Chief Marketing Officer at DemandFarm
It’s universally accepted that getting new customers in the door is a more expensive exercise than retaining existing ones. When customer retention can directly be linked to profitability, doesn’t it make business sense to increase customer retention?
A report from Bain & Company suggests that a 5% increase in customer retention results in a 25% increase in profit for companies in the financial sector. While these statistics may change for different companies and across sectors, what’s important to focus on is the impact of retaining your customers.
The statistics here show a direct link between increased revenue and existing customers. Based on the report, existing customers are 50% more likely to try new products and spend 31% more than new customers.
But to retain your existing customers, you will need to spend time and effort to get to know them, understanding what measures you need to take and what resources you need to allocate.
Both strategic account management and strategic account planning, are important processes geared towards developing better relationships and retaining your customers.
Strategic Account Management v/s Strategic Account Planning
Though the two are sometimes confused, strategic account planning is the next, and more focused step after strategic account management.
Strategic account management is practiced at a macro level. It takes into consideration all key accounts and then focuses on those that should be given more attention and higher priority. It is an important process because it involves the utilization of limited resources available.
Strategic account planning, on the other hand, is practiced at a micro level. It examines relationships with specific existing accounts. This process is fluid because the company-client relationship keeps evolving and changing and the plan must accordingly shift to accommodate those changes.
This approach takes into account a holistic picture i.e., it analyzes data and information gathered from customers, competitors, partners, collaborators and the industry. It is thus able to address concerns and challenges and offer meaningful solutions to customers.
A strategic account plan is as significant to the company as it is to the customer.
Benefits of Strategic Account Planning to the Company
Among the many benefits of strategic account planning to sales and account management professionals are:
1. More Efficient Closing
Closing is, to sales what oxygen is, to breathing. And closing becomes more effective when sales professionals have a better understanding of what the customer needs, what motivates the buying decision or what objections they need to overcome to close the sale.
With a strong strategic account planning process in place, sales professionals are better equipped with the information they need to do their jobs effectively.
Since this is an evolving process the information available is also updated and current.
2. Prioritize Key Relationships
The focus in strategic account planning is on customers already in the system. The strategy is to prioritize important accounts and maintain those relationships.
By combining hard data with the knowledge o customers’ goals and priorities, sales professionals are better able to focus on those accounts that will yield profitable results. They are also able to identify gaps with more ease and offer products and solutions at the right time and in the most appealing manner.
Strategic account planning, especially with the help of a strategic account plan template provides an opportunity to gather and organize information in a structured manner. Through research and a proper study of the various parameters, it encourages better learning of the key accounts.
Gaps are easier to identify and can be matched with opportunities. Objections can be identified and successfully addressed. Valuable solutions can be offered – customized to needs.
This process helps sales professionals gain a better understanding of customers’ needs, objectives and indicators of success. It also helps them offer relevant solutions at the right time and in the right manner to add value to the customers’ needs.
Benefits of Strategic Account Planning to Customers
The process of strategic planning wouldn’t be as effective without the customers benefitting from it too. Here are some ways strategic account planning adds value to important customers:
1. Customized Solutions
The main objective of strategic account planning is to gain a better understanding of key accounts. This information, if used effectively, can be used to present customized solutions to customers. Sales representatives can proactively offer solutions relevant to the customers’ needs and business objectives.
2. Enhanced Relationships
It’s easier to maintain and enhance existing relationships than build new ones. This also works well for customers. For the customer, building and maintaining a relationship means familiarity with the people, products and processes of the company. It could mean that requests are attended to more quickly, orders are processed quicker and transactions are generally smoother. Any issues that may crop up will be addressed and handled efficiently.
3. Increased Satisfaction
Prioritizing and developing relationships with customers means that the company is focused on the immediate needs of the customer – which builds customer satisfaction. Identifying gaps and offering the appropriate solution at the right time increases this customer satisfaction. Especially if the solution is customized and tailored for the customer.
Now, that the need for a strategic account plan has been established, let’s look at how best this can be implemented in your organization.
The best and easiest way to start is to develop an account plan template.
Download Now: 9 Steps to Build a Rock-Solid Key Account Management Process
Why do Strategic Account Managers need an Account Template?
There are several reasons why a strategic account plan template is relevant and important.
An account template:
1. Saves Time
Account Managers are busy. They are most focused on meeting budgets, closing sales, and achieving revenue goals. Putting together reports on key accounts – no matter how promising they appear – is not something that’s high on their priority lists.
Having an account template doesn’t negate the need to actually put some work into filling it. It does, however, help with structured research and organizing the details required. It also makes it easier to input, refer to and update the information as needed.
2. Increases Consistency
Through research, it has been estimated that an average adult makes about 35,000 micro-decisions every day! Adding more decisions during a work day is unnecessary if there is a better alternative.
A template with organized sections and guidelines on the information required is useful. It helps avoid thinking about what’s important and what’s not. It also keeps account managers from second-guessing the quality of observations and input on prioritized accounts.
3. Is Standardized
An account template means that the information for each account, and also across accounts is standard. The information is managed, updated and relevant. This in turn means that research and data collection is more streamlined and organized. Most importantly, crucial details are not left out or ignored.
