Build relationships and increase sales with an effective account planning strategy

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“You don’t close a sale; you open a relationship.”

As sales professionals, we often focus on the sale—for good reason. Selling is what you’re expected to do. But as sales coach Patricia Fripp put it so well, sales go beyond the moment you close a sale. It’s about the relationship you build with your customers. 

As a B2B company, you know the toll it would take on your business if all of your customers were one-time, in-and-out customers. It’s the loyal, repeat customers that make or break a business. But repeat customers don’t simply land in your lap. You need to put the work in to create a relationship that is built on trust and adding value. 

Account planning is an effective way to approach relationship building in B2B sales analytically. It’s a framework that can help identify the key accounts in your business with the most growth potential. An account planning strategy can then guide you on how to build relationships within a specific account with the end goal of increasing revenue and improving customer retention. 

Keep reading as we unpack everything you need to know about an account planning strategy—from why they’re essential for your B2B sales team, the potential roadblocks you may face, and how to implement a successful strategy for your business. 

What is an account planning strategy?

An account planning strategy is a detailed plan for building value-driven relationships with existing customers. A successful account planning strategy will help your salespeople develop long-term partnerships that maximize revenue and retention. 

Account planning is often—but not exclusively—used by B2B sales teams to help nurture customer relationships and increase sales. An account planning strategy is a guide to teach sales teams how to partner with their customers instead of only selling to them. It moves away from a sale as a transactional event and focuses on building strategic partnerships that benefit both parties. 

Why is strategic account planning important?

If you’re unfamiliar with strategic account planning, you might be wondering why it’s important for your sales team. A study conducted by technology and research firm Gartner found that organizations that use account planning are almost 2x more likely to identify significant growth opportunities. 

With those numbers, it should come as no surprise that revenue leaders have their sales teams use strategic account planning. But revenue growth isn’t the only benefit—there are more reasons why every sales team should be developing an account planning strategy.  

Let’s explore six reasons account planning is vital for your sales organization. Additionally, the first four of these measures can be used as key performance indicators (KPIs) to track the ROI of your account planning strategy. 

1. Length of the sales cycle

Account planning streamlines the sales process by increasing overall efficiency. Because account planning focuses on existing, high-value customers, sales professionals already have an understanding of the accounts and those involved in the buying process. They can use this information about key accounts and stakeholders to help seamlessly close deals. 

When you shorten the sales cycle within strategic accounts, you improve ROI through improved productivity and resource management. 

2. Acquisition costs

Acquiring new clients is an expensive process—it takes time and resources to build relationships from scratch and close sales. 

Account planning is a sales strategy that focuses on cross-selling and upselling to your existing customer base. It reduces acquisition costs by selling to accounts where relationships with key stakeholders are already established instead of looking for brand new accounts. 

3. Customer retention 

Effective account planning requires sales reps to build long-term customer relationships and foster loyalty and trust with key customers. Your account planning strategy should position your team members to nurture these relationships and easily identify future growth opportunities. 

Monitoring customer retention and lifetime value metrics can provide insights into whether your account planning initiatives are successful.

4. Customer satisfaction 

Account planning requires your sales team to understand and address your customers’ needs to improve overall customer satisfaction. Sales reps should dig into customer pain points and find solutions that increase both profitability and customer happiness.

Whether you monitor customer satisfaction scores or collect customer feedback, these metrics can help you measure the impact account planning has on customer relationships and loyalty. 

5. Nurture important client relationships

In sales, your relationships are valuable. If a relationship diminishes, this represents a significant loss to your business. You should not take any customer relationship for granted—no matter how solid your relationship is, it’s always vulnerable to competitors. And in a highly competitive landscape, it’s essential for sales representatives to have an understanding of their clients’ needs.

Account planning ensures consistent communication between reps and clients. This communication will help your sales reps understand their clients’ businesses and ongoing needs, helping guide the selling process and resulting in satisfied clients who feel valued.  

6. Determines where your sales team should focus their efforts

Account planning improves your sales team’s productivity by determining where they should focus their efforts. When creating an account planning strategy, you must identify which accounts have growth potential. This process, sometimes referred to as key account management, helps ensure your team is spending their time and efforts on accounts that are likely to generate substantial ROI. 

What are common challenges during the strategic account planning process?

As with anything in sales, there are challenges that come along with the good. Strategic account planning clearly has benefits for your business. Being aware of the potential roadblocks to the process can help you manage them if/when they happen. 

Here are some challenges that your account management team and sales reps should be aware of before jumping into strategic account planning. 

Advocating for long-term over short-term wins

It’s hard to pass up a quick win—they’re fast and often feel more attainable. However, account planning is a long-term strategy. If your team is quick to adopt the short-term win, your account planning strategy will be pushed aside. 

