Is your strategic account plan in trouble?
There’s an art to implementing a strategic account plan successfully. I know that now.
I would get so frustrated with my clients – month after month (sometimes year after year) and still no progress on my strategic account plans? It sure wasn’t from lack of trying. Why haven’t they implemented even a handful of my recommendations? I mean at least the ones that will save the big bucks? Why do they keep bursting my balloons?
Do you ever ask yourself: “why should I invest all this hard work in putting a plan together when I’m the only one who cares about it?”
I’ve asked myself that same question many times. Because, like you, I want to help my clients. And, like you, I want results, not excuses.
So why did my strategies fail?
You may have already guessed, but before I explain what went wrong, let me share what I’ve learned about implementing a strategic account plan successfully.
(1) I’m talking about the man in the mirror
Mirror and match is a classic tactic to build rapport. You enter another person’s world by assuming a similar state of mind: mirror their body language, match the pace of their conversations etc. Why not use this same tactic but apply it to your strategic account plan? If your strategy matches the style and pace of your clients’ your likely going to have much better success implementing it.
In the book, Your Strategy Needs a Strategy, BCG global strategy experts Martin Reeves, Knut Haanæs, and Janmejaya Sinha explore approaches to strategy. While they talk about organisational strategy, you can apply their findings to tailor your account plan to match your clients’ industry.
Think about your clients and see if they fit into any of these strategic styles. If you’re not sure – use the image to the right to see where industries typically fall on the strategic style matrix.
Industries that are unpredictable and can’t be changed (i.e, reactive). Your strategic goals and objectives are constantly changing. Plans are made, then regularly evaluated, changed or abandoned to reflect the dynamic environment.
Industries that are unpredictable but can be changed (i.e. you can influence and be proactive). Plan your strategy in short-term cycles. Experiment, You’re treading new ground. Don’t get too crazy. Your initiatives should err on the side of conservative but don’t be afraid to push some boundaries. Stick close to your plan and evaluate constantly.
Industries that are predictable and can be changed. Get creative. These clients are disruptors and ready to set new, game-changing goals. Don’t be afraid to tackle sacred cows. Make your strategy big and bold and adopt a build it and see approach
Industries that are predictable but organisations are hard to change. Your strategy will typically stay the same every year and build on the successes of the past. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, just improve it.
(2) Be realistic
Strategic plans take time, resources and focus. If you’re too ambitious with your account plan you’re going to run into trouble very quickly. There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of the year and presenting the results of the plan and making excuses as to why nothing was achieved.
Many years ago, I was taking over an account and joined the handover meeting with the Account Manager and our client. The Account Manager’s final task before moving on to greener pastures was to present to the client the results of her strategic account plan. Every discussion began with
- “We ran out of time on that”
- “That one didn’t really get off the ground”
- “We couldn’t do that because…”
Sadly, she had bitten off more than she could chew and it took me a long time and a lot of work to restore that client’s confidence.
You don’t want to be that Account Manager, do you?
When you are implementing your strategic account plan, decide on fewer and focused goals. Think about the time you have, the resources you’ll need and the return on investment. Choose those goals which have the most chance of success and maximum impact. There have been times I’ve had only a single project on my strategic account plan, but it was a big, fat, juicy one.
Less really is more if you want your strategy to succeed. Save the shopping list for the groceries.
(3) In God we trust, all others bring data
- Cost savings: which you can forecast and measure easily with some basic number crunching.
- Satisfaction: you’ll get a baseline now and then measure the change in satisfaction over the strategic account plan period. Get started with these free tools.
- Process efficiency: How long does it take to do something and how much does it cost? How can your strategic account plan reduce both time and cost? I suggest doing a simple time-motion study at the beginning and end of your strategic account plan and calculate the difference. You can automate some data gathering with time-tracking tools like TimeCamp and RescueTime.
- it verifies the strategy is worth pursuing.
- gives you a target you can measure.
- lends credibility to your argument.
- is compelling enough to help gain support for your account plan.
