The Many Steps of the Strategic Account Planning Process

The Many Steps of the Strategic Account Planning Process

The core purpose of strategic account planning is to help the account management team effectively prepare and stay focused on the overall customer’s business aims and objectives and ensure they achieve pre-planned results. 

Another purpose of strategic account planning is to create an overall consistent experience for the customer, and ultimately identify how it can make a positive impact on the customer’s overall experience in dealing with the organization. In order to achieve positive results from the strategic planning process, it is imperative that certain tips be taken into consideration. They are described below:

Designate Responsibility to the Right Individuals

The two most important proponents of the strategic planning process are the ‘chief relationship officer as well as the business driver. The former is usually the strategic account lead and is well versed in ‘connecting links and building bridges’ amongst the ‘Who’s who’ of client and customer organizations.

They are selected for their political astuteness and by creating long-term relationships with their customers they strive to make sure that there are no opportunities for rivals and competitors to exploit.
Similarly business drivers should be extremely motivated individuals who are equipped with what might be colloquially terms as ‘single tasking processors.’ In fact, their single mindedness towards achieving the organization’s goals should be the top criterion for selecting them for this highly important position.  

Choose the Right Accounts

An organizational sales force is supposed to be extremely busy generating leads for the company and as such they have little time to waste on unproductive leads. This is why it is very important indeed to choose the right accounts on which to use the limited resources of the organisation. By the ‘right’ account it is meant the ones that seem to have the most potential for generating the highest sales and thereby increasing overall profits.  

Communication is the All Important Key

Don’t drown your strategic accounts by making them listen to repeated sales spiels and monologues. Rather, listen to them and listen well. This is pivotal to ensure that they are able to voice any grievances which may lead them to switch to your competitors even if they are perfectly happy with your services at this point in time. This is because until and unless you listen and understand, you simply would not be in a position to respond adequately. 

If you are continuously droning on and on about the sterling virtues of your products and your company without really getting to know your customer, the chances are that he would be put off and just might prefer to go to people who are more willing to listen to him.

Be Naturally Optimistic

Optimism may be highly infectious and a veritable magnet for many other people. Always be positive and upbeat when talking to your strategic accounts and make them feel upbeat as well. In other words, they should look forward to your calls rather than dreading them.

Why Your Strategic Accounts Are Not Thriving

A cartoon of a businessman crying as sales go down and money flies away

Are you in charge of strategic account planning at your organization? If so, are you satisfied with the business results?  Or are you, along with many others in your role, discouraged, disappointed and dismayed by lower-than-expected revenues and profits from these “strategic” client accounts?

After two decades helping our clients increase their revenue from strategic accounts, here are our strategic account planning suggestions on ways to tighten the process and increase relationships and results. You need to be clear on the roles to be played and who should play them.
  1. Designate a Chief of Relationships
    This is often the strategic account lead. It should be a person whose strength is in building relationships and who understands who wields influence in the client organization. They are politically savvy, know who matters in the decision-making and buying process and they keep current with personnel and market changes. They make sure that the competition has no avenues open because the important relationships are maintained and built for the long-term.

  2. Designate a Business Driver
    Select a person on the team who can be in in charge of leaving no stone unturned. This person is focused on growth and the next opportunity. They thrive on identifying new possibilities for sales and developing them into actual deals.

  3. Designate a Forward Thinker
    Find the person on your team who has earned a reputation for innovative thinking. This is the person who should explore the account for new ways you can provide value. They should be big picture thinkers who go beyond the current horizon to that horizon that is just out of reach. They can be the ones who push the envelope and stimulate forward, out-of-the-box thinking in both your organizations.

  4. Build a multi-faceted team
    There are other roles needed on a high performing strategic account planning team. It is possible that one person may play several roles at once. But make sure you have the technical expertise you need to evaluate solutions from a practical point of view, the project manager who organizes the account plan so that progress is tracked and outcomes reached, and a devil’s advocate who challenges the plans and provides a reality check now and then.

