Are you too busy to plan your account strategy?
You're so crazy busy with Account Manager stuff that as far as priorities go, an empty inbox wins over strategy any day. Who can blame you? I mean clients aren't calling you demanding their strategic plan, but they sure do pounce if you take more than 5 minutes to reply to their email.
Strategic account planning process
Now before going on, let's be clear on what I mean by strategy. It's simply figuring out how to get from where you are to where you want to be, by the shortest route possible. It should have an impact. It might even be disruptive. It should change things for the better.
There are quite literally hundreds of strategic planning frameworks that have been developed over the decades.
For now, we're going to ignore them all!
This strategic planning guide is for the busy Account Manager who doesn't have time to do a SWOT or PEST analysis. There are many ways to use this planning process, but for the purpose of this article, I'm going to assume you are designing the plan in collaboration with your client.
So here's my easy (in fact insanely easy) effective and quick strategic account plan.
1. Have a conversation with your client
Arrange a 90-minute brainstorming session with your client dedicated to strategic account planning to answer the following 5 questions. It's a great way to stimulate discussion and get the creative juices flowing.
Don't just focus on money. Financial benefits can take some time to realise. In fact, your strategy may involve spending, not saving money (i.e. upgrading products and services). What else is important to your client (and to you)?
Let's dive right in. No fancy equipment needed. Pen and paper, a whiteboard or your favourite note-taking app. You may also wish to record the session (with permission) on your phone or tablet for later review.
Where are we?
Discuss where you and your client are in your partnership
- What is going well and what isn’t?
- Did you get there through good luck, bad luck, good planning or no planning?
- How does performance compare to benchmarks?
- Is this a trend (i.e. are things getting better or getting worse?)
Where do we want to go?
Think blue skies - what would drive the most value if there were no obstacles. Then group these into what's realistic and what's aspirational. This will help with prioritising. Don't disregard the "someday" ideas - you'll come back to them.
- What is the overall purpose or mission? What do you both want from your partnership?
- Are you happy or unhappy with the status quo?
- Is there are an appetite to do something totally different? Change the game?
- What is the biggest issue your client is facing?
- If there were no limits - what would you do?
- What new trends or technologies are emerging? Are you ahead or falling behind?
What changes have to be made?
Compare the current state and desired state. What's inhibiting you?
- What would it take to do things 10x better than you do now?
- What are the risks (internal/external)? What is in or out of your control
- What would create more opportunities?
- What do you need to stop or start doing?
- How can you improve performance?
- Consider alternatives. What's your Options A, B and C?
- What are the quick wins? Sometimes a small change can have a big impact.
How should changes be made?
Change won't happen overnight. There are things you can do yourself which will deliver a fast result but generally, you'll need to persuade other people to buy into your strategy. How are you going to get their support - intellectually and emotionally?
- What changes can you control or undertake
- What changes require engagement from stakeholders
- Consider the who, what, when, where and how needed to make your strategy a reality.
- Should your focus be narrow or wide?
- What can you do for free and what will need a budget?
How should progress be measured?
Don't get too hung up on measurement. A rough and dirty figure is fine. This isn't going to be audited by a team of forensic accountants. You want to demonstrate progress that brings your strategic account plan to life.
- Improved financial performance
- Process efficiencies
- Customer experience
- Continuous improvement
2. Evaluate and prioritise your goals
You're are going to end up with a huge amount of information and a big list of ideas which need to be translated into a strategic direction. In the Strategic Account Plan Template, there is a Whiteboard Worksheet where you can write these down if you wish.
Now it's time to evaluate objectives, set targets and identify the actions needed to achieve them. With your client review all your ideas:
- What are the pros and cons of each?
- How likely is it that they will succeed or fail?
- What are the costs?
- Which are the needs vs. the wants?
- How much time and resources will it take?
- Is it time sensitive or urgent?
- Is it going to be easy or hard? Is the return on investment worth the effort?
Once you've done that, you're going to score each idea:
- There will be some strategies that are so obviously winners and that leap to the top of the list. Give them a score of 3
- Some strategies have potential. Give those a score of 2
- There will also be those strategies that sound great, but seem unlikely to succeed (right now). Give them a score of 1
- Those that are just never going to work, discard.
Anything with a 3 makes it to the top of the priority list
Anything with a 2 needs further evaluation
Anything with a 1 is on hold (for now). Time and opportunity may make these worth revisiting so don't abandon them entirely.
3. Create your strategic account plan
So now you have strategic priorities, it's time to put them into the strategic account plan. Make it clear what time frame this plan applies for. Is it a calendar year, a 6-month plan, a rolling 12 months or perpetual? You can introduce your strategic account plan at any time. You don't have to wait until the beginning of the year.
Start by assigning a category to every strategy. We're going to borrow from the Balanced Scored and group our strategy into 4 buckets. Of course, you can have more (or less) but 4 is a good number that gives you diversity in your plan and focuses on other areas beyond the financial. It'll also make it easier to communicate how well you're doing.
Here's the 4 I use most frequently but choose any that's relevant to you and your client.
- Financial (reducing costs)
- Customer Experience
- Process (improve efficiency)
- Technology (optimise products and services)
Here you enter your top strategies from the previous step (those with a score of 3). These will be the ones that you've assessed as the most impactful based on available resources and return on investment. They'll also be the ones with a realistic chance of success. Some might be quick wins, others might be more mid to long-term. They all deserve a place on the strategic plan. Every objective need to define a target, and how it will be measured.
For each objective identify the initiatives necessary to achieve it. These are milestones - not every single action you're going to take. It's a strategic plan, not a project plan. So a very simple example
Objective - Lose 15lbs by Christmas
Initiative - Run 3 x per week
As with objectives, there needs to be a target and agreed measurement.
4. Review and revise your account plan
It's important to establish the frequency with which you and your client are going to review the success (or failure) of the plan. For large clients typically this will be quarterly. For smaller clients, it'll be every 6 months.
Be critical about what's worked and what hasn't. Be prepared to modify or even abandon some of your favourite strategies if they're not working or if more important objectives have surfaced during the year. Your plan needs to be agile enough to respond to the current environment.
When things are completed, tick them off the list - there's nothing more satisfying.
Strategic account plan Excel template
Strategic account planning is will keep you focused, more productive and most importantly, demonstrate to your client the value you create.