Don’t wait until January. Start now and get ahead on account planning for growth in 2016. By knowing what questions to ask and what mistakes to avoid, you and your team can successfully create account plans, target new business and unlock revenue in existing accounts.

It is important to understand the objectives of account planning. The primary purpose of an account planning process is to protect and grow revenue and customer loyalty in your account, to coordinate internally among your sales team members and to communicate progress to your internal senior management and request resources.

In the process, you should ask these five questions:

  • What is the account potential? It is important to spend some time on this before you set your goals. You need to know where you have been and what is actually possible in terms of goal setting for 2016.
  • What are the customer’s priorities? What does the organization care about? What are they counting on to grow? Who are the leaders? Where are they investing? You may not sell to executives directly, but executives set initiatives and understanding these initiatives will allow you to adapt them into your plan. You’ll get a lot more support if the executive feels something you’re doing connects to their initiative.
  • What opportunities can we identify? Your job is putting the best offerings of products or services to advance their priorities. What are the ones you already know about? How much do you need to create and grow? As a leader you need to understand what you’re dealing with and how you can further their growth.
  • With whom do you need to align? Understanding the organization top down is critical. This is where you start to hypothesize who has influence (i.e., analyze what is going on within the leadership team and the connections at your department level). Who are your key sponsors and supporters? Who has the ability and the influence to open up new budgets and ensure the organization has a good perception of you? Ultimately, how can you increase that support?
  • What actions do we need to coordinate? Identify key risk factors and determine how to mitigate. This is the step where you hold your team accountable, figure out who is doing what and when. Adding this step is crucial because it allows you to track progress and hold individuals responsible for their actions. To be successful, make this an ongoing step with quarterly conference calls to see how the actions are going and re-evaluate the key activities.

Now that you know what questions to ask, you need to know what causes an account planning process to fail. If you lack customer insights, it makes it difficult to understand your customer’s needs. Not only will it be difficult to service demand, but it will be impossible to create demand without strong customer insight. It is also vital to have a deep knowledge of your own offerings to propose because lacking this information makes it impossible for you to effectively package your products to the client’s needs.

Another major account planning fail is not understanding the competition. You won’t know how to beat the competition unless you have a clear understanding of their offerings. Finally, the last thing you want to do is give your client too much information. The plan needs to be succinct and strategic. Don’t waste the client’s time on pages of lengthy charts and text. Instead, figure out a way to express your plan quickly and clearly.

By asking these questions and being aware of these mistakes, you will become a valuable part of the organization’s decision-making process. Having a plan in place, and doing so early, will ensure both you and your client are prepared for optimal growth in 2016.