Your team needs to recognize when to choose the long-term strategy over the short-term. To see growth, leadership can’t be content only to meet short-term goals. It’s essential that they focus their efforts on strategic account planning goals. 

Building strong relationships with all customers on a key account

Having one solid contact on an account is a great place to start. However, you need to diversify when developing those accounts into key ones. What if your contact on an account moves to a new organization? This is a common occurrence, and sales leaders can find themselves in a difficult situation if they haven’t expanded their networks. 

Instead of relying on an individual, work on forming relationships with other key people on important accounts. This can help ensure you don’t lose an account because someone moves onto a new opportunity. Relationship mapping can help you identify key contacts already linked to others within your organization. 

Understanding your customers’ goals

To put it simply, account planning is about the customer. It’s about helping them reach their goals through a partnership and is more about adding value than selling. 

To effectively implement account planning, you need to understand your customers’ goals and values and how they measure success. When you know these details about your customers, you can work together to create value in their business, which in turn creates value for your business.  

Managing priorities and balancing resources

There will also be more accounts than a single sales rep can manage effectively. And the inclination to take on more than you can handle is something everyone’s struggled with at some point. For account planning to be effective, you need to manage your priorities and ensure you have enough resources to complete the work. 

When done well, account planning will help you triage your accounts and determine which ones should be prioritized. When selecting your accounts, consider the following factors:

  • Growth potential
  • Market position
  • Global coverage
  • Market Influence

Once you’ve selected your priority accounts, assign them to your team members and ensure individuals have a manageable number of accounts to tend to. 

Being proactive instead of reactive

It’s easy for team members to get wrapped up in the day-to-day clerical work and forget the important work of connecting with clients. An Affinity survey found that sales teams spend over four hours per week simply updating their CRM.*

But if you don’t prioritize your client outreach, you’ll find yourself dealing with small issues that have become bigger issues.

By being proactive and having a strategy behind your client outreach, you can get ahead of issues before they become issues. This not only improves customer satisfaction but also keeps things running seamlessly for your clients.  

Consistently tracking

It’s essential to consistently track key deal data and other metrics to monitor progress. Tracking all of your client interactions—meetings, calls, emails, and events—can help you see the entirety of a relationship.

Paired with the metrics or KPIs you’re tracking, you can get a complete picture of whether or not your account planning strategy is working. 

Finding the right account planning tools

As with everything, finding the right tools for the job can make all the difference. The same is true for account planning—with the right tech stack, account planning becomes more manageable. 

When looking for account planning tools, look for solutions that can help you:

  • Understand who the key stakeholders are on accounts.
  • Automate the tracking of your customer communications.
  • Understand how your organization is linked to your customers to identify opportunities.
  • Monitor relationship scores for key contacts.
  • Deliver automated relationship insights for key accounts.

With Affinity for Salesforce, you can eliminate manual CRM data entry and access automatic relationship insights to streamline your account planning processes. 

How to implement an effective account planning strategy in your business

Now that you know the benefits and possible challenges of account planning, it’s time to learn how to create an account planning strategy for your business. While every business is different and will have unique needs, these five steps will help you effectively plan and execute your strategy. 

1. Determine which accounts will be a part of your strategic planning

The first step in creating an account planning strategy is determining which accounts you will prioritize and incorporate into your account planning strategy. For this to be successful and replicable, you should develop a system to help determine which accounts require an account plan. 

Create a set of criteria to help evaluate your accounts—this will be different for every business, but consider the following factors:

  • Recurring revenue
  • Likelihood to scale
  • Strategic value
  • Size
  • Customer lifetime value
  • Growth potential

Once you’ve determined your criteria, apply them to your accounts to qualify which ones should be placed on an account plan.

2. Understand the needs of your key accounts

For any account plan to be successful, it needs to be centered around your customers’ needs. To learn more about your customers’ needs, you need to hit the pavement and talk to them. 

Some of the questions you can ask to dig deeper into their business include:

  • What are your long and short-term goals?
  • What KPIs do you measure your success against?
  • Who is involved in the purchasing process at your business?
  • What other products/services/revenue streams do you have?
  • Who is your biggest competitor?
  • What is currently the biggest challenge for your business?

These questions can help you better understand their business strategy, key players, revenue streams, and goals. Once you have this information, you can find ways to meet their needs through cross-selling, upselling, and other sales strategies.

3. Establish a strategy to improve your relationships with existing accounts

Customer relationships are essential for effective account planning. And as we mentioned, having a single contact on an account leaves you vulnerable. So, the next step in your account planning process is to build and improve relationships with existing accounts. 

Start by understanding the business by creating an internal organization chart to map hierarchies, titles, and roles of all the contacts that matter. Once you’ve done this, overlay it with any relationship insights you have—who are your supporters/detractors/champions on the team? Who controls budgets? Who is influential? 

To close deals quickly, you need to understand the relationships within companies and how your organization is connected to key decision-makers. 

