The Ultimate Guide to Account Planning [2024 Keys to Success]

Published on March 18, 2024 by Sawyer Middeleer

The Ultimate Guide to Account Planning [2024 Keys to Success]

No quarterback ever won a game without a gameplan, so why would you engage a prospect without an account plan? Yet 63% of sellers are working opportunities every day without having the customer knowledge or plan of action to sell effectively.

Account planning is the strategic tool that sets the best sellers apart from the pack. Luckily, our team of experts is here to break down the account planning process and share our tried and tested methodologies for success.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about account planning.

What is Account Planning?

Account planning is the process of strategically analyzing key information about your clients' businesses to better align your solutions with their needs. It’s your sales team’s plan of action for winning new business or expanding existing business.

For any B2B company, account planning enables you to prioritize opportunities, 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 of key account planning 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.

For startups selling bigger ticket contracts 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.

Why Should Sales Teams Adopt Account Planning?

Account planning is undoubtedly one of the most worthwhile activities any account executive or account manager can do to grow and convert high-value deals in their pipeline. While doing account planning well requires a significant investment of time to develop processes and train your team, if you commit to it you can expect the investment to pay off in multiples.

By fostering long-term partnerships and addressing evolving customer needs, account planning contributes to higher customer retention rates, translating into increased CLV. A study by Bain & Company found that a 5% increase in customer retention can lead to a 25-95% increase in profits.

There are many benefits to account planning

  • Building trust quickly with stakeholders by demonstrating a comprehensive understanding of their business and tailoring interactions to address their specific needs and concerns. This trust lays the foundation for effective communication and long-term partnership.
  • Uncovering expansion opportunities through upselling or cross-selling by leveraging insights into the customer's evolving challenges and objectives, enabling the delivery of relevant solutions that drive additional value.
  • Crafting targeted messages for opportunities and challenges ensures that your proposals resonate more deeply with your clients, showcasing how your solutions directly address their unique situations and goals.
  • Accelerating deal cycles by preemptively identifying and addressing potential objections and decision-making processes, leading to smoother negotiations and quicker closures.
  • Stronger customer relationships are fostered through regular, meaningful engagement that demonstrates a genuine interest in the client's success, leading to increased loyalty and advocacy for your brand.
  • Better handoffs between sales, service, and support teams by providing comprehensive account overviews that ensure consistency in communication and strategy, enhancing the customer experience.
  • Painless deal collaboration through a shared understanding and alignment on account objectives among team members, facilitating more cohesive and efficient efforts to close deals.
  • Faster ramping of new team members by providing them with a clear, strategic overview of key accounts, enabling them to quickly understand client needs and contribute to the account's success.
  • Focus 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 for account-based marketing strategies. 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.

For Account-Based Marketing

Account planning is especially important for organizations that utilize account-based marketing or account-based sales strategies (ABM and ABX). The process of building these documents aligns sales, marketing, and customer success teams around detailed insights into each account's specific needs and objectives.

This strategic process is particularly beneficial for ABM, ABS, and ABX strategies because:

  • Ensures alignment across teams, leading to a cohesive approach.
  • Enables the creation of highly personalized and relevant strategies for each account.
  • Increases efficiency by focusing efforts on accounts with the highest potential for growth.
  • Enhances overall effectiveness, resulting in higher engagement, quicker sales cycles, and better outcomes.

Who Should Make Account Plans?

Account planning is typically owned by Account Executives (AEs) and Account Managers (AMs), as they are closest to the customer and possess the most comprehensive understanding of the account's needs, challenges, and opportunities. They are responsible for orchestrating the account strategy, setting objectives, and ensuring that the plan aligns with both the customer's and the company's goals.

However, it is the responsibility of AEs and AMs to include cross-functional teams, such as sales engineering, marketing and customer success in the creation of account plans. This collaborative approach leverages the unique perspectives and expertise of different departments, enhancing the plan's overall effectiveness. Engaging cross-functional teams ensures that account plans are realistic, achievable, and fully supported across the organization, fostering a unified effort towards achieving account objectives. After all, there’s no “I” in “Team”.

Account plan Must-Haves

An effective account plan is a holistic strategy document that contains research and analysis on several core areas. In addition, the best account plans include an action plan that connects the analysis to a plan of action.

