You’ve spent time in Opportunity Management and Sales Forecasting. You know which clients are the “top ten” probable sales – and you know how many sales you need to make to be profitable. Without account planning, your hard work may go to waste. Account planning is simply the act of applying a precise, project management approach to the individual client – and the sale. What are the benefits of a well-built account plan?
As we’ve briefly discussed, account planning brings your Opportunity Management activities full circle. You’ve got your top possibilities and now you’re going to create a specific plan to make the sale – and keep the client. Account planning allows salespeople and sales managers to closely analyze the sales process – and readjust as necessary. Because you create a detailed plan, sales can be transitioned into a relationship, client-based orientation, versus a hard sell. Here are some steps to take to create your account plan.
Remember that you’re going to create a plan that’s for the salesperson only – not for the client. Some organizations do move to a joint account plan, with the client, but let’s concentrate on the basics of account planning for right now. First, you must determine the clients’ benefits from the future sale. Think about the clients’ “language” and put your benefits statements into that. What are the things that get your client excited? What are their “hot buttons”? Address these in your benefits presentation. Don’t forget to use numbers – determine the cost/benefit of your product and service. How are you going to save your client money, time, and stress?
Next, find out who makes decisions. In the past, sales had us looking for the gatekeeper. Now, you’ve got to get past a gatekeeper and do some additional investigation. Look at the clients’ management team – which groups have power to make decisions? Are there individual decision-makers, and, if so, what are their areas of responsibility and monetary approval limits? This may take time, but by finding out who the decision makers are, you can tailor your presentation and your contacts to specific needs. This is an area where your client may realize you’ve done your homework.
The third step is simply to plan ahead of your contact with the client. Determine to whom you’re presenting – is it the decision maker group, or are there add-ons? Look at the clients’ specific needs, again by the group to whom you’re presenting. You’ll be able to plan your call based on those needs, as a way to hit the “hot buttons” of the group. Another big part of planning ahead is to think about what objections the client may have – and plan your response accordingly. There’s nothing worse than being caught empty-handed at objection time, or formulating a response that doesn’t take the clients’ specific needs into consideration.
As you move forward into the sale, you should always give your client choices. What are the three best products and services for the client? This again takes some investigation on the salesperson’s part, but the time spent will be worthwhile. Think about the choices from a graded standpoint, like digital photographs: what’s the best product, what’s the good product, and what’s the standard product? Every salesperson knows that the client may not always know what they want, so by presenting more than one choice you may be advancing the quality of the sale. Again, the client will see that you’ve done your homework.
Finally, you must create this plan, even before you engage with the client – before the potential client becomes a sale. As you take the previous four steps and map them out, you may see that your timeframe needs to be adjusted. Or you may find that your expense may be more than you’d first estimated. The plan will set expectations for salespeople and sales managers, and will show the client that their time and energy is valuable. What it boils down to is a project plan for how the sale is going to be closed.
With these steps in your account planning process, you can start closing sales. Later, you’ll need to move to the last step in Sales Cycle Management, Sales Performance Analysis.