If you haven’t started relationship mapping yet, now is the time. A relationship map will allow you to visualize how the members of your organization are connected to the members of your customer’s organization. 

If you want to tap into the full power of your data, Affinity for Salesforce provides up-to-date intelligence about an account’s network and relationships. Relationship paths to new opportunities and the full history of engagement your company has with a customer are shown in your CRM, so you always have the information you need at your fingertips. 

4. Create an action plan 

Now that you’ve got all your data points in place, it’s time to develop a step-by-step action plan for the account management team to execute. These action plans aim to nurture customer relationships and increase revenue. 

Each client action plan should be divided into three sections:

  1. Account analysis: This is all the information and data you collected in the previous three steps. Create an account overview that’s in a standardized format so anyone can get an understanding of the client at a glance. 

  1. Short-term action items: Create a list of items that need to be completed within the first three months. These should focus on maintaining contact, establishing and reaching small goals, and securing sales.  

  1. Long-term action items: Create a list of longer-term tasks that will take more than three months to complete. This can include complex tasks that will require more time and tasks like follow-ups and upsell calls that need to be scheduled for future dates. 

All the tasks in sections two and three must be actionable, and the required actions should be clearly defined to avoid confusion and delays. 

5. Execute your account planning strategy

Once you’ve completed steps one through four, it’s time to implement the plan you put in place. Think of your action plans as roadmaps to help you grow your revenue potential. Ensure the team members on each account have all the information they need, and have them get started on the first tasks from their short-term action items.

Get more out of your account planning strategy with relationship intelligence

While account planning involves many moving parts, relationships are the driving force behind success. 

You can’t partner with your customer’s business without the right relationships. Yes, you can sell to them, but to truly be a partner, you must have relationships with key stakeholders. 

Understanding your customer relationships is what makes excellent account planning. Relationship intelligence is how you build better relationships with your customers. Relationship intelligence takes the sales activity data you’re collecting and turns it into actionable insights to improve your relationships.

Relationship intelligence can add so much value to your account planning strategy but doesn’t have to add to your workload. With Affinity for Salesforce, B2B sales teams can see relationship insights alongside their existing CRM and customer data. Team members can use this information to streamline their account planning and get the most out of their accounts.

When you incorporate Affinity for Salesforce into your account planning strategy, you can:

  • Discover warm introductions to improve relationships with key stakeholders.
  • Save 200 hours of manual data entry per employee per year with automated data capture.
  • Take your relationship maps to the next level with enriched data points.
  • Increase sales efficiency with relationship insights and automation.
  • Access a customized dashboard to help you stay on top of key accounts and prioritize deals with a high likelihood of closing.
  • Make your key relationships a priority with notifications to alert you when relationship scores drop.


Account planning strategy FAQs 

What is the primary goal of an account planning strategy?

The primary goal of an account planning strategy is to improve customer relationships for long-term development and retention, and to maximize revenue potential. When account planning is done well, sales teams learn more information about their customers and are, therefore, able to better meet their needs. 

How do you develop a sales account planning strategy?

There are five steps to developing a sales account planning strategy.

  1. Decide which accounts need an in-depth plan.
  2. Understand what each account needs by researching and speaking to your contacts.
  3. Create a strategy to grow your relationships on each account and develop new relationships if needed.
  4. Gather all the information you gathered and create an action plan with concrete steps for you or another sales manager. 
  5. Execute your sales account planning strategy. 

What is an account planning template?

An account planning template is a pre-built framework designed to help streamline the account planning process. It organizes the vital information you collect when researching your key accounts and should include all the important details of your existing accounts. Many sales teams streamline this process further by using their CRM to manage and organize this information.

What is strategic account management, and what does it have to do with account planning?

Strategic account management is another term for account planning. It refers to the process of identifying and building value-based relationships with your customers. Much like account planning, strategic account management aims to build customer loyalty, develop strong relationships, and increase profitability.

Will account planning help my client’s business?

Yes, while account planning is something you undertake as a sales professional, it can help your client’s business. When you create an account plan for a client, you are building a plan to help them reach their goals. You spend time digging into their challenges, and you work to find ways you can help them overcome their challenges. In this sense, you become a partner in your customer’s success. Account planning is meant to be a mutually beneficial strategy that delivers value for you and your customers.

Why is account planning essential for B2B sales teams?

Account planning is essential for B2B sales teams because effective selling has a lot to do with relationships. Account planning helps sellers create a roadmap for learning more about their customer’s business in a way that adds value to both organizations. It gives sellers their best chance to meet the needs of their highest-potential customers, thus keeping them happy. When customers are happy, they become loyal, which helps grow customer accounts and generates more revenue for sales teams.


* Data from Affinity’s 2024 survey of 250+ business leaders across investment banking, media and communications, real estate, professional services, healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, and enterprise technology.

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