The biggest mistake organizations make when account planning is starting with a focus on themselves. Many typically ask, “What do we want to do?” when they should be thinking about the buyer. Instead of looking at account planning from the inside/out, we need to look at it from the outside/in – from the buyer’s perspective.

So what exactly does this look like?

Our good friends over at SiriusDecisions have created a framework for the typical B2B buying cycle. Based on their work with hundreds of B2B sales organizations, and their understanding of their own customers, it shows the typical steps that a B2B buyer makes as they go through a complex buying decision.
Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 8.54.26 AMThere are three major phases of the buyer’s decision-making process. The first being the education phase. This is where the buyer knows that what they currently have in place isn’t optimal, but they’re not ready to make a change. Then something happens within the organization (a change in leadership or a similar internal/external event), forcing the buyer to make a change.

The buyer then moves from the education phase, where they are starting to explore options, to figuring out what the solution that they need actually looks like. It’s in this phase that they begin to engage with vendors, put together RFP’s, etc.

Then they move into the final phase where they finalize their selection. Maybe they have one or two vendors in mind. They will likely present their choice to the CFO to determine if this is a decision that needs to be made “today.” When in the stage of justifying their decision, risk can get very real for the buyer. It’s also where we often see deals getting stalled in the sales cycle, from our perspective. Too often, salespeople will see their deals get all the way to the end of their pipeline and just sit there. This is because the buyer is still deciding, “Is this the best time to make this purchase?” Eventually, they move into the final phase of making the selection.

What is important to consider in terms of understanding your buyer and looking at account planning, not from our lens but from the lens of the buyer, is where the typical buying centers exist in the client organization. If we think about the various buying cycles we might be a part of based on our solution set, where do the buying centers reside? Who is involved and playing a role in the decision-making process? Look at it from a user perspective, a technical perspective, a financial perspective, etc. Also look for the typical catalysts. What are the things that move that buyer out of the status quo and into making a decision? Then look at where you stand within those various buying centers.

Research also shows that the salesperson is brought into the buying cycle between stages three and four (around the middle to end of the customer’s buying cycle). In fact, many salespeople are not even attempting to loosen the status quo. This is a huge mistake, as it makes it difficult for any salesperson to make their number by simply reacting to business.

With account planning, we can look to identify those areas where there is loosening if the status quo, where the buyer is feeling some pain, but not enough to make a commitment to change. This is where Sales and Marketing can make the necessary efforts to move that buyer into the stage where they can commit to change. Again, you must start with the buyer in mind for this to be successful.