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Sales - 9 min READ

Sales account planning: a step-by-step guide

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Author photo: Shabnam Kakar

Shabnam Kakar


Sales account planning is one of the most important but underused tools your sales reps should be using.

A sales account plan is a single document that contains important details about a new prospect or existing customer, including information about their decision-making process, the companies you’re competing with to close them, and your overall strategy to win them over (and retain them).

It’s kind of like a handbook with all the information you need to close each of your most crucial accounts and keep them around for the long-haul for account growth.

Sounds helpful, right?

It’s interesting then that more than half of sales reps simply don’t bother with sales account planning. Why? Apparently, because they find it too hard to be an account planner.

Funny enough, however, 19% of the highest-performing sales reps would disagree and would recommend acting as an account manager for existing accounts.

Putting account plans together, as part of the account planning process, takes some time and effort, sure, but it’s worth it. (Guess they’re high-performing sales reps for a reason.)

In this article, we’ll go over why you should be using account plans as part of your sales process, how to put one together and finally, how to put it to work for each key account.

Why should you use a sales account plan?

It’s important to have a fully loaded arsenal of effective tools to help you win as many deals as possible—account planning is one of those tools. An account plan strategizes your sales by outlining exactly how you’re going to win or retain an account, giving you a blueprint to work with from the get-go.

Note that we said win or retain an account using a key account plan.

According to one study, 44% of companies actually rely more on acquisition for existing accounts. Interestingly enough, the same study also showed that customer retention is more important to your business financially—just a 5% rise in retention rates can equal a profit increase between 25-90%. Wowza.

SaaS companies, in particular, rely on subscriptions to generate their revenue, so every account truly does matter (especially the enterprise accounts, which likely make up a big chunk of that recurring revenue).

That’s just one of the reasons why it’s more important than ever to prioritize retention, when it comes to account growth and every key account, just as much—if not even more—than acquisition.

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s jump into how to actually do the thing and work on a successful account planning process.

How to put together a sales account plan:

We’ve broken down the process of sales account planning into four, actionable steps. They are:

  • Step 1: Decide which of your accounts need plans.
  • Step 2: Figure out what those accounts need by gathering data.
  • Step 3: Put your data together into a document + add action items.
  • Step 4: Put your sales account plan to work.

Step 1: Decide which of your accounts need plans.

Is sales account planning helpful? Yes.

Do all your accounts need plans? Probably not.

Account planning, while effective, does take a fair amount of time and resources. If you’re selling to both SMBs and enterprises, for example, you should probably only be pulling out your account planning tools for enterprises, as SMBs might not give you enough ROI on the additional effort required to put account plans together.

After all, there's a reason why enterprise sales are also called “complex sales.” So, reps should be using every resource they can to maximize their chances of closing these big-deal accounts. Plus, SMB opportunities are usually pretty manageable without the need for extensive planning.

Sometimes though, the line between a midsize company and enterprise are thin or blurry; or, all the companies you deal with are generally the same size. So, it’s a good idea to build specific criteria that can help you decide if an account or opportunity needs a plan. You can divide your opportunities into “simple accounts” and “strategic accounts,” with the strategic group needing plans.

For example, here are a few questions that can help you decide if your account is "strategic" enough to require a plan:

This criteria doesn’t just apply to new accounts either. Take a look at your existing customers and determine which accounts are the most strategic ones. Maybe they're a flight risk, or it's almost time for them to renew their contract with you. Then, put together sales accounts plans for this group of customers so that when it comes time for them to renew, you’re prepared to make sure they do.

Step 2: Figure out what those accounts need by gathering data.

After you’ve identified which of your accounts are going to need sales account plans, it’s time to start putting those plans together. To do that, you’ll need to collect the following data about the company:

This information will make up part one (the account analysis) of three in your sales account plan. We’ll go over the other two parts (short-term and long-term action items) in the next step.

Step 3: Put your data together into a document + add action items

Great, now that you’ve gathered the necessary data on your customer, it’s time to throw it all into a document and start building out your sales account plan. Remember: this account plan will both help you close the account, and keep them around for the duration of their customer lifetime. So this effort is worth it.

Your sales account plan can be divided into three sections:

1. Account analysis

This is a compilation of everything we went over in the previous step.

2. Short-term action items (~the next 3 months)

Based on your account analysis, what actions can you take in the next 90 days or so to help your prospective customer reach their goals? If it’s an existing customer, what can you do to make sure they renew their service with you?

For example, some short-term action items we have for our brand-new customers are:

  • Help them import all their existing customer data into Copper so everything’s in one place
  • Integrate and sync the rest of their tech stack with Copper to ensure a seamless experience
  • Conduct regular check-ins to make sure the customer is getting the hang of the new product and answer any questions they have (this helps make for a successful onboarding)

3. Long-term action items (~the next 1 year)

Now, think longer-term. Similar to step 2, you'll need to figure out the actions that'll help your customer achieve their long-term goals and retain them. What can you and your customer do over the course of a year to help elevate their business?

Pro-tip: Work with the customer to put these action items together, as they likely have plans of their own and you want your account plan to help them—not impose on them or disrupt their existing vision.

Ta-da! You now have a sales account plan to guide you through your most complex accounts and a bird's eye view of exactly what you need to do in the short term and long-term future to both close and retain them.

Step 4: Put your sales account plan to work

You have a document now, but how do you apply the knowledge you’ve collected? Well, for starters, your initial sales email can be written from the point of view of someone who actually understands the account—which you do, now.

Some examples of factoids to include in your sales email are:

  • “I read in the news recently that your business did X, Y, and Z.” (This shows you’re up to speed on them, plus everyone likes to hear you saw them on the news.)
  • “I noticed you’re currently hiring for X roles and hired around X people already this year.” (The roles they're hiring for shows which departments they have needs in and, of course, shows you did your research.)
  • “Your competitors are currently doing X and X.” (This shows you recognize their threats.)
  • “Based on this information, your business objectives are likely X, X, and X?” (You’ll want to confirm this with the customer, but this shows you have an idea.)
  • “My company can help you achieve these goals by doing X, X, and X.” (Tell them how you will solve their problem.)

Now, its sales pitch time. (Learn how to deliver a killer one here.) This is where you’ll present your sales account plan—namely the action items you have in mind for them.

The goal here is to present your account plan to the customer (or potential customer) and make sure they’re on board with it. This is, after all, your long-term plan for the customer. In fact, give them a copy. #transparency

On the other hand, if you’re creating an account plan for an existing customer, an appropriate time to present this plan would be at least a month before their next renewal date.

You can hit them up with a check-in email (which you should be doing regularly anyway) and mention that their renewal is coming up, and you’ve got some ideas that’ll help make their next service period even better. Invite them to set up a call and walk them through your account plan.

Chances are, they’ll be delighted—and super impressed—that you care enough about their business, you’ve put a whole blueprint together on how you can improve it, together.

Basically, sales account plans help position you as not just a salesperson, but a trusted business partner who can work with the customer to help improve their business, together. It also positions your product is a long-term solution, not just a quick fix.

Sales account planning doesn’t have to be scary.

Account planning isn't always super time-consuming. Think of it this way: the time you spend creating detailed plans would’ve been lost anyway through delays in your sales process as you do impromptu research on your customer (with each delay being a potential for drop-off).

In just a few steps, you’ll be that much closer to winning your biggest accounts. There are no downfalls to a key account plan, really. So, just do it—you’ve got this!

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