Mutual Action Plans: Ditch the spreadsheet & win more sales

The Dock Team
November 15, 2021
April 17, 2024

If you offered a salesperson a single document that contained their buyer’s pain points, goals, decision-makers, and all the reasons a deal may not close, they’d take it in a heartbeat. And they’d probably pay you handsomely for it.

So why don’t more sales teams use mutual action plans, which contain all of the above?

The short answer is that they’re normally created as clunky spreadsheets that nobody wants to use.

Used properly, mutual action plans can help you provide a better buying experience, forecast sales more accurately, and close more deals on schedule. However, mutual action plans are only useful if they make the sales process easier for both the buyer and seller.

If you’re an account executive and you’ve already met your sales quota for the year, spinning up a mutual action plan can feel like unnecessary busy work.

And if you’re a busy buyer who’s trying to lighten their workload by hiring a vendor, the last thing you want is another long list of tasks dropping into your inbox.

Therefore, creating a mutual action plan that both parties actually want to use is a careful balancing act. You have to provide enough structure and context to move the sales process forward without it feeling like added work.

In this guide, we’ll cover how to create an effective, yet elegant mutual action plan that drives sales, including advice for how to move beyond spreadsheets by using Dock.

What is a mutual action plan?

A mutual action plan (MAP) is a customer-friendly sales roadmap shared between a sales account team and a buyer team. It’s used throughout the buying process to track the actions necessary to achieve mutual success.

The main goal of a mutual action plan is to keep buying and selling teams aligned by clarifying:

  • Who’s responsible for what
  • What actions need to be taken to close the deal
  • Key dates and timelines
  • What a successful deal looks like

For the seller, this helps avoid unexpected roadblocks to closing a deal. For the buyer, it creates a smoother buying process and reduces risk. Everybody wins.

It’s convenient that a mutual action plan abbreviates to ‘MAP’, as a map serves as a helpful metaphor. Both documents help you understand where you need to go, including all the necessary steps and potential detours along the way.

Other common names for mutual action plans include:

  • Mutually agreed action plan (MAAP)
  • Joint execution plan (JEP)
  • Mutual success plan (MSP) — a newer term intended to highlight the end goal rather than the steps along the way
  • Go-live plan — most often used in a software implementation context
  • Close plan — an internal-only version of a MAP that clarifies the sales steps needed to close a deal
Mutual Action Plan

What makes a mutual action plan mutual?

The word “mutual” in “mutual action plan” is somewhat deceptive.

While your MAP is technically a shared to-do list between you and your buyer, you (as the sales team) should take on the bulk of the work. It’s your job—not your client’s—to create the plan, share it regularly, keep it up to date, and keep the process moving forward until close (or disqualification).

MAPs are typically more mutually developed when the sale is more complex—for example, where the buyer has strict procurement requirements or lots of team members involved. But even in that scenario, the goal of the MAP is to ease the workload of the client, not to add to it.

Why every B2B sales team should use mutual action plans

In B2B sales, where sales cycles are increasingly non-linear, it’s typically less of a question as to whether or not you’ll use a mutual action plan and more of a question as to how you’ll use one.

But just in case you need convincing, here’s why every account executive should be using MAPs.

1. Provide a better buying experience

Most importantly, mutual action plans create a smoother buying experience for your prospects. MAPs provide value to your buyer as they:

  • Clearly define the scope, objectives, and purchasing steps
  • Hold stakeholders and decision-makers accountable
  • Identify and reduce risks
  • Create transparency between the buying and selling team
  • Save time and reduce work for the client

By being organized and showing due diligence from the beginning of the client management lifecycle, it sets you up as a trusted advisor from the start. This eases the mental burden for your client and builds confidence that your implementation or operations teams will be as organized as you are.

When introducing your MAP to the buyer, make sure you communicate these benefits, as you need their buy-in for the MAP to be successful. The more buyer engagement throughout the sales process, the better.

📘 Related reading: Buyer Enablement Guide: To sell more, make it easier to buy

2. Forecast revenue more accurately

If you’re a sales leader working with a board or public markets, monitoring sales in order to deliver sales forecasts and pipeline reviews is a major function of your role.

However, most forecasting tools are fuzzy. They project revenue based on engagement signals from your CRM (e.g. email opens, phone calls, etc.) and/or broad deal stages (e.g. qualification, discovery, proposal, and negotiation).

Because MAPs track deals at the granular milestone level, you can get a more precise picture of your sales pipeline. Using the right MAP tool, you can pipe your stage-level analytics directly into your sales forecasts or CRM. Then, by consistently tracking deals at the milestone level, you’ll be able to predict the likelihood of a deal closing when it reaches a certain stage.

For example, you may learn that a customer is 90% likely to buy once they’ve engaged their security team.

And because MAPs include your customer’s milestone dates, you’ll have your anticipated close date built directly into the plan.

3. Provide better deal coaching

Mutual action plans are a sales leader’s dream. 

First, they force your sales reps to follow a consistent process. This is especially helpful when your sales reps are in training, as they may not realize all the steps needed to close a deal.

