The Biggest Account Planning Challenges (Part 3)

7 minute read

This is the third and final instalment in our series of articles about ‘The Biggest Account Planning Challenges & How To Fix Them’.

These articles were a follow up to our webinar, based on the results of a survey we carried out. The first two posts in the series discussed the top two challenges identified in our survey which were:

#1 Understanding the customer’s strategy

#2 How to conduct account reviews and coaching to drive behavior

Now let’s take a look at what was voted the #3 biggest challenge, which is “Prioritizing accounts to ensure we focus on those with the most potential.”

To me this ties in very closely with another challenge which got high votes in our survey, which is how to identify white space within your customer’s organization.

As we’ve said many times before, there are really only two things that you control – who you call on, and what you say when you get there. If you put the effort into deciding what customers you call on, you are much likely to be effective when you get there. This applies as much to individual sellers as it does to those responsible for developing the company’s strategic sales or marketing approach.

So, how do you decide where to spend your selling time? Not all account or opportunities (or markets) are equal, so you need to decide where to prioritize your efforts for maximum gain. In his blog post – What customers should you pursue in 2015, our CEO Donal Daly explained why we should always view an account or a set of accounts as a market(place). In that market, you want to be the market leader, and you want to cover as many market segments as possible. But only where the return justifies the effort, and where you can achieve meaningful segment penetration.

In an ideal world you would like to cover 100% of the market. Realistically, because resources are scarce and your time is at a premium, you have to make choices and prioritize your efforts in areas that will generate the most opportunity.

As a starting point, Donal suggests plotting each of these accounts using Current Revenues and Futures Revenues. To me this is the ideal starting point as it will quickly help determine your priorities.

Current Revenues: This is a picture of the business you are currently doing with your existing customers. Obviously you want to record the sales you achieved in this account over the past year, but you should also be mindful of the profitability of that business and the level of sales resource required to win or service those deals.

Future Revenues: This is much harder to assess than Current Revenues because much of the data required is subjective.

At the most basic this will give you a view/quantification of your A, B, C and D accounts. However, as we know, effective Account Planning means researching and considering many other key information points about your accounts.

You need to understand the profile of the customer’s business:

  • How are they performing?
  • Is the market growing?

Equally, you should pay attention to the Opportunity Profile in that account:

  • Is there a good solution fit?
  • What is the strategic value?
  • Are there known short-term needs etc.?

You also need to consider your relationships in each of these accounts to determine who your supporters are, and who might be obstacles to further account penetration.

Fundamentally, everything starts with the customer. Successful account planning requires that you take time to research the company to gain a full understanding of their business goals and initiatives. But, to discover ‘‘mutual’ value, you then need to identify whether the account has revenue potential, is strategically valuable and the resources you will need to apply to overcome your competitors.  It’s useful to plot these various indicators on what we call a ‘mutual value diagonal map’ to get a visual representation of the accounts you ought to prioritize.

When building this map, consideration ought to be given to factors such as:

  • Good short term revenue
  • Good future revenue
  • Highly profitable
  • Low degree of risk
  • No strategic risk
  • High strategic value
  • Competitive Position

By doing this, we can identify the deals/accounts/business units where we can add most value to the customer while offering strong revenue potential and strategic opportunities for us. This then provides a framework for prioritizing future sales efforts & resources.

If we look at a single large account, what you will end up with is a grid where you can clearly see where the highest mutual value can be achieved.



Some of the factors suggested for use in segmentation may be scored as follows:


The key point is that to get meaningful outcomes from this exercise, it’s important to standardize your approach and to have a clear definition of what determines the fate of each account. The elements we in The TAS group use to assess Future Revenues are likely to be a little different in your own company.

You should consider the elements of Current Revenues and Future Revenues which are most important to you and clearly define each of the elements. For example, you might have an internal debate to determine what High, Medium, or Low means in the context of last year’s closed revenue. Depending on your current go-to-market strategy you might not be as focused on the Opportunity Profit History and might want to weight it accordingly. Make a conscious decision and then apply it consistently across all your territory or portfolio assessments.

The reward for the time and effort you spend in selecting what accounts to pursue is a more focused sales plan and the ability to target your resources in the most profitable and strategically important accounts.

At this point, I’ll widen the scope a little and look at another challenge that also resonated with many who took our survey – “How to identify white space in accounts”. My recommendations here are similar to what I’ve already outlined above.

As we know, in every large customer there is what we call ‘white space’. We define this as “an opportunity to sell existing products to new divisions, or more solutions to the same divisions.”

Pursuing ‘white space’ is a valuable strategy. But to do it effectively, you first need to uncover opportunities to exploit.

The ideal scenario is to have all of the divisions or business units in an account use all of your solutions. But just because one business unit purchased one solution from you, it is not a given that they should buy anything else. Nor is it certain that any other department, division or business units in that company should buy anything else either.

For a transaction to be successful, there has to be mutual value for both parties. So we need to revisit the twin axes of ‘Value to You’ and ‘Value to Customer’, similar to the mutual value map outlined above. We also need to take it a step further and look at the account through 3 different lenses:

  • The $ value
  • Wallet share – total addressable market
  • Competition – balance of the spend

This uncovers the untapped penetration opportunities and revenue possibilities within the account.

One final thing I would like to share with you is many of our customers are extending their definition of account planning and whitespace to include competitive take-outs. This lets you track your competitors in the account and their contract renewal dates. This is valuable information and gives you a wider view of the account potential so you can see where to grow pipeline fast in your existing accounts.

This brings us to the end of our discussion about the main challenges of effective account planning. To find out more about the solutions we’ve developed to overcome these challenges, get in touch with us and we’d be delighted to help.

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