(4) Who’s on first, What’s on second
- what work is involved
- who’s going to do it
- when it’s required
- how contributions will be measured
- how their feedback will be captured
(5) I know you can fight, but it’s our wits that make us men
(6) Are you with me or against me?
Don’t invite further feedback for now. You’re done with talking – it’s time for action.
(7) Be flexible
(8) Your strategy needs a marketing plan
- Download my simple strategic account plan template in Excel that’s all yours. The plan looks like a dashboard and is very easy to update and to copy+paste into an email – which means your client won’t have to open any attachments.
- Sign up to Trello for free (an online project management tool) and copy my Strategic Account Plan board.
Next, you need to build a marketing plan for your strategic account plan. It’s as simple as setting up 4 recurring tasks. Do this:
- 1 x weekly highlight (success, challenges, observations etc.).
Only a couple of sentences needed. Even if there’s no update, send a news article you read that relates to the strategy or something of interest. You want your strategic account plan to stay front of mind and for your client to know that you are working on it.
- 1 x monthly update call to a decision maker or influencer other than your main point of contact.
You can leave your update by voicemail if you miss them with an invitation to call you back if they wish.
- 1 x monthly progress update on your plan.
Recap your activities for the month. Focus on what went well, what didn’t go well and priorities for next month
- 1 x quarterly deep-dive review into the plan.
Here you want to re-align. Build on successes and dump things that aren’t working. Fill in the detail of exactly what needs to be done in the quarter ahead.
Modify the frequency based on the number of clients you have. If you have a big portfolio then you may need to move weekly to bi-weekly, monthly to bi-monthly etc. Just make sure you have at least 1 of each of these actions completed every quarter and that your strategic account plan is making progress.
So what went wrong with my strategic plans?
Have you ever tried to get a child ready for school? You tell them what to wear and all you get is arguments. You might eventually convince them to put on the outfit you suggested, but you can tell their not happy. If they’re a teenager, they’ve probably packed a change of clothes they’ll slip into the minute your back’s turned.
But ask them to pick out their own clothes, suggest some changes, put your foot down and insist they take a jacket. What happens? You get results.
And so it was with my clients. The plans were all mine. I told them what to do and how to do it. They never really cared about them and mostly, were co-operating under duress. No wonder I had nothing to show for it at the end of the year.
I learned that to succeed it needed to be OUR strategic account plan and not mine. It’s just that simple. Don’t do what I did, do this instead:
- Match your strategy to your client’s strategic style and business environment e.g. If they favour short-term planning and quick wins, then you should too.
- Be realistic – start with a small number of focused and impactful goals to create a strategic account plan you can actually deliver.
- Use data to support your recommendations and to measure results
- Gain commitment for the resources you’ll need (e.g. time, money, people) up front rather than along the way. Otherwise, your plan could stumble.
- Get the support of decision-makers and influencers – even if there’s nothing for them to specifically do on your plan – you may need them to remove obstacles later.
- Ask your client to formally sign off on their approval of the strategic account plan. It’s a small way of getting them to commit.
- Make your plan flexible enough to seize new opportunities and to ditch strategies that aren’t working.
- Make sure your strategic account plan gets attention by scheduling recurring tasks to promote success and update stakeholders on progress.
Follow these steps and implementing your strategic account plan will be a breeze. You will have done everything you can to set up your strategy for success, so what are you waiting for? Go get ’em, tiger.
BCG Perspectives – Your Strategy Needs a Strategy
Helps you cut through the noise and find clarity regarding which approach, or combination of approaches, to strategy is best.
Your Strategy Needs a Strategy – the App
Super-fun game that simulates the five business environments and asks you to choose the right strategy through the example of selling lemonade in New York City’s five boroughs. It’s harder than it looks. Download for iPad and Android
Step-by-step guide to creating a powerful strategic account plan. Template included.
What do you think? Do you have any tips for implementing strategic account plans? How do you get your client to care about your strategy? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please comment below.