived, my questions about a new account planning process were answered with eye rolls or deep groans. The sales organization believed this would be yet another difficult exercise that wouldn’t be able to get off the ground. But it did. We simplified the plan documents and the process, and we made it uniform. That was the value. All of the account teams could settle their minds because they had a simple process to follow, and an emphasis was placed on plans consistency across teams. The leadership wanted the same components in the same order so they didn’t have to reorient themselves to each plan.

Although the sales teams hadn’t realized they were burdening themselves by complicating the process at the time, this news came as a relief. The simpler account planning process allowed management to get a better view of the past, present, and future of each account. The account plans became easier to coach to, and accountability for the actions increased. The real accomplishment was getting the right people—including members of the marketing, delivery, and sales operations teams—to make account planning part of the regular cadence of activity. We wanted to make the whole account planning process smoother, and to make it a recurring, natural part of the sales organization’s rhythm. We wanted to make it a habit. That meant it had to be rewarding for all. Here are four critical steps your organization can take to follow suit:

1. First, think things through. Teams want to dive into the template and open up their CRM system to look at potential deals. But the real account planning is the thinking that happens when a team sits down together to discuss how to grow the account and how to solve problems for the customer. First and foremost, you’re trying to accomplish a goal. “How can we grow this account by 20 percent? How do we retain our revenue? How do we expand in certain product groups?”

Account planning is not about filling in the boxes; it’s about problem solving for the account. The account plan becomes the enabler. If you’re jumping into your account planning tools and templates, but you haven’t gone through the steps of asking the right questions about the account with your team, you’re getting ahead of yourself.

2. Motivate and reward the sales team. Companies know account planning is important, but keeping the teams motivated and creating habits is a major challenge. It’s easy to ignore account planning, and it’s culturally acceptable because so many organizations do. Our research shows that these are the biggest motivators for salespeople:

Incentive pay is a direct financial reward for being successful in sales. Typically incentive pay is a commission or bonus tied to sales results and often reaching a quota. 

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