Account Planning: Defining a Sales Account Plan Strategy

August 30, 2023
Account Planning: Defining a Sales Account Plan Strategy
Account Planning: Defining a Sales Account Plan Strategy

Sales account planning views “closed-won” as an oxymoron—the initial sale is a mere foot in the door to opening a much bigger opportunity that should never be “closed.” 

In some cases, that’s exactly what it is: a foot in the door. And in all cases, that’s exactly what it should be.

So why not leverage your existing relationships to drive more revenue? In this article, you’ll learn why this is a responsibility your team should be embracing and how to build a sales account plan. But first, some foundations: 

What is Account Planning in Sales? 

A sales account plan is a detailed strategy for building upon existing relationships—the account—to uncover the customer’s needs, how to deliver the most value, and subsequently increase their customer lifetime value and likelihood of retention. 

Sales account planning is the process of researching and strategizing the account in question but should be treated as an ongoing process because the landscape can and will change. Think of the account plan as a sailboat’s itinerary, the destination is known and the route decided, but the boat must still tack with unpredictable and ever-changing winds. 

Strategic Account Management

Often confused with account planning, strategic account management is the methodical approach of identifying and prioritizing the accounts that should be given more attention and how to allocate the required, and limited, resources at your disposal.

Often, reps choose their largest revenue accounts, but you should stop and think about the ultimate goal of strategic account management: which accounts have the biggest upside potential? And remember, past performance is not a perfect indicator of future performance. 

When prioritizing which accounts to focus on, you can consider metrics like their TAM (Total Addressable Market or Total Potential Revenue), market share, and growth rate as good determining factors for future account growth potential. These are critical to prioritizing your accounts, but there’s an ocean of metrics out there; we’re here to help you cut through the noise.

Importance of Sales Account Planning: A Double-Sided Coin

When executed properly, account planning is a win-win pursuit for both customer and seller: both parties capture the greatest value and nothing is left on the table; as every great negotiator knows, you never split the difference. That’s why it’s important to incorporate an account plan into your sales process.

Customer Lifetime Value

An account plan is ultimately successful if it enables you to win renewals, increase contract size, or otherwise grow the account. These factors directly impact your customer lifetime value (CLV), or the amount of revenue you’re able to generate from a given account.

An alternative method for increasing CLV is lengthening retention, or contract length, even if the contract size remains unchanged. Many companies front-load their investment in sales and marketing, only to leave their customers in the dark after the sale is won. Companies that provide as good an experience post-sale as they did pre-sale are more likely to retain customers. 

Yet 51% of sales leaders report missing account growth targets due to ineffective account management, in one Gartner study

Lifetime Value for Customers

On the flip side, account planning should also help increase the value for customers over the life of the engagement. Since account planning is essentially a structured process for learning how to make your product or service indispensable to the customer, if successful, that’s exactly what you’ll become.

How to do Sales Account Planning

Below we've outlined the elements that should be included in your sales account plan. 

1. Account Overview

Before trying to understand the business needs, it’s helpful to get a sense (or reminder) of what’s previously been closed, attempted, and the strategies that have been successful or not. 

Have we already been successful in cross-selling, upselling, or renewals? What products did we close and who was our primary point of contact in that deal? If any attempts at account expansion have been unsuccessful, take note of the attempts and any detail or insight you can provide as to why the deal fell through. 

2. Company Overview

The company overview is an opportunity to research the company’s foundations, history, mission, and evolution. It’s also a great place for any newcomers to the account to quickly grasp what the customer does at a high level.

If available, you can use this section to include any recent or major news, either positive or negative, or any other signals that might indicate their current north star metric or where the business is ultimately heading. Below are a few examples:

  • New C-level hires
  • Product launches
  • Acquisitions
  • Losses to a competitor
  • Stagnation/declines in growth
  • IPO

It’s important to note that any information disclosed during your private discussions with the company must remain confidential to preserve trust with the account. 

3. Goals and KPIs

In sales and especially in negotiations, prospects aren’t very forthcoming with information, only giving the minimum amount necessary to get the deal done. Even with a non-disclosure agreement, your counterparts aren’t going to be transparent about the true state of the business, and it’s possible they themselves aren’t fully informed. 

It’s up to you as the relationship grows to identify the north star metric for clients and how you can help them achieve it. It’s also worth noting that in business, unlike in astronomy, the north star metric could move as the business evolves, so your account plan will need to be updated accordingly. 

