The Focal Point Blog // Business Strategy // Team Parallax // April 7, 2023

Maximizing Key Account Success: Strategic Planning Tips & Tricks

The power of strategic account planning cannot be overestimated and should not be overlooked. If done well by leveraging simple methods and habits to shape and inform the planning process, it allows digital and development services companies to keep their clients happy and inspired—and they’ll be poised to more easily and quickly scale their operations. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. 

Stick around to learn more. 🤙

Table of Contents

What Is Strategic Account Planning?

Leaders of digital agencies and development shops often feel more anxious than confident about their operations today, given the ongoing macroeconomic uneasiness. Though some external factors will always be out of our control, one thing we can (and should) focus on during uncertain times is refining and amplifying the strategic account planning process. 

But what is strategic account planning? The strategic account planning process accounts for a variety of best practices that agencies execute to build long-lasting, value-driven relationships with their customer base to drive revenue and scale their businesses

It’s all about setting expectations as soon as you land a new customer and then creating a steady cadence for when you check back in with them to ensure those expectations are being met. This tends to be a monthly or quarterly meeting where you sit down and discuss how the relationship is feeling, what results the team is generating, and where potential pivots need to be made.

It’s a “are we achieving the outcomes that we defined at the beginning?” conversation that informs what you should continue doing, start doing and stop doing. It’s also a time to acknowledge how the customer is contributing to your success (or limiting it). If done right, strategic account planning should feel practical, authentic, and a little vulnerable for both parties.

How Are Organizations Approaching Strategic Account Planning Now?

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to strategic account planning. 

Some agencies include their customers in the account planning process, while others only level set and plan internally. Many agencies today also have processes built around the project lifecycle (there’s a clear beginning and end), but this approach is starting to change. Rather than one-off projects and relationships that come and go, leaders are starting to prioritize the customers that they see a future with – that they can grow and evolve with together. 

Whichever approach you choose, best practice is to be predictable and consistent. There should be next-to-no surprises for your customers or your teams if you’re regularly checking in with each other and measuring against intended outcomes.

Strategic Account Planning Best Practices

Understanding Your Customer

To nail the strategic account planning process, teams need to have a clear understanding of what success looks like for each and every customer. Yes, it’s about the business impact they’re trying to achieve—but perhaps even more important, it’s about understanding the individual people you’re working with. What are their ambitions? Their motivations and fears? What makes them tick? What (and who) stresses them out?

To get started, literally ask your customers: 

  • What KPIs are you measured on internally? 
  • What does your boss want to see from you through our engagement? 
  • What will make you look good? 
  • What would make you look bad? 
  • What does a successful partnership look like to you?

It’s absolutely critical for your customers to know that the team they’ve hired is their champion and that they’ll create an account plan to do right by them. The key here is to regularly revisit it to ensure the plan is taking everyone down the right path. 🤝

Organizational Alignment  

Align on an account planning cadence that works best for your organization (i.e. monthly or quarterly) and be proactive and consistent with setting those meetings with customers so they know what to expect. Agencies that have larger accounts might opt for quarterly check-ins, for example, while small accounts may be better suited for monthly check-ins. 

Align on how those meetings should be structured as well. There are a variety of strategic account planning templates out there that can help leaders decide what works best for their organization so there’s consistency across topics discussed and outcomes achieved. 

Beyond cadence and structure, use these check-in moments to be authentic and retrospective. Be open to feedback and be actionable in applying that feedback. Take the time to learn how you can provide more value. Understand and document the business objectives, industry trends, and KPIs your customer wants to track, especially if they have evolved. Know the people that support you (or do not support you) from the customer’s side. Ask who you don’t know yet but should to make the account even more successful. 

This all ties back to truly understanding your customer and how their needs and wants evolve over time. These are steps and inputs that every team should take and ask for to make the account stronger in the near- and long-term.

Peer Review & Internal Collaboration

Take the time to invest in internal strategic research, allowing you to better understand your customer’s perspective and provide more value to them. 

Ask questions like:

  • What’s shifting in their industry? 
  • What vertical markets are they serving? 
  • Which influencers and experts are they following? 
  • What are their competitors doing differently, better? 
  • Who do they see as their biggest threat? 

Invest company time in learning and constantly brushing up on these questions (even if this is on your dime, it’s worth it) – then, bring your findings to them. This is one of the most impactful ways of providing ongoing value to your customer. 

Coordinate across teams to leverage shared knowledge as well. Share your recaps and decks so other teams can be inspired by them and learn about what you’re doing. Ask what’s working on other accounts and what’s not working. Your peer set is there to learn from—everyone should be helping each other deliver good work and propose new, exciting opportunities to customers.  

By doing so, you also create a space to forecast the opportunities and potential value to the organization related to retaining and growing key accounts. 👈 This is very important during uncertain economic times… more on this below.

Account-Level, Forward-Looking Planning

If agencies start forecasting on an account level – planning around new opportunities and potential revenue that they have coming in from each one – everything becomes less reactive and more proactive (a leadership team’s dream!). 

To do so, team leaders need to develop a clear action plan for achieving growth objectives within the account, including specific goals, timelines, and resources needed. They need to monitor progress towards their goals regularly and adjust the strategy as needed. And as always, they need to communicate regularly with customers to ensure alignment on shared objectives and to address any concerns or issues that may arise.

In other words, the main questions to (constantly) ask and answer are: 

  • What’s it going to take to retain this account? 
  • What’s it going to take to grow this account? 

When you have insight on these questions, you’re better poised to develop forward-looking plans with much, much more confidence. This trickles down into resource planning as well, helping to inform when and who to hire and what types of projects and accounts to prioritize within the sales funnel.

Questions? Let’s Chat!

Whether you’re just getting started or looking for ways to revamp your strategic account planning process, we highly recommend you start by implementing some of these best practices. Once you get into the swing of things with a consistent approach, strategic account planning will start to feel much less chaotic. It’ll even allow you to better understand where your organization is today and pinpoint areas of the business that need focus tomorrow. 

Still have questions? We’re happy to talk through them with you anytime. 😀