Top 5 Elements of Account Planning

Learn how to create account plans that cover everything from the problem, impact, solution, people, and plan.


In today’s highly competitive B2B sales landscape, account planning isn’t just advantageous — it’s essential. To close new business opportunities or renew existing accounts, your organization needs to stand out and solve real problems. 

This article explores what account mapping is, why it’s important, mistakes to avoid, and the essentials needed to create a solid plan. 

Let’s get started!

What is Account Planning? 

In B2B sales, account planning is the process of mapping important details about your potential clients and existing customers. You gather information about their priorities and challenges to develop targeted sales strategies in order to close new deals and retain or upsell current customers. 

Interactions are customized to the specific needs of each decision maker. As a result, reps build trust and rapport, allowing them to grow and nurture relationships all while shortening the deal cycle. 

Other Terms for Account Planning

Account planning is often referred to by a variety of other terms. While these terms are often used interchangeably, each one can carry its own meaning: 

  • Account mapping - this ‘map’ highlights key contacts and decision makers. 
  • Sales account planning - this term focuses on the integration of planning within the sales process. The purpose of this is to drive specific sales outcomes. 
  • Stakeholder mapping - similar to account mapping, stakeholder mapping is about understanding the key decision makers within an organization, and understanding their needs and objectives. 
  • Strategic account planning - this focuses on the long-term vision and planning to ensure that the approach to each account aligns with the broader strategic goals. 
  • Key account plan - A key account plan involves in-depth analysis of the client’s business, including their market position, challenges, and opportunities. It also includes a tailored approach for nurturing the relationship, meeting the client's unique needs, and maximizing the potential value of the account over time.

Why is Account Planning Important in a B2B Sales Strategy? 

Account planning is important in B2B sales strategies because it helps reduce acquisition costs, build strong client relationships, enhance cross-selling and up-selling opportunities, and improve customer retention. 

By identifying key accounts and focusing efforts where they are most likely to yield results, organizations can optimize their sales force’s productivity, reducing time spent on leads less likely to convert. 

Account Mapping Mistakes to Avoid 

Not all account plans are created equal. Lack of research, personalization, and irregular updates can cost you — big time. In this section, we’ll outline several account mapping mistakes to avoid. 

Account Mapping Mistake #1: Inadequate Research

As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” This is especially true when it comes to account planning. If you are overlooking important information, like the company’s specific challenges, goals, and operating model, then you won’t have a solid understanding of how your solution can help. 

This puts you at an obvious disadvantage because it means you’ll only have a superficial understanding of the organization, and it will be difficult to position your solution as a vital ingredient to the organization’s success. 

Account Mapping Mistake #2: Overlooking Key Stakeholders

Part of putting together a solid B2B account plan means you know who the key decision makers are. Without a complete picture of the people and processes that influence decision making, you’ll waste time and resources as you attempt to find the right contacts to close the deal. 

Account Mapping Mistake #3: Inconsistent Account Updates

In life, the one constant is change. The same is true for your accounts. Regularly review and update your account maps to ensure the information is up to date and accurate. Consider any changes in personnel, business goals, or challenges. 

You can gather this information by checking in regularly with the key stakeholders or your account champion. 

Account Mapping Mistake #4: Incomplete Competitor Analysis 

Part of winning trust and building rapport means you have a thorough understanding of your product’s strengths and weaknesses. But you can’t just benchmark against yourself — you need to be well versed in the competitive landscape. 

Be an expert on all things competitor related. Know who your competitors are, where they excel, and what their vulnerabilities are.

The Top 5 Elements of a Good Account Plan

When it comes to formatting your account plan, you have lots of options. You can use slides, word documents, PDFs, Prezi, spreadsheets, Accord, and so forth. It’s not the output that matters, it’s the input and thought process (remember, research is key!). 

Your account plan should always include five key elements: the problem, impact, solution, people, and plan. In this section, we’ll explore each of these elements in detail. Let’s dive in! 

