Account Planning Part I — Account Reviews

How many times have you heard “you need a plan”? We all know we need one, and most of us have one, so we don’t need to continue the “importance of planning” conversation. In fact, most salespeople are good at planning. You probably have an annual sales plan, a territory plan, a monthly sales plan, and you’ve probably planned out your week. Good job. The point of this article isn’t to impress upon you the importance of a plan.

However, where most salespeople miss on planning is not going deep enough with the sales plan. They fail to plan at the account level.

Without a solid account plan in place for each of your top producing accounts, your selling efforts will be unfocused and scattered, which will result in limited sales growth, exposure to competitive threats and stunted development for your company. The absence of account planning is actually planning to lose your top accounts. Seriously. Successful salespeople plan accordingly, and that includes planning for (and expecting) growth within each and every account.

If you have already taken the time to create a sales plan, then you know what your sales results need to be at the end of the period (month, quarter, year). For most plans the business growth is measured by a formula of total revenue position, product units sold or gross profit performance.

Where most sales plans fall short is they don’t go one step further and assign the plan’s growth goals to the customers who can help accomplish the growth. Account planning is the process of assigning specific goals to specific accounts. This consists of two major parts: account reviews and strategic account planning. In this two-part article, we will cover both in depth starting with account reviews.

Account Reviews

Account reviews allow for an individual salesperson to provide regular updates on his or her total set of customers. Account reviews are brief, regular updates that focus on the short-term view, typically 90 days or less. These updates focus on performance for the current and next period targets that were committed in the sales plan. The reviews are held regularly, usually monthly, so keeping preparation to a minimum is important.

These reviews should be seen as a platform for communication. The account review is a forum for a salesperson to present an overall view of their entire set of accounts and prospects. It provides an opportunity to post progress to targets, request corporate resources, influence timely decisions, and highlight important issues. Managers, don’t let this exercise turn into a conversation about one particular account or a one single pending transaction. The goal is to briefly discuss the sales performance of all active, inactive and prospective accounts. If it feels like you are talking about one account for more than two minutes, then table the conversation and move on.

Additionally, account reviews should serve as a status of strategies for closing new business. Existing accounts are important, and yet we still have to focus on converting prospects to accounts. Account reviews should focus particularly on high potential prospects (not just new accounts, but also new buyers within existing accounts), those we believe could become strategic accounts.

Your sales team may be selling more than one product or service to his or her account base. The account review process focuses on re-evaluating your clients’ needs based on past sales results to see if there is an opportunity to supply them with additional products and services. Chances are you sell products or services that work in conjunction with one another. Use the account review to uncover cross-selling and upselling opportunities. Assign specific growth expectations to each account reviewed. Managers, use the account reviews to diagnose each salesperson’s ability to sell the entire portfolio of offerings. Call out and coach when a team member is too reliant on selling one product.

This is also the time to creatively strategize pitches for your existing client base. One of the best ways to help customers is by recommending ways they can more efficiently utilize the products or services they have purchased from you. This goes a long way in deepening relationships with clients, especially if they are not interested or are not in a position where they can purchase more from you at that point in time.

Executing an Account Review

The review should always begin with the status of actions taken since the last review and end by summarizing new actions for the upcoming period. This helps to keep the account review meetings action-oriented and focused. Both manager and salesperson should be able to communicate what they will “do” before the next account review. Managers, action items for both you and the salesperson need to be documented in writing. If you need some help creating a structure for your meetings, here are five questions I recommend using:

  • Key accomplishments?
  • Disappointments/concerns/problems?
  • What will be accomplished next month?
  • Suggestions to improve the effectiveness of the team or the business as a whole?
  • What do you need from me?

The account review process is also the time in which you are likely to get the most honest feedback from your salespeople. If a team member has failed to meet the sales plan expectations, there is still an opportunity for you to rectify the situation and take control. If a representative displays excellent performance but is shaky in some logistical aspects of their role, then you know where to focus your training efforts.

Some accounts require more in-depth planning and focus, especially if they represent a big piece of a salesperson’s revenue. For these accounts, we need to create a strategic account plan. In part two, I will discuss how to create effective strategic account plans.