What do we predict for sales leaders in 2017? Quotas will go up, budgets will be tight, and perhaps most worrisome, your competition will continue to get better at selling against you. Some things never change, right? While it’s not news that it will continue to be fierce out there, luckily there is a sales strategy which could make 2017 your best year yet.
The not-so-secret secret is account planning. Account planning is the collaborative process of creating sales plans that map tightly to your customers’ business objectives. It’s not about one-and-done deals or jackhammer prospecting. Instead it’s a more strategic approach that focuses on listening and driving deeper engagement inside your top accounts. And it’s a fantastic pillar of any good 2017 sales strategy for two key reasons:
- Account planning delivers impressive results: 74% of companies achieved higher win rates.
- Account planning has the power to be a competitive advantage: only 33% of salespeople are required to do strategic account plans, so your competition is likely not doing it.
The lack of adoption of account planning across the majority of sales teams is even more surprising when you take a deeper look at surveys which have analyzed the strategy. The results are seriously impressive. The bump in win rates is significant, and other studies have found shorter sales cycles, bigger deals and increased customer loyalty to be among the tangible benefits.
Those are all excellent results, which is why it’s unfortunate few sales teams create account plans. In fact, sales execs generally seem to be unaware of this achievement gap and are not feeling the heat to incorporate them into their sales process. A lack of an account planning process doesn’t even track as one of the top challenges surveyed sales leaders say they face:
Not only is it missing from the list, but the top responses are a mix of finger pointing (“it’s marketing’s fault” or “too much competition”) and excuses that don’t give the reader a sense Sales knows, or even cares to know, their buyer. In fact, if you compare these responses with older data from SAP, you will see almost no overlap with the frustrations b2b buyers.
Buyers aren’t worried about “sales cycles taking too long” or even “difficulty establishing ROI”. They are very clear about exactly what their frustration is: they believe sales is out of touch. Sales is out of touch with who, how, and when to contact. They’re out of touch with the market, and also with customers as soon as the deal is signed. Is it really that bad? Unfortunately too often the answer is yes.
Salespeople are struggling to cope with the fact that there is so much information online that buyers are often more informed than they are. The old model where sales was the only source of information is dead and gone. Surviving means meeting these new challenges head on, with open minds and more importantly, open ears.
And this is why account planning is such a great tool for today’s difficult marketplace. It allows salespeople to meet the need for a deeper understanding of their customer and offer real value by:
- Documenting a customer’s needs and goals
- Aligning sales goals with the customer’s business objectives
- Mapping the buying committee, their different goals and viewpoints
- Planning custom content needed for key members of the buying committee
- Incorporating internal subject matter experts to best answer customer questions
As you can see, account planning is an intuitive approach that is all about formalizing basic sales principles and working to achieve a meaningful connection with customers. It’s a process that can and will adapt to a changing marketplace, bringing value on both sides of the table. Given its many benefits, it’s only a matter of having the discipline to institutionalize it. So who will start first down the account planning path and become a trusted vendor to your top accounts: you or your competitors?
About the Author
Chris Russell founded Double Haul Strategies in 2012 and has since worked with dozens of companies in all stages of growth, helping them marry their brand’s values and vision with proven marketing & sales strategy, programs, process, and technology. Prior to setting out independently, Chris led the marketing operations and mid-funnel marketing team at Marketo, and was a member of the marketing and alliances operations team at Salesforce.