4. Provides Easy Access
No matter your position or tenure in the company, having a template with standardized information ensures that everyone has access to the same information. This makes it easy for anyone within the company to understand the customers’ journeys and relationships with the company.
It also offers continuity in the level of service to the customer, irrespective of which company representative deals with the customer. This undoubtedly helps in maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction and loyalty.
5. Presents a Summary
Strategic account planning considers various factors and parameters. The account template reflects all of those. It helps compile a brief but detailed and relevant synopsis of the major factors affecting customers and their buying decisions.
It nullifies the need to scour through various sources to find relevant information on customers. It’s all available in one document.
How to Create a Strategic Account Plan Template?
As mentioned earlier, a good strategic account plan template has information about the customer, their relationship and journey with the company, competitors, industry and so on.
The template doesn’t have to be fancy but does need to be designed to capture all crucial information. The template can be designed as a ppt or in excel – made editable, as required. The easier it is to use and fill in, the greater the chances of capturing and updating information.
To help with your strategic account planning process, create a comprehensive account plan template that includes the following sections:
1. An overview of your customer’s business
To start with, be as detailed as possible. Once you know what’s relevant and what’s not so important, you can trim it down.
The goal here is to understand as much as you can about your customer. This allows you to predict gaps and requirements and offer the best solutions. When you’re able to make these customized offers, you show how well you know and understand your customer, thus proving your value to them.
This section should include details about your customer’s business – names, points of contact, business journey – when it was founded, expanded, diversified, details from annual reports – revenue, profits/losses, employee strength, even when the company-customer relationship was initiated.
This information will help you understand your customer’s business journey and also their future plans, helping you strategize better.
2. Awareness of your customer’s goals, objectives and KPIs
The best and most relevant information in this section will come from your conversations with the customer. But make sure the conversations are structured and be prepared with questions that will help you get all the information you need.
Make sure that you are alert and listening attentively. Most information may not be offered upfront but can often be gauged from reading between the lines.
You want to get as much detail as you can about:
- KPIs – Key Performance Indicators
- Current challenges
- Solutions tried
- Parameters for success
- Goals and priorities – short, medium and long term
Paying close attention and making the effort to understand what your customer values, what objectives and goals they have – both short-term and long-term, and offering the right support at the right time, will definitely help to put you ahead of the competition.
To keep your account plan current and updated, you may need to schedule these conversations periodically.
3. Details of the account landscape
This section is a deep dive into your customer’s organizational structure – including an understanding of where the power lies and who makes the actual decisions. Be aware that this could change depending on geographical locations, products, departments etc.
This section should help you understand who in the organizational matrix you should best deal with. Add notes about your history with the client – e.g., which position gave you the best access to the organization or which manager was best able to help you with the information you needed.
Any ‘insider information’ you get through the contacts you make and maintain should help you identify gaps in the client landscape. These gaps offer you the opportunity to promote, up-sell and cross-sell.
4. Competitor information
Everyone wants to do better than the competition. Imagine the value you can provide to your customer if you can give them an effective plan to help with this challenge.
Understanding your customer’s competitors thoroughly will help you create this plan. Your goal in this whole exercise is to develop and build better relationships with key accounts. What better way than to present them with solutions to leave their competitor’s behind?
Understanding the competition will also help you understand your customer’s position. Knowing their goals and objectives, you can strategize how to help them get there.
5. Preparing your Plan of Action
If you’ve spent adequate time gathering data and detailed information about your customer, you should know them almost as well as you know your own company. Maybe even better!
You should have identified gaps and problems, highlighted future objectives, identified possible solutions and created a plan of how to make this happen – including allocating the required resources.
Your Plan of Action should be geared toward helping your customer achieve their top goals. It could be broken down into:
- The proposed action to be taken
- The goal towards which the proposed action is initiated
- The person assigned to the action proposed
- The date by which the action is expected to be complete
- Any notes that will help make the action a success
- Strategies that can be used for successful implementation of the action
The Future of Strategic Account Plan Templates
Using a Strategic Account Management template may appeal to your D-I-Y senses, but it’s not a quick and simple fix. This strategic account plan is not a static document and can’t be put together an hour before a meeting begins. Strategic Account Managers need to have a holistic understanding of strategic accounts through data visualization and qualitative analysis. Accordingly, the strategic account plan must be dynamic and continue to evolve as the business landscape changes.
This plan must help you to get to know your customers better and add value to their journeys through collaboration and solutions that align with their goals and priorities. Therefore, to have a truly successful strategic account plan, you need to have more than just a template. You need an account management software that helps digitalize your entire process.
With our Key Account Management software this is exactly what you get! It offers integrated account planning inside CRMs to make account planning ridiculously easy. It helps achieve a deeper understanding of your key accounts through data visualization and qualitative analysis.
DemandFarm also allows any account template to be configured within the platform because of the flexibility and methodology-agnostic approach of the product.
In the words of Steve Jobs – “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves”.
When you let experts do what they do best, you can focus on what only you can do through your product or service and building better relationships with your customers.