What Does an Account Plan Really Do for Your Relationship with the Customer?in Account Planning /
If you’ve read any of the numerous articles on the Kapta blog, you likely know that we’re wild about account planning here. In fact, account planning is so crucial to us, we made it one of the standout features of our platform.
Even so, too often it seems like account managers, and even key account managers, don’t really understand the importance of having a plan of action. When you’re running an inefficient KAM program, we can’t blame you for wanting to skip another piece of paperwork. As account managers, we’re guilty of wanting to spend more time actually talking with our clients and less time doing bookkeeping work, but that isn’t to say the bookkeeping isn’t crucial to you and your customer’s success.
So, today, we’re going to take a full, in-depth look at the key features and benefits of a full-fledged account plan. After reading this, you should have a clearer understanding of why we make these documents and maybe, just maybe, you’ll feel inspired to fire Kapta up and revamp or create new account plans for your key accounts.
Show Your Hand
Put yourself in your client’s shoes; how many vendors do you think they work with? Depending on the company, they could work with upwards of hundreds of different suppliers and companies that all want a piece of their budget. So, with that many vendors to keep track of, it’s likely that they are pretty tight with their budget and only work with the people that they know they can truly trust.
Most vendors do the absolute bare minimum and provide their clients with a Statement of Work and not much else. Essentially saying “we did exactly what you asked but not a single thing more.” While this gets the job done, in the long run, it doesn’t provide much value for your clients.
And even if you do make an account plan, a common misconception among some key account managers is that they should keep their account plan to themselves. It’s a secret, and the client should never see it at any costs otherwise the KAM’s hand is shown.
What’s the problem with that?
When you share your account plan with your client, you’re showing that you’re putting in the extra effort for them and going above and beyond. Instead of only doing exactly what they asked with no foresight into the future, you’re thinking three steps ahead.
These days, almost every industry is crowded, and it’s the intangible aspects that will separate your company from the competition and earn the long term business of your clients. When you show your hand and how you imagine the relationship growing in the future, they’ll see you less like someone looking for the next transaction and more of a problem solver that genuinely wants their organization to succeed.
Stop Being Tactical
People like to use the terms tactical and strategic interchangeably. In normal conversation that’s fine, but in account management, the difference could cost your company millions in revenue over time.
Being tactical means you’re thinking about what’s happening now and what you can do to mitigate any risks. You aren’t really paying too close attention to the overall story arc of the account and instead thinking of the next step.
Being strategic, on the other hand, means that you’re thinking further down the line with an end goal based on your customer’s needs continually shifting. Ideally, there should never be one hard-stop goal for your account, and with every conversation and VOC interview you conduct, you’ll move the goal post a little bit further down the road.
If you’ve ever played against an excellent chess player, you’ll notice that at some point, a loss just seems inevitable. While you’re scrambling to react to their latest move, they’re putting their other pieces in position and checkmate is all but certain.
What separates a good chess player from an average one is strategy. It’s the same case in key account management. When millions of dollars are on the line, you can’t afford to be tactical in your approach because churn can happen suddenly if you aren’t careful.
When you create a full-fledged account plan for your key accounts, it forces you out of the tactical mindset as you start imagining where you see the account in a year, two years, and five years down the line. That’s why account plans aren’t simple bullet lists you just down on a legal pad and are instead flexible, living documents that you continue to obsess over looking for new ways to grow your customer’s revenue, bring more customers in, all through your company’s products or services.
Get out of the tactical mindset the easy way and create an account plan that leaves no room for blank spaces in the timeline.
Have you ever showed up to a meeting completely unprepared left pulling ideas out of thin air? Hopefully, you’re never doing this with your customers, but it happens a lot more than you might think and customers notice. When one of your customers comes to a meeting, they are expecting you to have everything put together and to give them a show in a sense. If you can’t deliver on that part, then your company looks bad, and it seems like you haven’t put much forethought or care into their account.
By creating an account plan and mapping out the various stages of the relationship, it forces you to think three steps ahead and years into the future. You are the expert in your customer’s industry even if you’ve never held a job in their industry before. When you map out an account plan and do the hard work first, you’re proactively searching for new solutions because on past and future conversations with your customers.