Below are some questions to ask which may provide insights into a company’s overarching goals and KPIs: 

  • What are their top priorities for the next 12 months?
  • What efforts have already been made? 
  • What is their biggest challenge?
  • How will they measure success?
  • How will they achieve success?

4. Let’s Competitive Landscape

Understanding the industry your customer plays in and other key players can help you in many ways. One way is to track what is and is not working for competitors and incorporate that into your strategy or advise the customer on strategy as you see it for added value.

Another benefit of conducting a competitive analysis is that you’re able to see for yourself their place in the market, and therefore get a better understanding of their growth potential and opportunity size.

5. Account Landscape

Now that you have a good grasp of the industry, business, and competition, it’s time to look at the company’s organizational structure. How are departments segmented (i.e. geography, product, revenue size, etc.) and who are the key people that make up the hierarchy? Is the company PE-owned and held to strict growth targets?  

You’ll also want a clear understanding of what degree of manager you’re working with, which can help clarify their degree of separation from the ultimate decision-maker. 

Mapping the account and relationships between the account’s key players can plot your course of future introductions and connections. If you want to win the affection (and business) of other departments and persons, you’ll need a firm grasp of the politics, power dynamics, and cross-pollination of ideas between them.  

This is where the relationship map comes in handy and with, these networks are mapped automatically based on connections and communication with contacts at the account. 

6. Action Plan

Now to the part where you actually plan. 

You’ve got a good grasp on the variables, including the company’s fundamentals, competition, and relationships, and you know the goal, now you need to formulate a solution for achieving it. 

It’s important that your plan be detailed but it doesn’t need overkill. If the company’s goal is to achieve TTM of increasing profitability month-over-month, all of your plans should be in service to that goal, and understand that including someone’s name or title as details in the plan might be unnecessary because chances are, team restructuring will be a byproduct of optimizing for profitability. 

It’s also important that you align your goal of account expansion with the customer’s goals, and not sacrifice their goal in service of your own, or vice versa. To continue with our example, if the customer’s top priority is to increase profit margins, upselling likely won’t be in your account plan, but if you can streamline workflows across the company, cross-selling should be a keystone of the plan. 

Sales Account Planning Best Practices

Although your planning processes may look different and you may modify our template to meet your needs, below are best practices that apply to every sales account planning procedure:

Account Plan Audit

One thing that you should incorporate in your process is a regular check-in on the plan to determine how things are progressing. Many people create a plan and then simply fail to follow their own prescription. It might be because the information gets out of date or it lives where you don’t work. An account plan audit can hold your team accountable for the strategies they initially identified. 

It’s worth noting, however, that plans do change and you can’t hold reps to the book for not executing on the plan word for word. The audit is an opportunity for these plans to be recalibrated and reset moving forward. 

If you have a free tool like PeopleGlass, you can create all the spreadsheets of your heart’s desire and have it automatically maintained by simply being connected to Salesforce. Making that audit painless.

Utilize Account Data

As you navigate your account planning processes, one of the best ways to monitor progress towards your goal of closing more revenue per account is to utilize activity tracking, deal scorecards, account maps, and other signals of leading indicators.

If AEs have not been engaging their accounts on a regular basis, this data will be surfaced, giving you the ability to coach them towards a more involved and effective account plan. whitespace maps allow you to visualize where you have a foothold in growth opportunities within current accounts.

sales account planning whitespace map

Lost Account Plans

Many, if not most, sales organizations have too short a time horizon when it comes to their deals. If one ends in closed-lost, they quickly forget and move on to the next deal. Previous leads that were lost are possibly your biggest source of untapped revenue potential. Although this idea is not new, it is underrepresented in practice. 

You should make micro account plans for your lost deals. Take a snapshot of performance at the time the deal was lost and if things have not improved in a few quarters, it might be an even better time to re-engage those accounts. 

Sales Account Planning with

We’ve provided a few resources and insights into our sales account planning thought process but the real progress in planning is being enabled by generative AI.

If your customer’s spend is exceeding the realized value, you can look to account planning as a good method for digging yourself out of that hole, and can help. Leverage your team’s previously ignored data to gain a deeper understanding of what drives predictable revenue and growth for your company. 

Get a demo for sales account planning to learn more about how taking an automated, data-driven approach to sales account planning can help your team stay on the fastest path to revenue.

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