Once you delegate specific roles to your strategic account planning team, we predict you will soon see your revenue increase and the strategic account potential more fully realized.

Download Sales Best Practice Toolkit for Leaders

10 Strategic Account Planning Tips for Better Relationships

as a graphic, 3 judges each raise a scoring card with the highest rating of 10

When you want to score high as a builder of relationships—whether in your personal life or as a step in strategic account planning—follow these ten tips for building and cementing long-term connections. 

Work to adopt these strategic account planning behaviors and make them part of your DNA. Strong relationships help determine your success in strategic accounts. Building and maintaining them are worth your time and effort.
  1. Show a genuine interest in your strategic accounts.
    Do this by focusing all your attention on your conversation partner. Do not be distracted by your phone or by the chatter at the next table. Your focus indicates your level of understanding and caring.
  2. Listen well to your strategic accounts.
    You know, we hope, what it is to have a friend who really, really listens to you. Rather than thinking of what they want to say next, they hear and understand what you are saying. These are the people whose company you seek.
  3. Remember significant facts about your strategic accounts.
    When you listen well, you will soon tune into what matters to the other person. Remember what is most important to them in your conversations. Do they talk about their work, their children, their hobbies, their causes? Take notes after your interaction, if necessary, so you can recall facts about their job, their family, their interests and their passions. Your subsequent conversations will reach a whole new level.
  4. Make sure you understand your strategic accounts.
    Confirming questions can ensure that you correctly understand what they are saying. Ask questions that mirror their thoughts to be sure you are getting what they want to share with you.
  5. Be consistent with your strategic accounts.
    Don’t flip-flop your emotions…hot one day, cold the next. People like to be able to count on your reactions. They prefer steadiness in relationships, not unpredictability.
  6. Be genuine with your strategic accounts.
    Never pretend interest. If you are preoccupied with your own concerns, it is better to say so honestly upfront. Then plan when you can spend meaningful time together.
  7. Share your feelings with your strategic accounts.
    A relationship goes two ways. As important as it is to listen well, the relationship should be balanced. When it is appropriate and at a level that fits with the pace and depth of your connection, share what is on your mind and in your heart. 
  8. Be a trustworthy confidante for your strategic accounts.
    Know how to keep others’ feelings to yourself. Nothing destroys a relationship faster than betraying a confidence. Gossip is ugly and definitely has no place in a professional setting.
  9. Show your optimism to your strategic accounts.
    People naturally gravitate to someone who is positive about the future and able to lift others’ spirits.
  10. Don’t forget to have fun with your strategic accounts.Relationships thrive in both difficult and fun times. Be empathetic and caring as needed. But don’t forget to share the good times too.
When you follow these ten strategic account planning tips, you will foster ever stronger relationships…both personally and professionally. And when you can apply them to your strategic accounts, the partner relationship will flourish.

Download Sales Best Practice Toolkit for Leaders

Keep Your Sales Pipeline Filled

a multi-colored funnel is on the bull's eye of a target

A healthy sales pipeline keeps your calendar filled with qualified sales opportunities. But don’t focus only on the potential future deals to the exclusion of your current strategic accounts…otherwise your sales will collapse. 

You need to regularly review your strategic account planning process to ensure both short- and long-term growth. What does this mean? It means planning to build long-term business relationships that allow you to design, develop and chase business that brings value to both you and your customers. 

To do strategic account planning right and keep your sales pipeline filled with new and qualified opportunities, you need to:

  1. Be aligned across the company.
    Any employee with a customer-facing role should be aware of all the ways your company can help your customers succeed and know how to describe your value proposition in a way that resonates. The stronger your alignment across the organization, the more powerful your message and the more likely you will operate effectively not as an individual department but as a well-coordinated enterprise.

  2. Be clear about strategic account roles and objectives.
    Each strategic account team member should know exactly what they need to do to contribute to the team goals and how their contribution plays a critical part in the success of the overall account. A strong strategic account plan will spell out what each cog in the wheel needs to deliver to get where you want to go.

