Expert strategies on account planning

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Account planning is a crucial part of the sales process. By implementing a well-crafted account plan, you can better understand customer needs, build stronger relationships, and drive business growth. 

In a recent webinar, Salesforce masterclass: 3 strategies for effective account planning, we spoke with three industry leaders to discuss key techniques for honing the account planning process.

The webinar was moderated by Mollie Bodensteiner, Go-to-Market Strategy and Operations Leader, and featured:

  • Jake Reni, Chief Growth Officer at Revenue Reimagined
  • Ben Maxwell, Strategic Account Executive at Affinity

Watch the full conversation to learn the ins and outs of account planning or keep reading for the highlights, marked with timestamps so you can hone in on key moments.

What is account planning?

Starts at 3:40

Account planning is the process of creating customized frameworks for winning business from specific prospects and clients. The goal is to improve relationships with key decision-makers, ensure long-term retention, and win new business. It involves researching client needs, identifying growth opportunities in their account, setting objectives, and creating actionable steps to achieve them.

Maxwell describes an account plan as a “living, breathing document” that customer-facing teams fill in with key information on their customers and prospects. He notes that the purpose of an account plan is to “act as your guiding document as you’re trying to source a new deal or opportunity [and to upsell].”

When to create an account plan 

Starts at 7:28

There are a few hard and fast rules on when to create an account plan. For instance, Reni says,  “Account planning is non-negotiable if you’re in enterprise sales.” Given there are typically more stakeholders involved, longer sales cycles, and higher revenue potential with enterprise sales, it’s important to have a clear plan in place. 

Similarly, Maxwell notes that it’s crucial to create a unified account plan when multiple sellers cover the same account—which is common in larger organizations—to avoid miscommunication. 

Aside from enterprise sales, the decision to create an account plan is determined by a variety of factors, including:

  • The segment you’re selling to 
  • The complexity of your sales cycle and product
  • The number of product offerings you have

“Account plans tend to match the level of complexity of your deal cycle and the complexity of your buyer,” Reni says. He notes that creating an account plan usually isn’t necessary for smaller businesses since the sales cycle can be as short as three to six weeks, which is the time it could take to create an account plan for an enterprise account.

Balancing strategy and logistics

Starts at 10:21

According to Reni, a well-rounded account plan strikes a balance between high-level, strategic objectives and logistical information.

Reni says, “Don’t make them overly complex or too complex to the point where you’re starting to replicate your CRM. It’s not intended to become the source of all records, like your CRM [...] The idea is: how can you bring this project together and how do you create visibility of all the moving pieces involved?”

On the logistical side, Maxwell notes the importance of ironing out specific roles and timelines: “The operational piece is almost more of project management. [It’s about deciding] who’s going to own which tasks, when are they getting completed by, [and] which primary contact at the prospect or customer account is going to be involved with which step. [It’s about] laying out a mutual action plan, both internally and even sometimes externally for the prospect to follow along with.”

Deciding which accounts to create plans for

Starts at 14:40

Maxwell’s approach for creating account plans differs depending on whether an account is outbound or inbound: 

  • Outbound: For outbound accounts, list the top 25 to 50 accounts to proactively reach out to during the year and put in place an account plan at the start of the year. 
  • Inbound: For hand-raisers who reach out to your organization, create a lighter account plan to get a general sense of what’s going on in their business. 

Reni follows a tiered approach and creates account plans for prospects and customers in the first tier:

  • A Tier: This tier includes non-negotiable accounts that the salesperson must win during the year. 
  • B Tier: Accounts in this tier clearly fit the ideal customer profile but are better suited for business or sales development representatives to focus on.
  • C Tier: This tier includes accounts that aren’t a priority to target during the year.

Distinguishing between account and deal plans 

Starts at 19:50

For Reni, a deal plan is an agreement that you and your customer create together, working out “Here’s our mutual action plan. Here’s how we are going to work towards your end goal of implementation.” 

With a deal plan, you’re gathering most of the information you’d typically research for an account plan (like the steps involved, the buying process, and stakeholder information), but in real-time and collaboratively through conversations with your client or prospect. 

When it comes to timing, Maxwell notes that the sooner you can implement a deal plan and work with your customer on the exact steps to take to transact, the faster the deal tends to close because there's mutual alignment.

In contrast, an account plan isn’t meant to be shared with a client or prospect. It’s created before engaging with the client and details how to win or maintain their business, whereas a deal plan is made during negotiations with clients and focuses more on the logistics of implementing the product or service.

Using technology to facilitate account planning

Starts at 32:50

Spreadsheets aren’t ideal for account plans because they can create confusion with information sharing and version control. Reni suggests, “If your organization can afford a tool that can help with account planning, I think it’s worth an exploration.” 

Technology can help inform when to create an account plan. For instance, by monitoring the following metrics, you can determine whether an account is ready to be targeted: 

  • If a company is being mentioned in the news
  • Leadership and headcount changes
  • Key initiatives for the company and dates surrounding those initiatives
  • Basic company information like revenue and demographics

Once you’ve determined whether an account is worth reaching out to, the next step is to use the strength of your company’s collective network. Maxwell suggests asking yourself, “Which one of these contacts within these accounts do we have a relationship with already that I can potentially leverage for an introduction? That’s a huge time-saver and typically not a level of insight that many people have today.”

Tools like Affinity for Salesforce identify the warmest path of introduction to contacts across your company’s entire network of relationships, helping you close deals 25% faster.

Creating a seamless customer experience

Starts at 43:10

After securing a deal, a smooth handover of your account plan to customer success teams ensures continuity and sets the stage for a positive customer experience. But before you hand off your plan, Reni notes it’s a good opportunity to gather and share key information.

For instance, setting aside time with your colleagues to discuss questions like: 

  • What information do you need from us so that you don’t have to ask the same questions to the client?
  • How can we create a more positive buying experience? 
  • What does success look like for the customer? 

“Handoff becomes so critical for the account plan,and [it] sets the direction of success for retention and growth within the business,” Bodensteiner notes.

Similarly, Maxwell recommends setting aside 30-60 minutes to review the account plan and ensure everyone involved in implementation and customer success is up to speed, knows the challenges the customer faces, and understands what to expect as onboarding begins. 

Collaborating with other teams

Starts at 47:00

The value of an effective account plan isn’t limited to customer-facing teams. It can contribute to success in other parts of your organization, like helping marketing to prioritize their time.

Maxwell says, “If you can go to [the marketing team] proactively as a seller and say ‘here are the 50 accounts I want to make sure we target within the next 3-6 months,’ that’s helping them do their job; that’s being a good business partner.”

Reni sums it up nicely: “It allows for what’s truly called orchestration or account-based marketing to take effect. You can’t just think about this as, ‘how can the seller close the deal?’, but how can we orchestrate a beautiful sales experience and surround the buyer with information to facilitate this whole journey.”

Get the complete insights

To learn more about creating an effective account plan, watch the full webinar. You can expect to hear more about: 

  • The components of a successful account plan and its lifecycle
  • Avoiding common pitfalls with account planning
  • Working with other teams to ensure a seamless customer experience


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