Step-by-step guide: How to select the right sales account planning tools?
Importance of Account Planning Tools
Any solutions provider organization worth its salt understands that its customers are not looking for vendors, but strategic partners who can provide insights on market trends, customer preferences and more. Planning of key sales accounts, therefore, has become a necessity to monitor and manage the sales pipeline – for small businesses and large enterprises alike. Solution provider organizations are catching up to the task too, and are adopting – or considering adopting – tools to manage the practice better. But adopting the latest solutions does not equate to success, as there are plenty of factors that organizations need to consider.
What are sales account planning tools/software?
Account planning has become a necessity for sales organizations: It helps sales and marketing team members understand their customers and make better use of their time. This is especially important in today’s fast-paced world, where organizations are forced to be more agile and responsive. It also allows employees to gain insight into the customers’ needs, which can help them improve their service offerings and increase revenue – as well as reduce costs by streamlining processes. Traditionally, these tasks have been done using easily available tools or software – pen and paper, spreadsheets, or even text documents.
In Gartner’s Future of Sales 2025 report, it predicts 80% of B2B sales interactions will occur in digital channels by 2025. As B2B sales become more digital, technology and digital tools become central to Account planning. Sales account planning tools take the haphazardness out of maintaining account data, and help sales teams organize, prioritize and plan their activities. They can be used by any type of organization—not just the traditional B2B industry. There are several different types of sales account planning tools available, from software that comes equipped with a built-in CRM system (which incorporates all the customer data into one place), to enterprise applications that integrate with multiple platforms including email marketing automation, social media management, and lead management systems.
Why do we need sales account planning tools / software?
Planning sales accounts is a strategic process that helps in the activities, focus on the right accounts and resources, and ultimately help achieve the goals set. Account planning tools help sales managers and executives understand both the current market situation and plan where they can be in three or four years. LinkedIn State of Sales 2021 found out that 77% of sales professionals say their sales org plans to invest more in sales intelligence tools. Such account planning tools also provide insight into how well each account fits within the overall strategy for achieving specific objectives—for example, if an engagement isn’t generating enough revenue per month (or quarter) then it may not be worth continuing because there’s no way for those funds spent on this client wouldn’t have been better spent elsewhere. Real-time tools are vital to success because they provide information on strategic accounts, and cross-platform tools are easier to use, and they churn out results faster by integrating data across departmental silos. They enable rapid-response decisions, by providing detailed analyses in visual forms like graphs and charts. They not only provide a lifeline for organizations to stay in business, but also build revenue and market share.
What are the core functions of strategic account planning?
Account planning strategy involves identifying key stakeholders, relationships, and opportunities that usually go unrecognized. These data connections are analysed and studied in graphs and charts. They aim to simplify complex information, so that sales teams and other stakeholders can take accurate decisions.
In order to do so, they have to perform several activities to understand the need and the issue faced by their clients. To strengthen the relationship and grow existing accounts, critical information needs to be captured to align features with customer priorities, and deliver value consistently. Account managers then draft action plans and collaborate with their customers to execute projects – and rise to the level of a trusted advisor.
The number of different elements at play in sales account management, means sales professionals have to approach the process in a structured way. Understanding the parts which make the sales account planning process is essential to establish a working structure, and adopt tools that suit the needs of sales teams and their organizations.
- Analysing industry trends throws out information on issues that may impact the customer in the future. Sales teams can understand their need for change through this – be it changes to market sentiments, resource challenges, competitor issues, government regulations, or something else. Identifying areas of customer’s priority can help the sales team in formulating the bare bones of a working solution.
- Maintaining healthy customer relationships opens up avenues, like new divisions or business units – that should be documented. Also, documenting the history with the customer gives a clear view of current opportunities, and adding possible future opportunities to this list can make it more useful in the long run.
- Customer strategy maps help in determining which objectives and initiatives match with the capabilities of the solution. These maps detail out the goals, challenges, and culture of customer organizations, and makes it easy for sales team members to identify areas where most value can be provided to boost the customer’s plans.
- Assessing stakeholders by their role, influence, and affinity to the solution gives an honest understanding of strengths and vulnerabilities of the solution. With enough details, sales account planners can clarify key objectives – be it strengthening the customer relationship, increasing the perceived value of the solution, and more.
- Taking the customers’ view of the product/organization shows the USP of the solutions provider in a unique light. Articulating this USP better, makes current and prospective clients understand the need for the solution easily. Determining how to align the solution features with customer needs, and ensuring that it happens at rate that isn’t viable for competitors, goes a long way in changing a transactional relationship to a strategic partnership.
- Keeping track of information can help in many ways. Maybe a small piece of information can help sales teams close a sale, or development team to solve a difficult issue, or something else. Keeping track of doubts that arise during the planning process and listing out steps to answer them, can help other team members to understand and contribute, whenever possible.
- Developing strategies from the information accrued, necessitates creation of a detailed list of specific goals and objectives. This list has to account for the solution’s capabilities, and includes potential opportunities in the future, needs to provide the service, impacts on stakeholders, and other factors that are specific to the industry.
- Identifying specific actions that highlight the strengths of the solution and other important factors like alleviating uncertainty, facilitating consensus, reduce or eliminate vulnerabilities, and improving efficiency. Once identified, these actions can be given to team members for execution. Once they list the potential obstacles, a plan can be created to respond to them. This helps team members to understand the product in and out, which comes in handy when they have to guide the customer through the sale, and respond convincingly to the questions and apprehensions the clients may have.
How to shortlist the features required for your account planning tool?
