If you’ve ever worked in sales, started your own company, or worked within a growing company, you likely understand how valuable sales are in the survival and growth of a business. Sales strategy is a consistently hot topic in the corporate world, and there are a variety of tools and practices available to serve businesses of all sizes, from software to training to market research and beyond.
Here we’ll discuss the practice of sales account planning, including why it can bring value to your business and how to start.
What is account planning in sales?
A sales account plan is a document or record that contains all of the important details of a prospective or existing account. Sales account plans may include a range of information, including company size, key decision-makers, timelines, a list of the company’s competitors and the company’s market share relative to their competitors, and even a strategized sales process.
As with most areas in business, the more detailed and relevant information, the better—your account plan should be detailed enough to accommodate your sales goals and sales practices.
Companies of all sizes can use variations of sales account plans. If you’ve ever been to an upscale restaurant where the host has detailed information about their most valued guests, you’ve seen a sales account plan in action. Think of your accounts as guests and sales account planning as a way for you to demonstrate how much you value your guests.
Why should companies use a sales account plan?
As with all high-stakes endeavors, research maximizes your chance for success. For the company serious about sustaining and growing their sales, there are many additional reasons to practice sales account planning.
For starters, it will help you strategize your sales process from the onset. Imagine, for example, the difference between cold calling a prospect that you know close to nothing about versus engaging in a thoughtful conversation about information specific to a said company.
A sales rep with an account plan can ask detailed questions like “How has your expansion into X market been panning out?” or “We noticed your competitor has started offering [this product]—has your leadership considered plans to expand your product offering?”
From there, they can extend the conversation into what their product or service offering is and how it supports the goals of the prospect. Suddenly, what usually feels like a sales pitch is instead a relationship built on problem-solving. And the best performing businesses are in the business of solving problems.
Closing sales on prospective accounts is just one of the advantages provided by sales account plans. Keeping detailed information on your closed accounts will help you retain business and turn a closed deal to a lifetime customer. An account plan allows you to treat all accounts like VIPs, giving them each a personalized engagement with your company and personnel. With the information detailed in a sales account, you can offer customized incentives, plan personalized communication to key stakeholders, or even use the account as data and research on how to close and retain similar accounts.
Just how important is account retention? Studies say that it costs five times as much to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing customer and that a mere 5% increase in retention rates can mean a 25-90% rise in profit for your company.
Should you be creating an account plan for every single account that you engage with? The short answer is yes—if you have the resources for it. However, given the detail required for a good account plan, it makes the most sense to use account planning for your largest and most valuable accounts, your “VIPs.”
Let’s outline how to create your account plans and how to utilize them best.
How to create and implement a sales account plan
Consider these four actionable steps to better understand and implement sales account plans:
- Decide which accounts need a detailed plan.
- Understand what these accounts need by performing effective research.
- Gather the relevant research and data into a single document and create action steps.
- Execute on your sales account plan.
Step 1: Decide which accounts need plans.
As mentioned before, not all of your accounts necessarily need account plans. The value of account plans lies in their detail, and that detail requires time, energy, and sometimes, capital resources. As such, it makes the most sense to work account planning into strategic account management—or, in other words, focus your energy on your largest accounts.
Small and midsize businesses, or SMBs, even while being valuable to sustaining your growth, may not have a high ROI on the time, energy, and capital needed to perform an account plan. Further, the accounts you consider the largest will depend on the size, scope, and product or service of your own company. Understanding which companies are considered worthy of an account plan can be subjective, so it’s important to develop criteria for determining which companies to create an account plan for.
A simple account doesn’t need an account plan—it can mainly be handled with the information available in any standard CRM system or sustained through communication between sales reps and point people at the organization. A strategic account, however, has high growth potential and should be considered in your sales account planning.
To determine whether an account is strategic, you must consider these questions:
- Are you able to offer your product or service to other departments in the company in addition to this department?
