Unless you’re willing to understand your customers and approach them with a uniquely tailored strategy, your business may not see the kind of success you would like in the B2B marketplace. Modern buyers have a lot more choices and fewer barriers to switching, meaning the pressure is on you and your business to make sure what you offer is attractive for the long-term. Part of this can be accomplished through useful account planning.
What is Account Planning?
Account planning is a core function of the Key Account Management department. It involves researching and understanding your customers, then making plans with those customer accounts based on the information gained. Instead of focusing only on gaining information and passing it along, or interpreting information to try to form a new strategy, account planning bridges those two functions together to get the most value out of both.
Tips for Successful Long-Term Account Planning
If you want to do well with an account planning strategy, you need to think about the long term and plan for that. Here are a few ways you can help set yourself up for success:
- Know Your Customer
Understanding your customer is the most crucial part of account planning. Everything you do has to revolve around what you know about your customer. If you get the wrong information, you’ll make poor decisions and an ineffective plan. Take the time to put in your research hours and get a true understanding about what the customer needs, the challenges they face, how they see your company, what’s going on in their industry, etc.
It can be helpful to first find out what information you’re lacking about your customer before jumping head first into researching. This will give you a greater focus for your research, and will help you find out information that will fill in the gaps of what you do know already.
- Direct Your Focus & Establish Account Goals
Mutually beneficial goals are the main focus of an account plan. With Key Account Management, you can’t keep a focus on accomplishing only goals that would be good for your company. You must direct attention to what’s going to help your customer. Keep your customer in view with every decision and planned detail, because they are less likely to go along with a plan that doesn’t revolve around their own success.
With your customer focus, you must find goals that work for both of you. You cannot expend endless energy and resources on goals that will not benefit you in any way. Find the most mutually beneficial goals you and your key account customers share and pursue those as the plan progresses.
- Create a Timeline for the Account Plan
In Key Account Management, account planning results in an Engagement Plan that lays out the steps to be taken to reach milestones and eventually goals. This is a necessary part of account planning, because it gives you and your customer something to be held accountable to. They will be able to call your company out if you’re not meeting requirements in any way, and you will be able to do the same if they are slacking in their end of the bargain.
Having a set timeline and attaching deadlines or dates to certain parts of the plan makes it more real to all the parties involved. That makes it more likely that your account planning efforts will yield positive results, instead of being forgotten throughout the year.
- Use the Right Tools
To be successful in account planning, you need somewhere to keep all of the information you learn about your customer, the data gathered throughout the partnership, and the engagement plan you’re using for each customer. Using the right software, such a Kapta’s Key Account Management software, helps you keep all the information you need right in front of you when you need it. An appropriate tool for account planning can help in every phase and keep information readily available.
- Map Out Your Customers’ Organizations
If you haven’t already mapped out your key account connections, you need to do it as soon as possible. Focus on making a map for each goal with each key account customer. This will help others working with you to understand some of the inner workings of your key accounts, and it will also help you keep track of what needs to be done to keep things running smoothly.
An effective map will give you more information about who is important to your success, who stands in the way, and who the real decision-makers are in your key account’s company. All of these are vital pieces of information to keep you prepared for the future.
- Work Together with the Customer
The best way to know if you have the right information about your client is to simply ask them. For the best chances of long-term success, you should be highly collaborative with your customers. Having them in on what you’re doing allows you to work more closely with them on accomplishing the goals of the engagement plan. Without fostering collaboration, you may have a more difficult time staying on track and keeping a customer-centric focus.
- Find the White Space
White space refers to the areas that you could benefit a customer where you’re not already working with them. It’s hard to see white spaces from the outside looking in, but it’s much easier to find the opportunities once you’re working closely with a customer. Finding and identifying white spaces with a customer can help you grow your account with them in the long-term by filling in needs they didn’t know you could meet.
- Organize Regular Meetings
In order to be accountable and to make account planning worth the effort, you have to keep the efforts going all the time. This is not another quarterly or annual meeting to add to the list, but it’s a fully integrated strategy that needs to be a regular part of your company’s agenda. You should be constantly updating what you know about your customers and researching to find out what you may not know yet. Host short, but frequent meetings so you can all stay informed on the latest information about your client, as well as discovering new knowledge gaps as soon as they form.
Success may look different in most organizations, but it’s something every company is chasing. For your account planning efforts to be successful, they need to be well targeted and focused on long-term success. These tips will help you align your organization to the best practices of account planning and get on the right track for future growth and success.