  3. Ensure strategic account team commitment.
    You can’t do this alone. Strategic accounts take the committed support of many members. Make sure they are fully engaged in the effort at the beginning and are dedicated to the effort throughout.

  4. Capitalize on the “right” opportunities.
    You need to do diligence in selecting the accounts and opportunities within each account that are worth investing in. Your solutions should be wrapped around your client’s business goals so you are pulling in the same, mutually beneficial direction. Do an analysis of what is important to you, what is important to your client, and highlight where these goals intersect. Then you can look at the opportunity in terms of short- and long-term revenue, strategic value, degree of risk, and competitive positioning. This will of course require that you know a great deal about your strategic accounts…their industry, their competitors, their market, their strengths and their weaknesses.

  5. Communicate the value to the customer.
    If you are convinced that the account warrants extra care and attention, it is up to you to work with your customer to show them the value of your partnering together at a strategic level. Where, exactly, can your solutions add value to them compared to the alternatives?

Strategic account plans can go a long way to secure a company’s future…now and with a healthy pipeline that keeps both companies growing.

Download Sales Best Practices Toolkit for Leaders

Strategic Account Planning: How It Differs from Simple Sales

a scribbled note reads "Think different"

In our twenty-plus years of helping clients grow, we have run across too many companies and sales teams that confuse simple selling with managing strategic accounts. 

Granted, much of the language is similar and both are in the overall business of increasing revenue, raising margins, building stronger relationships, and helping clients to succeed. But there are some major differences that should be understood by the sales executives in charge.  Strategic account planning consists of building a collaborative and cooperative relationship with a select customer to drive revenue year after year while driving customer loyalty through entanglement.

Here are a few of the ways to “think different” if you want to create strategic account alliances:

  • TimeframeIn general, sales teams focus on getting and closing deals in time to meet their quarterly sales targets. Strategic account planning teams look instead toward the long-term. They focus on building relationships that will continually grow and carry them into the future.

  • GoalsSales teams rightly focus on the most-likely-to-close opportunities. Teams that work toward building strategic accounts are more interested in creating long-term partnerships with a client company. Rather than specific sales, they look with their client at how they can work together to accomplish strategic goals such as more efficient use of resources through sharing or reducing expenses through operational alignment or improving customer satisfaction. Their goals are broader and more inter-dependent than typical sales opportunities.

  • Team MembersSmart sales teams recruit subject matter experts and support staff from their organization to help close the deal according to the needs of a specific opportunity. Then when the contract has been signed, those resources typically go back to their former jobs. For example, if you need a subject matter expert to help sell financial services software, you might as a salesperson request the help of someone from your finance department who understands the software more thoroughly than you. 

Smart strategic account teams, however, select team members who have a big picture view of how what they know can contribute to the current and future health of the strategic account. These team members must commit to spending the time and effort needed to invest in the mutual success of the client and the strategic account plan.

You know your strategic account plan is working when you spend your time:

  • Creating relevant and measurable client value that aligns with your account plan rather than just trying to close individual sales opportunities.
  • Improving operations and alignment between your two companies.
  • Understanding your client’s personal and professional goals, problems and needs.
  • Building trust, sharing information and collaborating to solve pressing problems.

What It Takes to Manage Big Accounts More Strategically

in a cartoon, a business man talks to a giant gorilla saying,"I need someone who can handle big accounts."

Those big and loyal accounts that just keep sending in the orders are great! But it is tempting to take them for granted. You need someone in charge of your big and strategic accounts that bring in steady revenue…someone who does not just take sales orders but knows how to develop and grow the strategic account in a way that aligns with your brand promise and sales strategy. You need someone expert at strategic account planning who can further “entangle” your company with your clients’ so there is less risk of losing one of your best customers.