Account Profile

An account profile contains the most important details on the prospect's business and your relationship history. This section of the account plan . Specific elements to include in this section are:

  • Headquarters locations – If you sell into mid-market or enterprise accounts, you are likely selling to multinational companies with multiple office locations. Do your research on international teams, since you will probably find opportunities to leverage relationships you have in one market to expand into others.
  • Leadership profiles – Even if you’re not selling directly to a C-Suite buyer, they will certainly be influential in determining who wins the contract and how much budget to allocate. Gaining insight into the stated priorities of leadership can help you anticipate priorities that your solution will need to address.
  • Company and department headcount – If you sell solutions with seat-based or usage-based pricing, knowing how large your potential userbase is will help to estimate opportunity size.
  • Breakdown of each business line or product offering — Map out each of the pro. Just focus on the specific offerings that are relevant to the solution you provide.
  • Financials and funding status – Building a clear picture of a prospect’s financials will help you understand where they are in their growth journey and which areas of the business are likely to receive the most resources.

Most data for an account profile is probably already present in your CRM, such as Hubspot, Salesforce or Pipedrive. If not, don’t worry. Sales teams who are just starting off building their pipeline have several great lead enrichment data sources available.

Data sources for an account profile:

  • LinkedIn
  • Lead enrichment platforms
  • Crunchbase

Business Initiatives

One of the best ways to immediately demonstrate credibility as a consultative seller is to clearly link your solutions’ value propositions to customers’ and prospects’ goals. If this sounds like a daunting task, don’t worry, we got you covered!

Here’s what you’ll want to focus on when you research business initiatives:

  • Departments that are expanding or shrinking
  • New product and market launches
  • Recently announced partnerships
  • Significant market or financial trends

There are a lot of places you can find this information:

  • Social media
  • Company press releases
  • Job boards
  • 3rd-party market research
  • Public company filings

Combing through hundreds of pages of resources can take hours for every account, so it’s tempting to cut corners. Luckily new AI technology enables sellers to complete in-depth research on hundreds of accounts in minutes, not hours. Keep reading until the end of this guide to learn all about them.

Relationship Mapping

While in-depth company research is vital for understanding business challenges, you can’t ignore the human side of the equation. Developing a full picture of the decision-making team, their relationship dynamics and their direct reports will enable you to focus the right message at the right person. In order to create a relationship map, you should try to identify:

  • 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

Data sources for relationship mapping:

  • LinkedIn
  • Company website
  • Discovery call notes

Needs Analysis

As an AE or AM, this is where you should identify business challenges that your prospects are facing. Leverage all of the research, market analysis and discovery meeting notes that you have compiled to identify specific client needs. Make sure you pay special attention to:

  • Risks or obstacles to meeting strategic priorities
  • Inefficiencies related to people, processes or technology
  • Company financial trends
  • Competitor activities and performance

The discovery call is a goldmine of information that will help you tie the research you’ve done ahead of time to your prospect’s particular context. However, it’s expected that your prospect won’t always know that they want or need. As a consultative seller, it’s your responsibility to identify high priority issues and advise your buyers on the best path forward.

Data sources for a needs analysis:

  • Discovery call notes or recording
  • Public financials, such as 10k or 10q reports
  • Industry news and analysis

Opportunity Analysis

This section is the meat of the account plan where you should identify and prioritize each opportunity within an account. Start by focusing on: Organization size and revenue

  • Buyers’ stated budget
  • Underserved teams or processes
  • Adjacent upsell and expansion opportunities
  • Similar deals done in the past

The key to a great opportunity analysis is a structured approach that incorporates both qualitative and quantitative data. While finding hard metrics can sometimes be difficult, do your best to employ a rigorous and analytical process in opportunity sizing and risk anaysis.

Also, don’t be afraid to be creative and think outside the box. Your team can be an asset in this process. There are often hidden opportunities for deal making that you’ll only uncover by building close relationships with your champions and involving multiple stakeholders in the buying committee.

Buying Process

Understanding the account's buying process is critical for effectively navigating sales interactions and maximizing your chances of winning competitive deals. Make sure you collect information about:

  • Key decision-makers and budget influencers
  • Solution evaluation criteria (both formal and informal)
  • Decision-making process and timeline
  • Paper process
  • Certifications required

Account Challenges & Risks

Highlight the specific challenges and risks the account may face in implementing your solution or achieving their strategic objectives. Consider both internal and external sources of risk and obstacles.

