Account Planning Strategy – what's it all about?
Excerpt from 'How to Wrestle an Octopus: an agency account manager's guide to pretty much everything'. Available now!
If you want to work strategically with your accounts, then learning to create and utilise an Account Planning Strategy (APS) is the best place to start.
What is an APS?
An APS is a collection of information about your client’s business. It will help to reveal how you can maximise your agency/client partnership, identify your client’s core business and marketing issues, and drive agency revenue.
The APS is an internal document, designed to help your agency do its job efficiently (it’s not a document that you would share with your client). You’ll fill in as much of the APS as possible yourself, then request your client’s input to complete the remaining sections.
If your client is brand new to your agency, then you can ask some of the document questions at your first couple of meetings. This proactivity will show your client how much you are interested in them and their business, and will help to establish the relationship.
If your client has been with your agency for a while, and if you have been working on the account for a while, you will be expected to already know a lot of the information within the APS; so you’ll need to use tact in how you ask for help to fill in the gaps. However, if you are new to working on the account, then you can certainly play the ‘newbie card’, and ask your client whatever information you like – it will indicate that you wish to get up-to-speed as quickly as possible.
To get started you first need to create the document that will inform the strategy to drive and guide your day-to-day operations. Creating the document will take time, effort, and research, so you should consider that hard work as an investment, and something that will make your job a whole lot easier further down the track.
What’s in an APS?
The APS should include sections such as:
- Account name.
- APS review date.
- Business information (legal name, company structure/subsidiaries, address, contact information).
- What the business does (industry, products, annual revenues, key divisions, locations).
- Key happenings from the last 12 months that have affected your client’s business (executive management changes, economic conditions, changes in competition, etc.).
- Annual report highlights (significant business issues, challenges, drivers, initiatives, etc.).
- The key value proposition to their customers.
- Top three competitors (their offering, revenue, growth rate, etc.).
- Organisation chart.
- Client contacts (position, decision-makers, the frequency of contact, the preferred method of communication).
- Stakeholder relationships (who your main contacts are most concerned about pleasing).
- Agency contacts (positions and relationship with the client).
- Agency revenue and profit from this account (for the last financial year, and previous four financial years); plus forecast for next 12 months.
- Type of work your agency does with this client.
- Other agencies the client works with and the services they supply.
- Client’s main requirements for your agency.
- Client events (current or planned) that could either assist or hinder forecasted sales opportunities (procurement tender, outsourcing, internal audit, key staff changes, restructuring, etc.).
- Agency services you provide and how you rate yourself as a supplier.
- Your agency’s value proposition, sales opportunities, sales strategies.
- Active or passive account involvement.
- Current and future projects you expect to deliver.
- Success stories and case studies from previous 1-2 years.
- SWOT analysis.
- Account risks and how to mitigate the risks.
- 6 to 12 month and 1 to 3-year goals for the account, covering relationships, revenue, and client success.
- Objectives to meet the goals.
- Activities, tasks and events to meet the objectives.
- Review on your strategic successes and failures.
- Distilling APS information
- The potential of the account to achieve your agency’s objectives.
- Revenue opportunities.
- Ways to better help your client’s business and alleviate pain points.
- Other contact points within the business that could broaden your reach.
- The health of the account so you can maximise strengths and improve the weaknesses.
Using the APS
An APS is only a dusty piece of paper until you put your findings into action and see fruit from your labour. The ‘strategic’ part of the Account Planning ‘Strategy’ is working out how you are going to act on what you have learned.
The ‘how’ could take on a multitude of different forms, so you’ll need to figure out your ‘how’ for each unique client, their unique business needs, and your unique agency offering. Generally-speaking, the how could be:
- Meet with your client to talk about your agency’s full range of services offered.
- Offer to work on your client’s yearly A&P (advertising and promotion) plan with them.
- Seek to gain more customer insight so that you are better equipped come time for your next campaign.
- Look at ways you could cross or up-sell with your client.
- Consider the things that could affect your client’s business over the next year and talk with them about ways to mitigate the impact.
- Proactively suggest promotion ideas for upcoming events, national holidays, new product releases, etc.
- Analyse research on your client’s brand(s) and brainstorm ways of improving brand awareness or perception in the marketplace.
Which clients should have an APS?
All your clients should have an APS of some description. The degree of detail that you drill into will need to be at your discretion.
All clients on a retainer, and all of your large clients should have a full APS. If you work with ‘rats and mice’ (small clients), then your aim should be to do at least a partial APS. You may find that you can then elevate these clients from being ‘rats and mice’ to ‘regular and profitable’.
Keep the APS current
Once you have completed an APS for your client, then all you have to do is to keep the information up-to-date. You could diarise to formally review the document every 6 to 12 months. However, the APS should (ideally) become a living document that you refer to and regularly update throughout the year. The APS can be a valuable source of information and inspiration and a key to unlocking business and financial breakthroughs for both your client and your agency.
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