Does every client need an account plan? Only the ones you want to keep! Account planning will help you create opportunities, improve relationships, expand value and reduce risk.
If you’re already stressed and think how impossible it will be to write one for every client, you’re not alone. I don’t know a single account manager who has the luxury of spare time. But it’s too important for you not to incorporate account planning into your routine.
But I hear you loud and clear, so let’s keep it simple. In fact, one-page simple. And in less than an hour.
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What is account planning?
It’s the process by which you learn about your clients’ objectives and create the tactics to help achieve them. Along the way you’ll uncover potential risks to retention and opportunities to drive additional revenue.
Why do you need an account plan?
An account plan Identifies client goals, revenue opportunities and the strategies to achieve them. It also reveals potential risks to retention and other challenges. It also sets your priorities, helps you get alignment from stakeholders and improve communication.
The account planning process
I suggest you write your account plans at the beginning of the calendar year. For new clients, it should be within the first 3 months of their start (once you’re sure they’re implemented and any problems have been sorted)
This account plan should take no more than 2 hours to prepare and around an hour a month to maintain.
Before you get started
- You’ll write down what you know today. Don’t worry if there are gaps, you fill them in over time
- Keep it simple. You only need a couple of solid objectives for your plan, not a shopping list.
- Set targets using KPI’s that are relevant to your client, not to you.
Information about your client and their buying process. Just a few sentences, such as their industry, any major news, contract status, buying process, overall strength of the relationship and primary objective. Here’s an example of what you might write:
“ABC Company develops packaging for the pharmaceutical industry and has been a client since 2008. They are publicly listed company and with disappointing earnings the past two years have recently implemented an ambitious plan to trim $20m from indirect costs. The procurement code of conduct requires them to go to market every 5 years and an RFP is expected in November. Relationship strength is excellent with several decision makers connected to our leadership team and we have partnered with them on several projects that have delivered savings in excess of $3m in the last 12 months. Priority is retention and review of commercial model and incentives.”
Schedule a 30-minute call with your client and ask at a minimum, these three questions:
- What do they want to achieve in the next 12 months?
- What challenges are they facing today?
- How will they be measured at the end of the year?
If you want to go deeper, here’s some great questions to ask a client to get to know them and their business.
Make a list of potential solutions. Ask yourself how do your products and services solve your clients’ problems and support their objectives? Is your client making the best use of them? Are there other solutions they don’t have that would make an impact? What would be the return on investment for your client if they bought these?
List all the possible actions you’ll take (and when) to achieve the objectives. S.M.A.R.T. goal setting principles apply: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound.
Review your plans’ chance of success with Kurt Lewin’s Force Field Analysis, based on Newton’s law of gravity that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. There are drivers that help you succeed and barriers that cause you to fail.
List your objectives and all the tactics required to achieve the target result. Identify barriers and drivers for each, assign a strength score and total them up.
Subtract the strength score from the barrier score.
If it’s greater than zero, your account plan has a good chance of success. If it’s zero or less, your plant is likely to fail.
Now what? If you have several objectives, then you may decide to drop those with a negative score and only keep those with positive scores and a higher chance of success. If you only have the one objective, then you will need to resolve the barriers first to lift the score.
Confirm your plan with your client and get their agreement.
How will manage and interact with your plan? When will you update your client on progress. For most clients I’d recommend:
- List all your actions associated with your plan and group them into three buckets
- To Do
- Monthly: 30-minute review of your account plan
- Quarterly: 30-minute account plan update call to your client (you may want to do this more often if you have a lot of objectives).
- Bi-annually: 1-hour progress report to your client. Include success to date, roadblocks, any unexpected events, new opportunities and decisions that need to be made to move the plan forward.
TIP: Trello is a free project management tool that will help you stay on top of the tasks associated with your plan. I’ve set up a public Getting Things Done (GTD) Board you can copy.
There are plenty of advanced strategic planning tactics around but don’t let that put you off. Start small, don’t get overwhelmed and remember that account planning doesn’t have to be hard. In fact all you need to change the future is a single sheet of paper.