  • Budget limitations
  • Resistance to change
  • Influetial internal detractors
  • Market or technology dynamics
  • Strong competitor offerings
  • Regulatory changes

By anticipating these challenges, you can proactively address objections, build trust, and position your solution as a strategic partnership that contributes to the account's long-term success.

Action Plan

Prioritized next steps for outreach, relationship building, and advancing opportunities. To build an action plan for your account, map out the following items:

  • Targeted messages for key stakeholders
  • Relationship development tactics
  • Timelines for pilot programs or expansions
  • Resources needed for successful execution

How to Start Account Planning at Your Organization

Starting account planning in your organization can initially seem daunting, but with a structured approach, it will become a pillar of your sales strategy. Here's how to get started:

  • Commit to the learning journey: Leadership must underline the importance of account planning as a long-term priority and dedicate resources to improving the process. This commitment should be communicated across the sales and marketing teams to ensure buy-in.
  • Train Your Team: Enable your sales and business development teams to succeed with training on the fundamentals of account planning. This should cover how to gather and analyze account research, develop personalized strategies tailored to each account, and use CRM tools to manage and track these plans.
  • Build Cross-Functional Process: Even though sales should own the account planning process, other teams can add valuable insight throughout the process. Seek to involve marketing and customer success to build campaign-aligned account plans that resonate with buyers.
  • Leverage Technology: Utilize modern sales engagement and AI tools to streamline account research and planning processes, making otherwise time consuming tasks quite easy. Products like Aomni can help in data aggregation, relationship mapping, and opportunity analysis, making it easier to create and update account plans.

Account Planning Best Practices

To get the most from account planning, keep these best practices in mind:

  • Collaborate Cross-Functionally: Account planning should not be a siloed activity within the sales team. It requires input from Marketing, Customer Success, RevOps, Product Development and Finance. This cross-functional collaboration enables you to build 360-degree views of each account, driving higher win rates and faster deal cycles.
  • Maintain Living Plans: Account plans should be dynamic documents that evolve as new information comes to light or as the account's business environment changes. Regular reviews (at least quarterly) should be scheduled to update these plans. Changes in the account’s strategy, leadership, financial health, or market position can significantly impact your plan's effectiveness.
  • Focus on Value Delivery: Ensure your account plans are centered around delivering value to the customer. Understand their key business drivers, challenges, and success metrics. Tailor your solutions and messaging to address these areas so that it’s easy for decision makers to say “yes.”
  • Invest in Relationship Building: Nurturing relationships with key stakeholders within each account is critical to consistently win enterprise deals. Identify and map the decision-makers and influencers and develop personalized engagement strategies. Regular touchpoints and strategic business reviews can help strengthen these relationships over time, even as specific individuals transition roles within and between organizations.
  • Continually Measure Success: Define clear metrics and KPIs to track the success of your account plans. This should include win rates, time to close, deal size and renewal rates. Regularly measuring these metrics will help you understand the impact of your account planning efforts and identify areas for improvement.

Software and AI Tools for Account Planning

Until recently, account planning was a time-consuming process that only enterprise sales organizations could justify investing in. But now thanks to generative AI, any B2B sales team can adopt account-based marketing principles and build great account plans without wasting hours on manual research and analysis.

By deploying LLM-based technologies, sales teams can aggregate and analyze large amounts of data from dozens of sources to create a complete and up-to-date view of each account. Then, automatically generating personalized messaging and content is as easy as clicking a button.

While AI chatbots like ChatGPT, Claude and Gemini are powerful, they fall short when it comes to creating high-value sales deliverables like account plans. They aren’t equipped with the data or sales expertise needed to execute complex strategic business development tasks. This is where purpose-built tools for account planning come in.

Here are some of our favorite products

  • Aomni – Aomni is an AI agent platform that aggregates hundreds of data points from dozens of sources from around the internet to provide rich intelligence into accounts. Aomni’s AI uses this data to create tailored sales content to each customer's unique offerings and methodologies. It empowers sales teams to deeply understand target accounts, automate manual tasks, and optimize engagement with hyper-personalized messaging and materials.
  • LeadIQ – ​​While primarily a lead capture tool, LeadIQ also offers insights into prospect and account data, making it easier for sales teams to personalize their outreach and plan their account strategies with a better understanding of their targets.
  • Databook – Their strategic sales platform offers AI-driven customer intelligence for sales teams, enhancing account planning and sales by providing insights into customer priorities and opportunities for targeted, effective engagement.

For sales-driven businesses of all sizes, 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 organization up for sustained success.

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