Successful account planning and sales team efficiency go hand in hand. After all, cohesive teamwork fosters greater productivity—and vice versa. So why is the account planning process still such a mystery for some organizations? Is there a secret to getting your team fully committed?
To help answer those questions, I recently teamed up with sales executives from Emissary, BMC, and Databricks for a webinar on winning account planning strategies. Our powerhouse panel discussed what it takes—and who must be involved—in creating an account plan, how intelligence and technology solutions can play a critical role in your day-to-day processes, and why effective account planning is vital to improving your sales team’s efficiency.
Here are a few key takeaways I’d like to share from our online event:
Account planning has to be cross-functional and aligned.
Every panelist on the webinar agreed that account planning is a “we, not I,” effort, so sales reps should never fly solo. Many individuals contribute to the brainstorming and execution of a comprehensive plan—from sales managers to line managers to technical managers and customer success leaders. Think of it this way: if the account plan sets the roadmap for success, alignment between all these people is what keeps the car on the road moving forward. This is why it’s important to think as much about the planning process as you do about the account plan. Cross-functional collaboration and alignment streamlines the workflow and ensures your team can make faster, steadier progress toward your goals.
In addition, think about the why behind the planning process. Account planning is done in service of your sales teams. It’s about ensuring you’ve provided the structure and support necessary to allow sales professionals to create meaningful, empathetic, and human connections with their customers.
In many cases, account planning documents are static and don’t have a life beyond the QBR. Top teams will update their account strategies on an ongoing basis to identify market changes that potentially impact strategy as a best practice.
As you build your cross-functional relationships on the account plan, then, think about who can deliver valuable resources to your salespeople. What other groups in the organization can help equip the sales team to succeed on this account?
Pro tip: Expand your collaboration as far as you need to. Look at your channel partners, your professional services teams—anyone with a stake in the success and effectiveness of your plan. Get them looped in early, and keep them involved.
Make account strategies valuable by checking in twice a quarter.
All good habits are formed through structure and repetition, and account planning is no different. By establishing a routine of regular check-ins—perhaps once or twice a quarter—you accomplish two key objectives. First, everyone gets accustomed to having these working sessions on the calendar. Second, you can continuously verify that your actions are playing out according to plan. (And if they’re not, you can course-correct as needed.)
The more you do this, the easier and more natural the workflow becomes. Remember, no account plan is ever a finished work—it’s an ongoing process to keep information current and strategies optimized. Don’t be tempted by a “set it and forget it” approach.
Account planning should always be data-driven.
One of the big questions we discussed in the webinar was what kinds of information to use while building your account plan. The general consensus was that you need customer data, partner data, procurement data, financial data, all relevant data you can get your hands on—but just having the data isn’t enough.
Customers need to know you are bringing value to the table, and the only way you can really know what that means is to understand what drives value to their organization. Put the data you have to use.
- How can your solution move the needle for them?
- What can you learn about their buying cycles or processes that might affect your position?
- What kind of use cases best speak to their business needs?
- Are there real KPIs in play that your solution will help impact?
- Are there executives whose compensation hinges on achieving a specific objective?
The more you apply the data you have toward driving value for your customer, the less legwork you’ll need to do when it’s time to execute your plan. That’s how sales teams really ramp up their productivity.
Account planning is faster and easier when you leverage the right technology.
Of course, how you access this data in the first place brings up another critical question we discussed. Where do you get the intelligence you use in your account planning process? Are there specific solutions that can simplify your job? Sellers want more face time with customers, not more hours of research to find out who to talk to, about what.
The short answer is yes—there are solutions available to sales organizations that can facilitate the data-gathering portion of your account planning process. But what sales teams really need on the quest to become more efficient is the ability to derive insights from the data fast and at scale.
For example, you don’t just want to know budgetary dates on a calendar; you’d rather know the exact month a company has a historical trend of making multimillion dollar investments. You don’t just want to read a QBR; you want to know how many times in the last two years executives have specifically mentioned a certain use case or intent to make a specific purchase. And you want to know each time new information enters the picture, across all of your accounts.
As one of our panelists said on the webinar, there’s a big difference between being busy and being productive. So as you consider technology solutions that might help, look for those things that will make you productive. Dashboards, for example, that consolidate insights in an easy-to-use overview. Or automations that can produce a one-click customized point-of-view document. Any increase in your sales reps’ individual productivity is a win for team efficiency, and it elevates the account planning process beyond simply “checking the boxes,” as we said in the webinar.
These are just a few of the top strategies we covered at the event. If you’d like to hear the full discussion featuring myself, Seleste Lunsford (Chief Research and Strategy Officer, Emissary), Jacobo Crespo (Director of Sales Performance, BMC) and Kevin Jordan (Director of Sales Performance, Databricks), you can access it below. And you can always catch a free demo of Databook in action by contacting us here.