When you create an in-depth, comprehensive account plan for your customers, you’re doing more than just the bare minimum that your clients have come to expect from other vendors. Because doing the research to look into your customers’ competitive situation and plan out different strategies to help reach their desired outcomes.
Getting your clients to their end goal isn’t something that happens overnight nor will it happen if you just sit back and watch them use your product. While it should be true that they are better off using your product and not a competitor’s, the tool alone isn’t what will get them their results.
It’s your guidance and proactive approach that will provide them with peace of mind and a basis for looking further into the future as the account grows and it all starts with a well-thought key account plan.
Being proactive when you have multiple key accounts can seem challenging when you have to balance various things at once, but that’s what your accounts pay you for. Also, with Kapta, the account plan process is much more simple.
Once you’ve created an account plan that works for you, you can just copy and paste it and build your other account plans off of that template. Kapta takes all of the mindless, tedious work out of the equation so you can use your energy on things that really matter for your customers and not building out spreadsheets.
Prove Your Worth
Another core complaint that many customers have when it comes to the vendors they deal with is that their account manager only cares about getting in their wallet. Every call with the vendor is a sales call. The end goal for them is to get them to buy one more service, subscribe to one more feature, and then and only then will they have success.
This transactional approach is not what makes key account management great. It’s the value, knowledge, and expertise that makes customers consider their account managers trusted advisors.
When you plan out your accounts years into the future with special considerations for the ways their customer base and industry will change over time, you’re showing the client you’re thinking post-sale. In fact, you’re so focused on their success, they might even think you haven’t considered the sale at all. It’s this mutual success focus that separates the good from the great and the trusted advisors from the other vendors.
This concept can be summarized as demonstrating value over time. It isn’t the quick win that keeps the account happy; it’s the culmination of all of your small wins that will keep them satisfied and signed on with your company. You can’t turn to their receipt history and say “Look, you bought something from me on this date and this date” as a way of showing how you brought value to the account.
Instead, your focus should be on the results, and the conversation should revolve around how they were able to meet their quarterly, six-month, and annual goals during the time you worked with them and how your product helped them.
If your client can better understand the how behind your products and services and you have a proven track record of demonstrating value to them over the long haul, then you’ll have better success getting what you want out of the relationship be it premium services, additional packages, or those coveted referrals for their friends.
Show Your Wins
Your account plans serve one other primary purpose: to provide you with leverage and ammunition once it comes to time to renew their contract with your company. If you’re a great key account manager, you’re likely focused less on the sales and dollar figures and more on bringing success to your clients. An account plan is the perfect way to keep track of your wins so you can use them when the time is right.
There are a few scenarios where having your big and small wins on paper will come in handy. If your clients begin questioning your services and it seems like they want to go with a different provider, you can spring into action with a detailed list of the ways you and your organization’s products or services have brought their company success.
They are likely wrapped up in their own initiatives, product development, and serving their customers so it can be difficult for them to keep track of the success that you’ve brought them. Also, when you’ve been working for an account for so long, they might become complacent with success and start demanding even faster and bigger results. Showing them where the account was when they began will put the progress in perspective for them as you move forward.
Also, if they are considering referring you to another partner company, then having a list of hard data and figures that show your services work will provide them with something to share with their referrals and will make you and your company look like magicians, turning a bad situation into a profitable one.
Make sure that you’re noting these wins, both big and small, in the account plan as they happen in real time, so you never miss one, and you can paint a picture of success that will reaffirm their commitment to work with your company.
Account plans are the backbone of every successful key account program. They might seem tedious at first, but with the right platform, you won’t need to start from scratch, and you can continue growing and nourishing the relationship the easy way. Having a full-fledged key account plan will ensure that you’re keeping the account on track and maximizing the positive attributes that make a successful KAM.
How Kapta Can Help
Kapta is a key account management platform designed specifically with the relationship in mind. Rather than bogging you down with more spreadsheets and complicated tables, Kapta offers an intuitive user interface that KAMs can use to easily track and manage important data related to their most important client. Easily create and edit Account Plans with the built-in templates, improve engagement through VOC Insights, and even track the account’s Overall Health Score all in one platform. To see how Kapta can help your KAM program, request your free demo today.
Alex Raymond is the CEO of Kapta.