How many times have you heard “This deal’s going to close any day” from a rep before learning they haven’t gone through the buyer’s legal team or security review?

Second, in the same way that MAPs let you track milestone-level progress to track your sales pipeline, they also let you track milestone-level progress for each sales rep. This shows you where they’re commonly encountering bottlenecks or roadblocks, allowing you to coach your reps on where they may be falling short.

For example, you may see that a sales rep’s deals are consistently falling apart once they give an extended demo to the prospect’s executive team—giving you the opportunity to coach them on sales demo best practices.

4. Close more deals

Mutual action plans help virtual selling teams create a repeatable process to close more deals—and to close them faster. 

By identifying key stakeholders and potential blockers early on, you avoid any nasty surprises that can derail the deal. This is especially true for long-sales-cycle enterprise deals with complex constraints and buying teams. 

MAPs also strengthen sales by creating mutual accountability, as the buyer accepts that they play a key role in the deal’s success—not to mention that the buyer’s active participation in the MAP shows strong buying intent.

What to include in a mutual action plan

Exactly what goes into your action plan is of course dependent on your business model (we’ll talk more about that later).

That said, any client-focused mutual action plan should include the following elements.

Mutual Action Plan Overview

1. Value summary: What’s the point?

Start your mutual action plan with a quick summary that succinctly communicates what you’re trying to achieve together.

This should provide a narrative-driven overview of the value you’re adding for the client and the mission of the project.

Every time your client opens the MAP, they’ll be reminded of why they’re working with you.

2. Objectives: What does success look like?

The best way to make sure you’re working towards the right objectives is to make those objectives clear to everyone.

Include a succinct bullet list of objectives and success criteria, including:

  • The challenges your customer is experiencing
  • The ideal results for your customer
  • The major deliverables required to achieve those results

Going forward in the sales process, both sides can refer back to these objectives when making decisions.

3. Stakeholders and contact information: Who’s in charge?

Feature your contact information prominently at the top of your mutual action plan so your prospect’s team can easily contact you at any time.

Because most B2B buyers are complex, multi-department teams, you should include a list of key project stakeholders on the buyer’s side, including their job titles, names, contact information, and decision-making power.

This last part is crucial. Make sure the client has stated who can and can’t make decisions relating to deliverables, budget, timelines, and any other constraints, and then document them clearly in your MAP.

However, writing down contacts isn’t a one-and-done deal. If you have long sales cycles, it’s possible your buyer’s point of contact will change several times due to turnover, promotions, or team restructuring.

Therefore, make a point of regularly updating the contact lists should anything change.

4. Key milestones and outcomes: What’s next?

The real substance of your mutual action plan is the list of key milestones necessary to close the deal and launch the project.

When building your list of actions, don’t overwhelm the client with a long laundry list of tasks. It’s best to list major milestones and outcomes rather than including every small task. Try to stick to 8-12 key outcomes that must be achieved, even if some of those outcomes require a few sub-tasks.

For each action or milestone, include: 

  • A brief description
  • The owner(s)
  • A due date
  • The milestone’s risk level (e.g. “On track” or “At risk”)

Including key dates and risk levels will help you show the possible impact of missing a milestone. This gives the client extra incentive to keep things on track.

To make it even easier to track sales progress at a glance, break your milestones into major stages. For example, your stages and actions could include:

1. Discovery

  • Discovery call: Understanding your situation
  • Identifying problems to solve
  • Defining your requirements and success criteria

2. Validation

  • Customized product demo
  • Follow-up demo with executive team
  • Share project roadmap

3. Final agreements

  • Legal and compliance review
  • Provide past client references
  • Commercial agreement

4. Implementation

  • Project kickoff
  • Onboarding

5. Key constraints: What do I need to know?

You should also include any additional information or constraints your client has provided, such as their budget, the intended go-live date, and other relevant dates to keep in mind.

For example, if you’re selling a marketing campaign, the project’s go-live date may be dependent on a prior product launch on the buyer’s side.

This additional context on budget and schedule will provide a constant reminder to your prospect as to why they should stick to your plan.

6. Other project documents: Where’s that file?

To simplify things further for your client, link your MAP to other relevant documents that may help the client stay organized. This includes:

  • Meeting notes
  • Executive project summary
  • Project scope
  • Security and/or privacy documents

The less work your client has to do, the better their buying experience and the more likely your deal is to close.

Mutual Action Plan Collateral
Dock - Security and Privacy

Tips for getting more from your mutual action plan

A mutual action plan is just a tool. Its mere presence doesn’t guarantee success. Whether or not your MAP provides value is all about how you use it.

Here are some tips for getting more out of your mutual action plan.

1. Create it from your client’s perspective—not yours

Although your sales team may see your MAP as a means to close deals, its primary intention is to improve the sales process for your client.

Think of it as an instruction manual that makes it as easy as possible to be your customer.

When writing your MAP, everything should be buyer-centric, from your customer’s perspective. Milestones should be relative to their goals, not yours.

For example, don’t refer to the last milestone as a “Contract close”. Instead, use a term like “Project launch” that makes your buyer feel like they’re on their way to success.

