By Amin Akbarpour
Halloween is here, and that signifies the beginning of the holidays. Peak season for some, slow season for others. For most Customer Success professionals, this means ending the year strong and planning for an even better 2019. Account planning is critical for any quota-carrying or enterprise success rep. It is extremely challenging to do all the things a customer success job entails while also staying on target with account growth objectives. Thankfully, with a strong account plan you can improve your odds significantly. So…an account plan, you say?
What is an account plan? Quite simply, it’s a transparent outline that includes the background of a current client and a detailed breakdown of what you plan on doing with them throughout the course of – typically – a year. There are three strong benefits to it:
Transparency: It allows your leadership team (i.e. your boss + higher level execs) to understand the current state of accounts and what direction you’re hoping to take them in. That last part is purposefully vague. Why? Because that could include any combination of: growth strategy, improving current relationships, expanding to new stakeholders, improving customer advocacy, and more! This is your blueprint. Everything belongs here.
Tracking: The account plan is your own form of staying organized. A great example is a growth plan. Let’s say the client voiced a desire to expand work with your organization this year, but timing wasn’t right. That’s something that can be properly planned for the following year. Not only do you create an opportunity to track, but you develop a detailed plan that includes ownership of tasks and deadlines that’ll help you avoid the timing mishap from this year. You can track against these milestones and properly measure yourself throughout the year.
Accountability: By sharing your plan with specific timelines, actions to be taken, and help needed, you’re creating accountability not just for yourself but for others in the organization. If you’re asking your executive team to introduce you to the right stakeholders, now they’re on the hook. Those milestones you wrote earlier also serve as written notice to your boss and leadership team of what you’re setting out to accomplish. That’s not just holding them accountable, but yourself too.
Regardless of your personal preferences as to a favorite CRM or CS tool, I find formatting account plans to be pretty similar from team to team. It does not matter whether you want this to live in a spreadsheet, presentation deck, or even on a giant whiteboard that sits right in front of your desk. Whatever works best for you and can be scaled across your team is what I’d recommend. I’ve personally seen shared services work the best (think: SharePoint or Google Drive). Why? Recall that in customer success there are a lot of teams you work with internally and externally. It’s important to make account plans collaborative to ensure alignment across the board.
The more concise and succinct an account plan is, the more likely it is to actually be fulfilled by year’s end. If you go into the year hoping to accomplish a dozen things with your client, you’re not setting yourself up for success unless you only have a couple strategic accounts under your name. Several things I like to personally include are:
Background: Details about the initial sales deal that brought the client to your organization and their historical relationship with you that can impact the future.
Organization Chart: A view point of who we know, what their responsibilities are, how they interact inside their business, and their relationship with you as a partner (ranging from champion to detractor).
Opportunities: The renewal and any growth areas, accompanied by a detailed plan for how you plan on getting from today to a signature by a specific date.
Risks & Issues: Red flags that need to be addressed in the coming year. I like adding a few other details here: the rep responsible for mitigating risk, client stakeholders involved, and target date for eliminating risk.
Ecosystem: A list of all other relevant partners and vendors that our champions are leveraging. For example, when I worked in the HR space, I would track a client’s recruiting agencies, payroll solutions, benefit providers, etc.
Customer KPIs: An area to track the goals that the client has specifically asked for us to accomplish so we can monitor our progress and adjust as needed.
And the list goes on! There are sure to be more items you may find relevant to include in your account plan. Find the right balance between what’s helpful while keeping this plan concise and closer to pamphlet-sized rather than novel-sized.
Last but not least, the biggest takeaway I can share from my own personal experience as it relates to account planning is client participation. That means having conversations with the client to ensure that what you want to aim for next year is indeed something mutually beneficial. If you’re hoping to get them to join you on stage at a conference next year, you should probably gauge their current willingness and the cultural acceptance of such an ask. The last thing you want to do is go through the hard work internally of developing plans for the new year that your client is not aligned on. Remember your primary job above all else – to make the client successful. With strong communication and planning, the use of an account plan can do exactly that.
Looking for more tips on how to build account plans? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers online training and workshops, including our popular CSM Training Program. For most information on this program and our other classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io
Amin Akbarpour - Amin is a customer success coach and architect. With relationship-building at the core of his practice, he molds teams by instilling the necessary principles to transform them into trusted advisors. Understanding what's needed for organizational change, he translates theory and ideology into practice and habit. Amin is one of the founding advisors to The Success League. In addition to his work with The League, Amin currently serves as an account manager for Persado. Originally from Southern California, Amin is a University of San Francisco alum who now calls New York City home.