As an early-stage B2B startup, finding your first 10 customers is critical but can feel overwhelming. With limited resources, it's tempting to take a 'spray and pray' approach to sales and marketing. However, this rarely leads to sustainable growth.
For B2B startups selling to mid-market and enterprise buyers, taking a more strategic approach through account planning is essential. Account planning helps you prioritize and focus your efforts on the accounts that matter most. It enables you to build relationships, uncover high potential opportunities and maximize revenue.
In this comprehensive guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about account planning as a startup, including:
- What account planning is (and isn’t)
- Why account planning is important for B2B startups
- Core elements of account plans
- How to build a great account plan
What is Account Planning?
For B2B startups, account planning enables you to craft tailored messaging, uncover expansion potential, and build executive relationships to accelerate sales cycles. It shifts the mindset from opportunistically chasing deals to forging long-term, trusted relationships.
The goal is to become a valuable partner to your customers by deeply understanding their business, challenges, and goals. With this context, you can identify whitespace opportunities and propose solutions that deliver real impact.
Some key benefits of account planning include:
Building credibility and trust with stakeholders
Uncovering expansion opportunities within accounts
Crafting targeted messages and solutions
Accelerating deal cycles
Increasing customer lifetime value
Why Account Planning Matters for Startups
Startup GTM leaders are often reluctant to build account planning into their process because the term is associated with slow, bureaucratic sales cultures. Account planning is actually critical for early stage startups for several reasons when done right:
- It focuses your limited resources. Rather than spraying emails and cold calls everywhere, account planning helps you zero in on high-potential targets. This translates to more efficient use of time and budget.
- It enables consultative selling. People buy from people they know and trust to solve their problems. Account planning is a forcing function to build authentic connections with key decision makers and align your value propositions with their challenges.
- It increases win rate. Approaching prospects unprepared is one of the biggest reasons sales teams struggle to build healthy pipelines. Well-crafted account plans help sales teams build sales motions around relevancy, reaching the right people and the right time with the right message.
- It uncovers expansion opportunities. You’re probably not going to reach 100% adoption at a Fortune 500 overnight. Once you land initial deals, planning helps you take a strategic approach to cultivating internal relationships and growing contract size.
Overall, account planning provides startups with a blueprint for scaling strategic sales and marketing efforts as efficiently as possible.
Core Elements of the Account Plan
An effective account plan contains research and analysis on four core areas:
Account Profile: Key details on the prospect's business, goals, challenges, and existing solutions. Specific items to research include:
- Company overview and history
- Organizational structure and headcount
- Financials and funding status
Needs-Opportunity Mapping: Evaluation of current situation vs. desired state to pinpoint opportunity areas. Identify:
- Strategic priorities and growth plans
- Pain points and gaps between current and ideal state
- Underserved teams or processes
- Value propositions you offer that address existing challenges
- Buyer personas that would benefit from your solution
Relationship Mapping: Analysis of the decision-making team, influencers, approval processes, and relationship gaps. Map out:
- All stakeholders involved in purchasing decisions
- Reporting structures and internal relationships
- Levels of authority and influence
- Existing connections into the account
- Power dynamics and potential roadblocks
Action Plan: Prioritized next steps for outreach, relationship building, and advancing opportunities. Outline:
- Targeted messages for key stakeholders
- Relationship development tactics
- Timelines for pilot programs or expansions
- Resources needed for successful execution
How to Build an Account Plan (Tactics for Success)
Follow these steps to develop effective account plans:
- Identify and prioritize target accounts based on fit with your ideal customer profile, potential deal size, strategic value, and accessibility. Focus on your A/B tier prospects.
- Research the account profile using sources like LinkedIn, company websites, press releases, and industry reports (or use Aomni to make this 10x easier). Seek to understand their landscape, initiatives, and challenges.
- Map out the relationship network through research and informational interviews. Note key connections and gaps in your outreach.
- Pinpoint whitespace opportunities by comparing their current and desired state workflows. Identify where and how your solution can add value using qualitative and quantitative criteria. (Again, Aomni makes this process much more efficient)
- Define your action plan for making inroads based on relationship intelligence and opportunity insights uncovered.
- Monitor and revise the plan based on feedback and changes within the account. Review monthly at minimum.
3 Best Practices for Startup Account Planning
To get the most from account planning, keep these best practices in mind:
- Collaborate cross-functionally to incorporate different perspectives into the plan from sales, marketing, customer success, etc.
- Maintain living plans that are regularly updated based on new intel and developments within the account.
- Use CRM tools like Salesforce or Hubspot to efficiently build, manage, and collaborate on account plans.
- Leverage insights from customer success and support teams to strengthen account plans.
- Loop in company leadership to get buy-in and input on priority accounts.
For resource-strapped startups, account planning is invaluable to maximize your limited sales resources and break into priority accounts. By taking a strategic approach, you can focus on the best opportunities, foster customer relationships, and position your solution as a trusted partner.
The effort required upfront pays off exponentially in accelerated sales cycles, increased win rates, expanded deal sizes, and improved customer retention. Prioritizing account planning now will set your startup up for sustained success.