You should also build the close date relative to the customer’s schedule. Choosing a close date that matters to them helps incentivize them to meet all the milestone dates along the way.

2. Tailor your MAP to your business model

As a general rule of thumb, the complexity of your mutual action plan should match the complexity of your sales process.

If your sales are more transactional with a shorter sales cycle—typical for SMBs—your MAP should be more of a quick to-do list. It should serve as a clear, convenient roadmap that lays out next steps to help guide your sale to the finish line.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re working with large enterprise deals with longer sales cycles, your MAP is way more important—if not essential—to closing deals. Lots of work needs to happen on both sides of the deal, so your MAP is key to keeping everyone aligned. 

3. Don’t be heavy handed with it

Even if your MAPs are on the more complex side, keep them as minimalistic as possible.

Not only does your buyer have to want to use it, your sales team does too. If you include too many tasks, responsibilities, and actions, it will start to get messy—or worse: ignored.

Include only as many stages and details as necessary to stay aligned.

4. Always dress up your MAP with context

Your MAP should never be naked. Without proper surrounding context, it’s nothing but a nagging to-do list for your client.

Instead, leverage your MAP to remind your prospect of the value of your solution, not just the work involved in getting it going.

Using Dock, you can add context to your MAPs by embedding all your supporting sales materials into one client portal that includes:

  • Demo videos
  • Sales decks
  • PDF explainers
  • Relevant case studies
  • Pricing options or price quotes

5. Don’t end your MAP at the deal

You may consider your mutual action plan finished when your customer signs on the dotted line, but that’s not how your customer sees it. For your customer, signing a contract is just the first step of working with you. 

Therefore, don’t make signing a contract the last stage of your MAP. Your MAP should feed into your customer onboarding process.

Dock makes that transition seamless, helping you switch your MAP over to an implementation plan or an onboarding plan so that your customer success team can continue to work from the same plan after the deal closes.

6. Keep it up to date

Your mutual action plan should be a real-time, at-a-glance view of where the project is today. 

If your client opens your mutual action plan only to see out-of-date information, they’ll quickly lose confidence in its accuracy going forward.

Keep your MAP up to date at all times by updating milestone statuses, owners, risks, and contacts.

Why mutual action plan spreadsheet templates don’t cut it

Most sales teams resort to using mutual action plan spreadsheet templates or Google Docs to guide their prospect through a sale.

But spreadsheets weren’t designed for B2B selling, they were designed for math.

Using a spreadsheet doesn’t feel very “premium” for your client. Spreadsheets are visually cluttered, difficult to navigate, and feel like work

Without a lot of configuration, spreadsheets also lack collaboration features such as assigning ownership of a task or setting due date reminders. 

So why do most sales teams use spreadsheets? Because they’re free and they’re familiar. In reality, though, the benefits and ROI gained from using a dedicated mutual action plan tool quickly overcome any sales team’s concerns about cost.

Why you should use Dock for your mutual action plans

Luckily, you have far better options available to you than spreadsheets.

But before we get into Dock—a collaborative workspace shared between you and your client—we should acknowledge that there are standalone mutual action plan tools. However, we find these tools to be overly cumbersome as they put too much weight on the action plans themselves.

Here’s why Dock helps you create better MAPs than spreadsheets or other tools.

📘 Related Reading: Sales Enablement Guide: How to build your sales tech stack

1. Dock improves collaboration and engagement

With Dock, you can create a single shared client workspace that makes collaboration more convenient for everyone involved.

Rather than sending long email chains or a series of interlinking Google Docs, you can use one shared space that contains your mutual action plan plus your supporting sales materials like demo videos and sales decks.

Within your mutual action plan, Dock provides far more collaboration functionality than a spreadsheet, allowing you to assign contacts, create due dates, and set the milestone risk status. 

Your clients can also directly comment on anything within your Dock workspace, allowing you to streamline communication to only one channel.

2. Dock provides all the necessary sales context

By letting you embed videos, sales presentations, meeting notes, and anything else you want, Dock provides all the necessary context around your mutual action plan.

Any client contact that pops into your workspace—even if they’re joining late in the sales process—can learn everything they need to learn about your solution, where the project’s sitting today, and what needs to happen next.

This allows you to put your value proposition front and center for everyone involved in the sale.

3. Dock provides a professional design

There’s nothing sleek about a spreadsheet with a bunch of mismatched colors and comments all over the place.

In contrast, Dock allows you to create a premium-feeling buying experience for your client with elegantly designed dashboards. 

The Dock backend is really flexible, allowing you to start from a template and then add your own embedded action plans, resources, and custom branding.

4. Dock helps you track results

Dock connects with common CRMs (Salesforce and Hubspot) so that you can accurately forecast your deals all the way down to the milestone stage.

Using Dock templates, you can build a repeatable sales process while identifying any common bottlenecks along the way.

Get started with Dock today

For inspiration for how to create your mutual action plan using Dock, check out our mutual action plan template.

Or if you’re ready to get started with Dock, you can request a demo now.

The Dock Team