Without entanglement and a balanced, mutually beneficial relationship, you risk losing that “easy” money. All it takes is for one key contact to leave. The business goes elsewhere and you are left on the sidelines. You cannot afford to look at major accounts only in the short-term. To retain them as loyal customers, you need a long-term plan to protect and grow the account.

The goal of your strategic account plan should be to link what you have to offer to your customer’s long-term business goals. You need to understand where their company is headed and make sure that you have value-added solutions that are in alignment with their strategy for the future. As you become more involved in their business issues, you become less vulnerable to any potential competition and you become more like “one of their own.” You are no longer an outsider but a true business partner whose advice is trusted and valued.

Along with your strategic account planning, you should institute leading and lagging success metrics to ensure you are still on track and that you are devoting the time and attention they need to stay loyal. These client-based measures will let you know how well you truly are aligned rather than wishful thinking or anecdotal evidence. In a nutshell, the characteristics of such strategic account metrics involve Verifiable Client-based Evidence.

These verifiable client-based outcomes show an increased level of observable client heart-share, mind-share and wallet-share.  They allow a salesperson to objectively measure the status of their account.  Examples include:

  • Accepted or unaccepted meetings
  • Returned or unreturned phone calls or emails
  • New solicited or unsolicited introductions
  • Sought out advice
  • Timing of when you are asked to join the buying process – early or late stages
  • Shared inside information
  • Anything that expands and decreases scope
  • Anything that accelerates or decelerates the buying process

The right strategic account plan metrics help to ensure that the relationship status is clear.  This clarity allows you and your sales team to plan and invest accordingly.  It allows you to identify potential accounts in jeopardy. If you are alerted early enough, you have an opportunity to correct any issue before it grows too big to handle.  It allows you to identify high performers. This enables you to better manage your time.  It allows you to make smarter bets on salespeople, sales territories and sales accounts.

Your major and strategic sales accounts deserve a clear, believable and implementable strategic plan to support their growth. They are too important to your overall business to neglect or let lie fallow. Assign your best salespeople to them to see that the connections between your two companies are strengthened for your mutual success.

Learn more at: 

Plan Strategic Sales Accounts So You Maximize Your Chances to Win

Simply stated, strategic account planning training teaches how to best prioritize and assign customer accounts so that you can maximize your team win rate, revenues and profits. 

You want to line up the gears so they mesh in a way that brings in profitable revenue that builds customer loyalty and future organizational health.

two gears with a dollar sign, the other with a map of the US

So how do you go about being smart in the way you plan major sales accounts? Here is some advice from strategic sales account planning experts:

1. Put a clear structure in place.
Try as best you can to clearly delineate responsibility. Yes, sales should have control of the account planning process but recognize that they can’t work alone. Their success depends upon the quality of the offering (R&D, manufacturing and product development), the effectiveness of marketing, the reliability and availability of service, and the ease of drawing up contracts (legal). As you assemble sales implementation teams, make sure each person understands where they fit and what resources they can draw upon.

2. Identify your A, B, and C customers.
Rank your customers in a way that helps your sales people prioritize how they spend their time. “A” customers are the ones most likely to buy and who fit your ideal target customer profile. On the “B” list are customers who have bought in the past and are likely to continue but not in a major way. “C” list customers are less likely to buy but may, in the future, need your solution. They fit the buyer profile but you have not yet identified a strong contact. All three tiers need sales attention…but not the same degree of time and effort.

3. Evaluate your sales talent.
Do you have the right folks on your sales team? Are they well matched to the accounts they have been assigned? Make sure you don’t have major sales skill gaps that hamper the success of your sales reps.  Also make sure you have good and transparent reasons for the way you have parceled out current and future sales accounts.

4. Be realistic and patient.
If you have just done an overhaul of the way you plan sales accounts, you may need to wait a while before you see real sales results.  Remember that sales account planning done well reaps rewards more in the long- rather than the short-term.  Use leading and lagging success metrics to track progress and adjust as necessary.

Learn more at: