Our last post discussed the challenges of account planning in Word, PowerPoint or Excel. Now let’s talk about some best practices in automating account plans. Not just the plans, but also the execution against the plan. It’s the combination of planning and execution that gets the job done. Account planning automation should account for both halves of the equation.
There are many account planning automation solutions out there, as well as the option to build a custom solution with your IT team. Whichever route you go, here are some key attributes to consider:
I’m a big believer in having a process as foundation. You need a process to determine where you stand in your planning and execution with each key customer. Therefore, your account planning automation tool should provide your team with a process map that enables them to check off completed activities (key tasks or milestones in the process). Not only is this helpful for on-boarding new account managers by providing them a visual guide, it also gives management and executives an at-a-glance view of where each account is in the process, and where they may need to intervene or provide support.
Like all of us in sales, account planners are visual people. If you put them in front of a customer and a whiteboard is available, in five minutes they’ll likely be up drawing pictures on the board. Your account planning automation needs to be highly visual, working the way your account managers want to work. Visual mapping is a key element here. Two mapping functions to consider are stakeholder mapping and whitespace mapping.
- Stakeholder Mapping – According to a recent study by the Strategic Account Management Association, there are an average of 12 key decision makers in a strategic account. The problem with a typical text-based form (similar to what you would typically see in SFDC) is that is doesn’t really assist with the critical thinking needed from an account manager. A visual stakeholder map compresses time by instantly visualizing the who’s who in the zoo. You can change a 30-minute discussion to a 3-minute briefing because it becomes instantly obvious where you have friends or enemies, and then quickly identify where you need to build relationships to successfully expand your revenue footprint.
- Buying Center/Whitespace Mapping to visualize the BU’s/buying centers in which you have a presence, and where your competition might be entrenched.
Again, don’t forget the importance of executing on your account plans. CRM and SFA systems can track activities or tasks, but these are typically day-to-day, operational items. Your automation tool should align these tasks with the goals and objectives defined in your account plan to ensure that you are making progress towards achieving them. It should assist your account manager with plan execution while saving time.
Metrics, analytics and KPI’s are essential to tracking progress and success, while identifying risk. They also give you a better idea of where you should be investing your time and effort. Consider the following for your automation tool:
- Account Risk Analysis – You want to be able a view of your high-performing revenue customers, the strength of your relationships, and the potential for risk. For example, you may have accounts that have really strong revenue, but weak relationships.
- Account Budget Analysis – You want to be able to identify where you stand against budget and revenue for each particular account, as well as where you stand across all of your accounts.
These are only a couple of examples of what you can include. Still, imagine the power of being able to analyze the data from all of your account plans. Think about the impact on performance and operations that can be harvested from this information.
By itself, an SFA system only accounts for 10% of the data in an account plan, most of it being contact information and historical data. Since account planning is meant to be a forward-thinking exercise, your account planning automation tool should account for the 90% of information missing from your SFA. Of course, you still need the basic contact info, so the two should integrate seamlessly to prevent duplicate data. Account managers HATE duplicate data!
Remember, the goal of your account planning automation tool is to provide a centralized vision where you can aggregate all of your information and use it effectively enough to make intelligent decisions. The most common complaint about account planning is that it requires too much effort. Automation will help alleviate this pain.