Let's deal with the 'why' first. Everyone is talking about the era of big data. The account plan is about insights, not data, and it is about how to manage a top account in a very competitive marketplace. A key to the account plan is to use it as a living document to drive value with key stakeholders and not just ticking a box for the 'call' ratios on this account.
Your account plan captures key information about your strategic account and the current account relationship. Having this information in one place highlights what you don't know and should know about the account. You should review the account plan every three months and update the plan with any new information - so you base any plans for the account on reliable information.
It is essential that you only include relevant and valuable information in the account plan. You must be ruthless when deciding what to include in your account plans, each account plan does not have to include the same information. Prevent information overload and only include what is relevant to each account.
Bring together everyone in the business who interacts with the account when building and reviewing the account plan. Bringing everyone together is critical to producing results for this account.
Although each account plan can be different, there is basic information that you should include in every account plan:
1. Account Details
Summarise the information on the front page. Account name, tenure, annual spend, industry, account manager and primary contact at the account, type of relationship, company's share of wallet or industry growth rates.
2. Account Contacts and Relationships
Document all the contacts at the account. Include who within your company each contact mainly interacts and key information on the nature and status of the relationship.
Documenting this information shows where there are any gaps in relationships, most often there is a lack of senior relationships. Compare your relationships against the accounts organisational chart to make sure that you have contacts at all levels of their company.
Our global experience shows that most contacts are more operational than strategic.
3. Account Overview
Include their geographic coverage, their brands, products and services. It is essential to understand the whole account and not just one part of it to understand the full potential of the relationship.
Record the accounts business objectives and operating environment, now and in the next 3-5 years. You can gain this from social media, annual reports, AGM presentations and articles in the media for large public companies. For smaller and private companies you need to do more work, including interviewing executives at the account.
Thinking about what the account needs and how you fit into their priorities are major changes in perspective for many companies. Key questions for you are: Are you relevant to them? And what do they want to achieve?
4. Products and Services Supplied
Capture all products and services that you provide to the account and the revenue generated by each. Provide this information by division or geography so that you can establish any patterns or trends over time. Capturing this information may take months to establish for a large company. But, it will provide you with valuable insights.
5. Account's Business Needs
Ask questions about why the account does business with you. The more information you gather, more questions will emerge:
- Why did you really win the last tender? What were the critical deciding criteria?
- How have their needs evolved since you won the business?
- What themes emerge consistently from account reviews and executive meetings?
- What are the main business objectives and where do you fit?
- Who are their main competitors and how can you help your account win more business?
- How does what they are saying compare with what they are doing?
Identify areas where your company can provide unique value to the account, beyond your products and services:
- Do you have expertise that can help the account achieve a strategic objective?
- Do you have expertise that can help the account reduce costs, grow revenues or improve customer service?
- Does the account have an impossible business problem that you can help solve?
All companies have knowledge, skills and relationships that can be leveraged to help a customer with a problem.
6. Strategic Value
Once you have identified all the information and have a deeper understanding of the account, you can look at what this account can bring to the organisation?
- Does this account have expertise that could help you?
- Do you have a business problem the account could help you solve?
- What would be the benefits of an optimal relationship with the account?
You will have created a diverse range of issues for the account that you need to prioritise. Start with closing the gaps in the information that you have, so you don't create a plan with poor or incomplete information. Sort the fact from the fiction - make sure you can back up your assumptions about the account - don't rely on rumours.
Once you have all this information, you are ready to create an action plan for the account.