It goes without saying that an intuitive interface, plug-and-play with popular ERP, a reliable data collection and management process, and simplified overviews of client’s revenue projections, risk relationship scores, and goals should be the norm – and the features mentioned above, while considered value adds, should be standard in all account management software. With curated feeds highlighting news about the client organization, analytical charts that show the number of accounts, managers, geographies, pipeline amounts and other important metrics, sales teams can reduce time spent on wrong info, duplicate entries, or some other easily avoidable issue.
A clear understanding of the business goals is also necessary to select the right account management tool, so that the sales team can make smarter decisions about how to grow the business in the future. Integration with CRMs provides a single solution for all the business needs, including sales account planning and forecasting – and cuts the learning curve down too. This helps sales teams to make the tool a part of their daily activity, instead of learning the intricacies from scratch. Good tools help managers prioritize opportunities and set goals for each salesperson or team member.
Download this cheat sheet to find the 5 most important aspects to look for in sales account planning tools for enhancing your Key Account Management practice.
1. Visualizing relationship intelligence
- Identify key relationships
- Convert tacit knowledge to Enterprise Memory
- Map the client personnel
2. Whitespace analysis
- Identify growth opportunities
- Strategically position cross-sell & upsell
- Find best-selling solutions & new markets
- Address product/service line gaps
3. Relationship analysis
- Find the missing links in the current client-vendor equation
- Assess the power of existing relationships within the account
- Perform qualitative analysis
- Increase the contact lifetime value
4. Financial analysis
- Keep tabs on account health
- Enhanced evaluation of an account’s performance
- Break down potential revenue from current opportunities
- Assess profit margins, deal wins & competitive losses
5. Guided sales paths
- Identify & target key account influencers on the customer side
- Market upselling & cross-selling initiatives to the right decision maker
Case study: How TaskUs reinvented its account management practice
TaskUs is a next-generation customer experience provider to several disruptive technology companies, and helps them represent, protect, and grow their brands online. Since its inception in 2008, TaskUs has been serving market leaders in various industries like Uber, Facebook, Doordash, Tinder, Netflix, Autodesk, and Zoom among many others, with approximately 27,500 employees across the globe.
TaskUs Challenge: Slowed down by the speed of growth
The varied nature of TaskUs’ clientele meant that the account planning process got distributed across multiple systems – Account data in Salesforce, plans made in PowerPoint slides, revenue data from Oracle Fusion, forecast data from Data Studio – and so on.
TaskUs leaders wanted a consolidated planning process inside the CRM, as they wanted to simplify the viewing of the pipeline footprint for all accounts. Their current system did not cover all the aspects in its win-loss analysis, and there was no clear visibility into performance of service lines portfolio across accounts. Consolidated reporting and slide deck creation were difficult, and the system did not provide a clear view with actionable insights. With no established framework or methodology, Account planning practices lacked rigor and teams were struggling to collaborate.
The DemandFarm tune-up
The quality of DemandFarm’s solutions and the keen involvement of the team lead TaskUs to a partnership, and the scale, along with the duration of the project, required DemandFarm to work closely with different teams at TaskUs. This simplified the plotting out of the account landscape, and Account Planner (Enterprise) was used to systematize Key Account Planning & Management process. DemandFarm team members mapped out TaskUs offerings against buying centers inside respective client organizations and quantified whitespaces in a formal map. Visual heat maps marked the account health, and org chart was created along with visual relationship mapping.
By enabling visualization & analysis of “Who,” at “What” level, and “Where” contacts fit in for active opportunities, account team members could easily identify influential contacts along with the revenue tagged against them. The solution enabled strategic planning at an account level, and provided reports and insights at portfolio level, this helped TaskUs leaders analyze and execute probable actions, and the insights responsible were drawn from the integration of Account Planner (Enterprise) with TaskUs financial system (Oracle Fusion), linked files (Data Studio), and cNPS data (survey results).
Zooming ahead with Key Account Success
The integrations implemented with multiple business systems helped digitize the account planning process within a few months, and TaskUs experienced a boost in their productivity by at least 20%. Implementing Account Planner and integrating it with multiple business systems at TaskUs resulted in digitization of the key account planning processes, and helped TaskUs team members to develop a common language within client services for managing and growing account portfolios. It also ensured the global teams are consistently going after the right accounts, to build healthy relationships and create actionable revenue forecasts.
The numbers that matter
The growth rate of TaskUs has been in double digits since 2020, because of the new way of planning and selling. As mentioned before, their client services team saw a 20%+ jump in their productivity, with a special focus on the key aspects of account growth. They are on their way to converting more of their key accounts into strategic partners, and are expected to grow faster in the coming years.
Summing it up
When it comes to account planning, finding the right tool can be a time-consuming affair. By considering the pain points of the sales team and matching them with the features of the sales tool, can give a clear idea of what can work and how. A sales team that constantly has to look for contact details of client organization representatives needs a strong org chart tool, for example. Look at the features of the tool and see how they can help the sales account planning needs. User reviews and testimonials also shed light on the effectiveness of the team building it, and their responsiveness. A partner who can customize the solution to the needs of solution providers, can help solution providers unlock more value from their key accounts – as TaskUs example shows, the benefits can be astronomical.
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About the Author
Chief Marketing Officer at DemandFarm
Dr. Karthik Nagendra carries close to two decades’ of B2B technology & SaaS marketing experience. He has held senior marketing leadership positions earlier in leading brands like Wipro, Accenture among others. He has worked closely with leading universities, industry bodies, analysts and research firms globally and acted as a catalyst in providing best practices and insights to customers across sectors. He has authored papers & articles that have been featured in leading publications like Forbes, Business World, People Matters, and Economic Times among others. He has been a guest speaker at Wharton, Duke University, UCLA among other Ivy league Universities globally. He has been featured among the top 10 marketing consultants by CEO magazine and CMS Asia.