- Is the company growing quickly? Is it in a position to scale?
- Is this a high profile company? Would having them as a client boost your reputation within the relative industry?
If the answer to any or all of these questions is “yes,” then you should be creating an account plan.
Find additional questions and insights to foolproof your lead qualification process.
Step 2: Understand what these accounts need by performing effective research
Information collected from thorough research will arm your company’s decision-making. To get the right information, you must ask the right questions. Here are some places to start:
What are this company’s goals?
Why you need to know: Knowing where a company is headed will help you understand how your product or service helps them get there. Is their goal to grow a robust mailing list? Do they want to expand?
Where to start: Find the prospect’s mission statement on a website or marketing materials. Ask someone who works inside the company. Read up on the company on LinkedIn.
What is this company’s current highest priority?
Why you need to know: Even if your product or service is a great fit for a potential customer, if the problem you are solving isn’t high on their priority list, you could waste critical time and ultimately lose a sale.
Where to start: Find any company news, read any press releases, and talk to internal personnel.
Who are the decision-makers?
Why you need to know: The decision-makers are the gatekeepers to your closed deal—their support is critical to your success.
Where to start: Start with LinkedIn or any public-facing website, or investigate with internal personnel.
Learn how to identify decision-makers at any company, shortening your sales
cycle and saving you critical time and energy.
How are they currently executing their stated goals?
Why you need to know: Being familiar with the tools and processes your prospect is currently using will let you know if your product or service is even relevant for them, and specifically how your company will help them execute their goals.
Where to start: Ask your prospect directly.
How do they measure success with [my] product or service?
Why you need to know: If the goal is both customer retention and problem-solving, then you need alignment on how your product or service is helping solve a problem.
Where to start: Ask your prospect directly.
Step 3: Gather the relevant research and data into a single document and create action steps
Now that your research is done, it’s time for the critical step of developing action items. Though all parts of sales account planning must be thorough, it is this part of the process that will ultimately close an account and strategically retain them as a lifetime customer. This part of the sales account plan involves three steps:
The research mentioned above process covers this step. As part of this process, create sales account maps to visualize the internal workings of the prospective company, identify any gaps in the buying team, and discover the most efficient path to sell.
Short-term action steps
What can you do in the short term (30-90 days) to ensure that this customer executes their stated goals? For existing clients, what can you do to maximize the chances that they renew their contract or term with you?
Long-term action steps
What can you and your company do in the long term (90 days to one year and beyond) to ensure that your client executes their stated goals? How do you build a relationship that grows alongside the company’s growth?
At this point in the process, it’s best to align with the account on creating these steps to ensure your research is effectively used.
Step 4: Execute on your sales account plan.
By now, you’ve done your research, you’ve asked the right questions, and you’ve created a plan. If all steps have been applied thoroughly, it’s time for you to execute with confidence. When beginning a new relationship with a prospect, don’t be afraid to use your information in your initial outreach—after all, that’s why you did the research! That initial conversation may begin in several ways, but here are some suggestions:
“Hey Company A. We noticed that you just started offering product X. Can we explain why Company B is doing so well with their similar product?”
“We read up on your founder’s 10-year vision—how is your company preparing for [this emerging industry]?"
For an already existing customer, your sales account plan is meant to demonstrate your engagement with their goals and growth. That conversation can include, but isn’t limited to:
“Last quarter our [product or service] increased your productivity in manufacturing by 25%. What do you think it would look like to expand our [product or service] into your logistics department?”
“We were thinking about [this goal of yours] and wondered how it was going? Is there any way we can help or adjust our offering?”
Many tools help sales teams gain and retain business. Sales account planning is a powerful tool that may sound time-intensive, but it can save you time and energy by focusing on high-return efforts instead of runaround backend tedium. Try account planning today, and watch it improve your sales efforts and, ultimately, your long-term growth.
See why you should incorporate account maps into your sales process to identify the right buying team and best path to sell.