Ever hear the saying, “Fail to plan, plan to fail?”
It’s paraphrased from Benjamin Franklin, who, among other things, helped put together the strategy that led the colonials to victory in the American Revolution.
B2B selling isn’t fighting a war of liberation from a tyrannical king in a powdered wig, but it can feel like a battle – a battle between you and your competitors for your customer’s business.
When your sales team is eyeing key accounts loaded with potential revenue, planning ahead is crucial. A well-crafted B2B sales strategy can be the difference between victory and defeat. If you incorporate an innovative, account planning strategy into your routine, your chances of success go up tremendously.
Let’s cover some of the approaches top sales teams take when taking on high-value accounts.
First, Understand the Essentials of a Strong Account Planning Strategy
To provide context, we need to quickly go over what every account plan is designed to do.
Account-based selling is all about pursuing business. It’s not based on one sales rep pursuing one deal at a time, dealing with just a key stakeholder or two. It’s about putting together a complete vision for the entire account to understand the organization as a whole, uncover pain points and needs throughout the company, identify key stakeholders, build consensus, and develop long-term plans for exploring a company’s full potential for deals.
This is accomplished by aligning sales, customer success, and marketing, and using all of your resources to coordinate and conquer. Your team will map out the sales cycle, draw up ideal customer profiles (ICPs), create personalized marketing content for each key stakeholder, identify supporters and champions, and dive deep into the web of relationships in the company hierarchy.
To that end, you’ll need:
- Your key business objective
- The average deal size and revenue potential you want to pursue
- Your ideal customer profile (a description of the most valuable personas you want to pursue in your target market who are also most likely to buy)
- A relationship map illustrating the hierarchy within the account and business units
- Your products/services and how they could align with the account
- Your account’s budget, typical buying process, sales cycle, purchasing guidelines, etc.
- A timeline of when your team will engage your targets within the account and the goal for each interaction
- Metrics you’ll use to track success
But having these components is a minimum requirement at best. A truly competitive B2B sales account planning strategy takes things a bit further beyond what everyone else is doing.
Account Planning Strategy | Top 4
Here are a few strategies your sales team can follow when going after customer accounts with the biggest deal sizes.
1. Grouping Relationships by Something Other than Hierarchy
In relationship mapping, it’s important to know to whom each person reports, and the level of decision-making each role has.
You also need to know which contacts have the most influence, and whether or not they support you (and to what extent).
But instead of sticking too much to the hierarchy in the account, try defining and grouping relationships by other factors – such as the pain points, needs, and priorities they have in common.
To win big deals, you’ll need to build consensus. This often means cutting across business unit lines and through traditional roles and relationships. The best way to do that is to find what people in the account care the most about.
If you can pinpoint these shared pain points, needs, and priorities, then you’ll have a much easier time pulling contacts together in a collaborative solution no matter what role they may have, how much seniority they possess, or which business unit or team they’re a part of.
Few stakeholders are willing to stick their necks out blindly. But, if you can build a coalition within a company, you’ll make it easier for each decision-maker to give their support.
2. Build a Customer Narrative and Tell a Story
Fact-finding and discovery are key parts of an account-planning process. The more you know about your customer, the better. You can use this info for anything from custom content creation to coming up with solutions and refining proposals.
But what most sales teams do is create a list of questions that may or may not be relevant or related to each other. Their conversations with different customers may not connect with each other or with the company as a whole. Their discovery and solution-planning sessions may be piecemeal and fragmented instead of united and cohesive.
One part of your account plan can be a customer narrative: something that tells a story about who your customers are, what they’re looking to accomplish, what barriers exist that keep them from their goals, and which solutions you propose to the problem.
Just like with writing a book, you’re creating the bones of the story with gaps that you’ll need to fill out. With each contact you engage or speak with, you’ll have more information to plug into the story and flesh out the details.
You’ll also have a way to tie everything together. The narrative is for the entire account, not just one business unit. Each person you meet will have something to contribute to the narrative. They’ll help you identify major themes, trends, and patterns throughout the account.
At the end of the day, if you want to woo a potential buyer, you need to sell stories, not solutions. Incorporating a customer narrative into your target account plan helps you do just that.
3. Create and Share a SWOT Analysis for Your Target Company
The sales team that best understands the customer is usually the one that wins the customer’s business, for two reasons:
1. They create better solutions that are more timely, relevant, and cost-effective
2. They connect better and gain more trust by showing a higher level of insight into the customer
To that end, a SWOT analysis can be a key part of your account plan that can also be a powerful customer-facing sales tool.
By analyzing an account’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, you can figure out what priorities that company has and how your solution can fit within their ecosystem (which includes not just their company, but every main competitor as well).
Threats may not just be competitors, though. They may also include economic, social, and political concerns that could impact their business. What external pressures do the stakeholders have to face day in and day out?
Also, what opportunities are out there for the taking for your customer? What weaknesses do they need to shore up to avoid loss or a drop in market share? What strengths can they capitalize on for even more of a competitive advantage?
See how you can use these answers to plug in your product or solution? In fact, positioning your value in a vacuum isn’t nearly as effective as tailoring what you do to the specifics of your customer. A SWOT analysis can help accomplish this objective in a major way.
4. Keep Up with Recent Developments and Changes
Finally, no account planning strategy should just have a snapshot of what the prospective customer looks like right now. You need to have an understanding of how they got there.
Every organization goes through change. These changes can include anything from reorganization to downsizing, key personnel hires and departures, new rounds of funding, bad publicity, and acquisitions and mergers.
What has happened lately to the companies on your target account list that can help you be more informed and sell better? Who has left, and who has joined? What events – big and small, have changed how the company does business?
You’ll need to create an updated hierarchy anyway, so take the process a step further and cast a wider net.
Knowing the past can not only more accurately describe the present; it can help you predict the near-term future. Sales solutions are inherently forward-looking. If you know what has happened, and what is happening now, you can better position your value for what’s to come.
You can tie this timeline of events into your customer narrative, too. This only makes it stronger and more relevant.
In short, by using a more creative and comprehensive sales strategy, you’ll increase your chances of closing a deal and turning one sales opportunity into a wide range of possibilities. You’ll close deals faster, and for more revenue per deal. Your sales team, marketing team, and customer success team will be able to contribute their talents in a united effort. And, you’ll be prepared for the inevitable twists and turns that come with B2B selling. Don’t fail to plan or plan to fail. Instead, use these strategies and plan to succeed.