How key account planning is transcending traditional sales: a CEO’s perspective

According to Gartner, nearly 80% of sales organizations find themselves trapped in a relentless loop, constantly rebuilding their key account management processes every few years to combat persistent underperformance. However, 50-60% of Key Account Managers (KAMs) have objectives related to growing accounts or deploying framework agreements (Roland Berger). This article discusses enterprize-driven key account planning, and how it is moving beyond the remit of sales teams. 

If the vitality of growing accounts is indisputable and account planning stands as the driving force behind this growth, why, you might wonder, have over half of the companies undergone the arduous process of rebuilding their account planning strategies more than twice in the past seven years? Not only that, why do more than half of key accounts continue to fall short of delivering their quota? (Gartner) 

How often have companies rebuilt account planning strategies<br />
due to underperformance, in the last 7 years?<br />
Gartner research 2021

The tides are turning on enterprize-driven account key account planning, albeit gradually!

Traditionally, account planning was a sales-centric affair, with relationship-building reigning supreme, and often prioritized above all else, to achieve objectives. In today’s world, most KAMs are navigating some kind of transformational journey. None the less, they still rely solely on personal, internal relationships to secure the resources required from other departments (Gartner). However, it is clear they cannot do this any longer. 

But what happens when an account manager lacks these internal relationships? What if the resources they desperately need are simply not available on an ad-hoc basis? This reliance on individual KAMs to build and develop informal relationships introduces a lot of variability. Consequently, this means the level of support from the rest of the organization fluctuates; ultimately impacting the customer experience (Gartner). 

What would happen if account planning wasn’t just a sporadic task? What if, it became a well-oiled, iterative machine, executed consistently and formally, with the active involvement of diverse functions across the organization? 

The unexploited potential of enterprize-driven key account planning

Comprehensive account planning excellence 

High-performing organizations embrace a holistic account planning logic that goes beyond the conventional. Essentially, this entails defining activity levels that drive key account management excellence. It also involves engaging all essential functions necessary for business success (Roland Berger). 

Instilling cross-functional collaboration

Brace yourself for a disclosure. Elevated levels of cross-functional collaboration can supercharge key customer spending, outpacing poor to mediocre levels by a staggering 215% (Gartner). 

Enterprize-driven key account planning: High levels of cross-functional collaboration increases the amount of key customer spend, by 215% more than poor to mediocre levels of collaboration.<br />

Cracking the customer experience

Astonishingly, a mere 22% of B2B companies consistently measure and act on their customers’ experiences. However, the data shows that promoter customers exhibit higher renewal rates and contribute significantly more business than detractors (Bain). These are the people who receive exceptional experiences. And yet despite the widespread use of customer satisfaction surveys, competing priorities often obstruct companies from dedicating time and resources to improving customer experiences. 

Navigating integrated buying centers

The model of supplier decisions has evolved, with integrated buying centers now calling the shots. CFOs, CTOs, ESG managers, and even board members actively explore alternatives to existing suppliers or solutions. In this environment, a multi-contact structure often emerges as a commercially successful approach (Roland Berger). This is potentially because decision-makers at the client organization have several contacts, not limited to the Key Account Manager (KAM). Therefore, each buyer can find the right counterpart who speaks their language, aligning with the support they need. 

The crucial cross-functional follow-up

Crafting account plans demands substantial effort. Wheremany companies stumble is in the realm of cross-functional follow-ups, a misstep that diminishes their chances of success (Bain). Ideally, account plans should undergo periodic review, involving not only the sales team but all relevant stakeholders. Additionally, this should take place in meetings distinct from regular sales pipeline reviews, dedicated exclusively to this purpose. 

Gartner, Bain, and Roland Berger have all illuminated the path toward enterprise-driven account planning. The future beckons us towards a space of co-ownership, seamless collaboration, and profound internal understanding. What is more, the rewards are abundant—reduced barriers, achievement of objectives, optimal resource allocation. And not only that, an overall surge in revenues and customer satisfaction. 

 How do we navigate this transformative journey to succeed in enterprize-driven key account planning?

This is the challenge. Especially in a time characterized by resource constraints, time pressures, and the looming recession that promises to intensify the battle for business.

Serious results will not be achieved by merely changing the CRM tool or altering the compensation model. But the impact for those who do take the time to introduce significant changes will be huge. Roland Berger<br />

5 pointers to help you move from being sales-centric to enterprize-driven in your key account planning strategies:

1. Secure top-level sponsorship

The foundation of enterprise-driven account management lies in cultural transformation, where silos crumble, and collaboration blooms. Therefore, this shift demands a powerful sponsor, someone who can champion and effectively communicate the change while aligning it with the company’s expectations. Without strong leadership and sponsorship, even the most well-intentioned efforts may falter.

2. Implement robust processes

Crafting account plans is just the beginning; their diligent execution is where the magic really happens. Engaging all relevant departments and individuals becomes non-negotiable. On top of this, follow-ups must stop being broad sales activities and become a collective endeavor. Establish processes and discussions that foster cross-functional collaboration, optimizing outputs and minimizing time investment.

3. Embrace accountability

In the era of enterprize-driven planning, everyone is not only responsible for their tasks but also accountable for their successes. Building genuine co-ownership internally is paramount. Visibility and recognition are not only morale boosters but also catalysts for results.

4. Cultivate a multi-contact customer structure

Empower customers by providing them with access to the right person, with the right knowledge, whenever they need assistance. Not only that, document these contacts within the plan and encourage team discussions, to ensure everyone understands how external interactions shape the plan. Also, foster internal and external collaboration, empowering Key Account Managers to focus strategically, while delegating routine conversations to the appropriate team members.

5. Progress with tools and technology

Seamless, orderly discussions, irrespective of location, language, or department, are essential; then decisions are visible for everyone; each team member will be aware of progress and will easily understand their tasks and timings. Complexity should be avoided, as convoluted systems can sow confusion, misdirect resources, hinder communication, and obstruct the adaptation of a new plan when needed. 

In the journey towards enterprize-driven key account planning, the goal is to reduce variability in KAM results, diminishing reliance on prior internal relationships. Because of this, this may even reshape the profile of KAMs, with attributes like curiosity and rapid learning valued over traditional value markers, like market experience and relationship skills (Roland Berger). 

It is becoming clear that account planning is no longer a solitary sales affair—it’s a dynamic, cross-functional endeavor. One that holds the promise of ushering in a new era of strategic excellence and unwavering success.

Discover more about account planning success in our earlier article.