It’s not enough to just show up on calls, go through the motions, and expect to win deals in 2023. You need rigorous planning and deal strategy on every major account to tilt the odds in your favor… no matter how great your product or pitch might be.
This means deep research on company priorities, detailed stakeholder mapping, strong executive alignment, and creative plays to set your team up for success – AKA: account planning!
We talked to revenue leaders from Databricks, Anthropic, and Salesforce about this topic to get their top strategies for driving elite account planning across your sales team.
Watch the full masterclass and get their advice below!
What is account planning and why is it important?
Account planning for B2B sales is the process of identifying and mapping important details about a prospect in order to find opportunities, strategize your approach, tailor communication, and ultimately win the account.
This process involves collaborating with your team and your buyer to note their high-level GTM strategy and business model, goals and metrics that executives and key stakeholders care about, internal org chart and team dynamics, and more.
It sounds daunting, but account planning is essential for deeply understanding your customers and their priorities so you can consistently win and retain accounts (especially up-market).
“Account planning brings focus and organization to your sales process. It’s a really great strategic exercise,” says Christina Smears, former VP of Sales at Salesforce. “It should also be a living and breathing plan – not a static doc that you revisit a year from now.”
Account planning isn’t limited to large enterprise accounts – having a clear point of view on every account is important for success. A detailed plan might not be needed for smaller customers, but having a shared understanding of why a specific prospect is being pursued (and how your solution fits in with their priorities) is essential.
Strategic account planning sets your entire revenue team up for success by aligning around what matters to your customers, how you can be the most helpful to them, and your plan for closing and supporting the account long-term.
How do you create 10/10 account plans?
Account plan essentials and tips ✍️
Account plans will look different for every team – as usual, it depends on your product, industry, sales process, customer, etc. But here are the main sections you will likely want to include:
- Account overview – important, high-level company details
- Executive summary – business-level objectives, goals, metrics, etc.
- Key stakeholders – your stakeholder map with decision makers and other important stakeholders, their roles, and their individual goals and challenges
- Solutions – how your product connects to your buyers’ goals (specific use cases)
- Mutual action plan & timeline – shared next steps and milestones
- Risks – potential blockers or risks to getting the deal done (and actions to avoid them)
Check out our ultimate account planning guide for a customizable template to get your team started!
A few more tips for creating effective account plans:
Use a dedicated workspace: Have a separate, living document or workspace for account planning that is distinct from your CRM. You’ll have more flexibility to include the information you need (and be able to share it externally with your buyers as needed).
Keep it simple: Focus on relevant information – understanding your buyers’ priorities and challenges is the number one goal. Avoid overloading your account plans with irrelevant details, as these become too hard to maintain (and you’re more likely to give up on them).
Be buyer-centric: Focus your plan around why the client should care about your product or service (how it can help solve their challenges or achieve their executive-level targets) rather than surface-level company details.
Take action: The account plan should be a strategy doc for your team. Provide concrete actions and for the team to take in order to make progress with (and ultimately win) the account.
“If the account plan is a readout of a Wikipedia page, nobody on your team will want to revisit that, because it doesn't actually matter to make them successful,” says Kate Jensen, Head of Sales at Anthropic. “Make sure you’re holding yourself to the high standards of why you put the plan together in the first place.”
Advice for sales leaders and teams 📣
Create a culture of account planning: Everyone is busy, but it’s worthwhile for leaders to invest time in strategic selling. Make account planning an embedded part of your sales process to drive accountability across your team. Taking the time to celebrate successes or even help your reps with small tasks can make a huge difference in team morale and deal success.
Get the whole team involved: While the AE should ultimately own the account plan and act as the quarterback, account planning should be a team effort. Engage various stakeholders who might have important insights or who can help with certain aspects of the deal, including account managers, customer success managers, and BDRs. Make sure that everyone’s role is clearly defined.
Drive consistency and improvement: Don’t make account planning a one-time exercise. Make it a priority in your team’s process, revisiting your account plans often to ensure you’re consistently leveraging and iterating on them.
Customer collaboration 🤝
Involve your customers early: Don’t be afraid to loop your buyers into the account plan so you can build and validate it with them. Do this early enough in the process so you can avoid as many late-stage surprises as possible (and show that you’re committed to working with them).
Understand your buyer’s perspective: Dig deeper into seeing priorities and challenges from your buyers’ point of view – such as how executives are measured and any external factors affecting the industry or organization. This ensures you shift your focus towards solving client problems, not selling your solution.
“To me, account planning is thinking about the customer the way they think about themselves,” says Jamie Cosgrove, VP of Sales at Databricks. “Taking that inside perspective is where I see the best work get done.”
Reinforce in every call: Continuously reinforce your core objectives in every customer interaction. Revisit your account plan to ensure everyone is still aligned around it and check if any changes need to be made. This keeps everyone on the same page moving forward.
Adapt and prioritize: Be willing to adapt and revise your account plans based on new information – they shouldn’t be stagnant. You might even need to walk away from unproductive accounts. Use your valuable time wisely, and focus on the opportunities most likely to yield results.
Trust and relationship building 💙
Start with trust: Build trust first! Executives are more likely to share sensitive information with people they trust and view as valuable partners. This will look different for every account, but at a basic level, the key is being authentic, honest, and helpful to your customer.
Be an advisor: Reps should aim to be seen as advisors and consultants – more than just sellers. Build strong relationships that foster valuable insights.
Have a clear point of view: Have a clear, unique perspective related to your industry or market. This forms a basis for meaningful discussions with your customers and showcases your expertise.
Leverage in-person meetings: We’ve all gotten used to Zoom meetings over the past few years, but don’t underestimate the value of in-person meetings for building personal relationships and gaining unique insights. When possible, meet onsite with key accounts.
Think of different ways to build relationships: Invite clients to shared interests or events outside of formal meetings. This helps create a more relaxed, open environment for communication.
Initiative gathering and aligning with business objectives 🎯
Align with business goals: Ensure your account plans align with the client's business objectives, particularly those of senior leadership. This is probably the #1 most important thing to get right in your account plans. If you’re not aligned to what your buyers actually care about (especially the decision makers at the top), why would they be incentivized to listen?
Get creative with initiative gathering: Christina shared a few out-of-the-box ways you can start initiative gathering outside of meetings with your buyers. Listen to earnings calls, podcasts, webinars, and other public forums where executives discuss their company's priorities. Just type in the company’s name or your champion’s / key stakeholder’s name wherever you get your podcasts, and chances are, an episode will pop up.
Just ask: Once trust is established, directly ask about leadership initiatives. Don't hesitate to seek information for building a compelling case.
Understand their budgeting priorities: Look into the account’s budgeting process, especially during planning phases. Ask about upcoming fiscal year initiatives to gain valuable insights you can use to help strategize.
Up-level your account plans with Accord
Ready to dive into account planning? Or looking to streamline your current process?
Accord is a platform that helps B2B sales and success teams operationalize their process to drive consistent deal execution. Business cases, mutual plans, stakeholder maps, and shared resources come together in one workspace so that your team and customers are always aligned.
Book a demo to explore and get your own workspace!