Company Overview

Before outlining the five key elements, start by gaining an in-depth understanding of how the organization is structured and functions. Some key information you’ll want to collect includes: 

  • Revenue & growth: How is the company performing financially? Include revenue and growth rates. 
  • Employee base: How many people does the company employ? Who are the key stakeholders and decision markers? 
  • Customers & partners: Who does the customer primarily serve (consider the industries and sectors of their customers as well)? What types of partnerships does the customer have? How do these partnership networks impact their operations?
  • Headquarters: What city, state, and country is the organization’s HQ located in?

Take your time and be thorough when collecting this information. You want to make sure your insights are accurate and up to date so you can craft an effective account plan. 

#1 The Problem: Why Change?

Once you have your company overview in place, it’s time to do some detective work and identify the prospect’s primary challenge(s). Don’t make assumptions based on the information you gathered from the overview. Ask questions and lead with genuine curiosity.

Open-ended questions, in particular, work well because they encourage more detailed responses. Listen carefully to the answers, and use the information provided to ask follow-up questions. This will help you isolate the specific pain points your prospect is facing so you can illustrate how your solution helps solve their problems. 

Here are some questions that will help you identify the problem: 

  • What specific issues is the organization facing within its industry? 
  • Can you describe a recent situation where these issues directly impacted operations?
  • What strategies have you implemented to address these challenges? Were they effective?
  • What are the organization’s key goals and objectives?
  • What’s the biggest obstacle preventing you from achieving your current goals?
  • How does this obstacle impact your customers?
  • What happens if this problem remains unresolved?

Once you have enough information to pinpoint the core issue, validate your understanding with a confirming question. Here’s an example: “Based on our conversation, it sounds like the biggest problem you’re currently facing is XYZ. Does that accurately reflect your situation?” This approach ensures you aren’t leading with assumptions. 

#2 The Impact: Why Now?

This element of the account plan helps you determine why now is the best time for the prospect to make a change. To assess the prospect’s urgency, consider the following: 

  • Timeline: When does the prospect need to make a change? What are the driving factors? Is it driven by a compelling event such as market pressures, organizational goals, or deadlines that need to be met? 
  • Consequences of inaction: If the prospect does nothing, what will it cost them? How does your solution prevent or reduce the likelihood of negative outcomes? 
  • Value: What value does your solution provide? Is the value validated with the client? 

#3: Solution: Why Us? 

Having established the problem and why the prospect needs to make a change, the next step is to map out why your solution is the optimal choice. This stage involves evaluating the competitive landscape, and outlining your competitors strengths and weaknesses. Pay special attention to how your solutions outperforms competitors in the areas relevant to your prospects situation. 

Here are some areas to outline: 

  • Use case/scope of opportunity: How does your solution address the prospect’s specific challenges? 
  • Next best alternative: Acknowledge and assess the other options the prospect might consider, and outline how your solution stands out. 
  • Unique selling points: What makes your solution unique and more effective compared to the competition?
  • Concerns: What reservations or objections does the prospect have? Proactively address any concerns and provide clear, reassuring responses. 

If you’re focusing on an existing client, then your approach will vary. You will consider: 

  • Customer age: When they became a customer and have long they’ve been using your solution. 
  • Renewal: Have they renewed yet? If yes, when?
  • Usage: What products and services did they purchase? 
  • Adoption: Are they using the products and services to their full potential? Why or why not?

#4: People: Who Are the Key Stakeholders?

The people element is all about understanding who is involved in the decision-making process and the dynamics of your relationship with them. Essentially, you’ll create an org chart listing each person and their role so you can customize your outreach in a way that makes sense and resonates. 

An image of a stakeholder map in the Accord platform.

To map out the people, identify: 

  • Key contacts: Who are the main individuals involved in the account? What are their roles? What influence do they have? 
  • Relationship dynamics: How do the key contacts feel about your organization and solution? 
  • Other contacts: Who have you not met yet that could influence the deal? What executives are you targeting to meet (such as the CFO, COO, etc.)?
  • Partners: Are there any third parties involved in the account? If yes, how do they influence the outcome of the deal? Examples include Salesforce, SAP, IBM, etc. 
  • Engagement: What people has the prospect or client engaged with from your organization? Examples include customer success, compliance, product, and the C-suite team. 

#5: Plan: Developing a Sales Account Plan 

The final step is strategic account planning. This happens when you consolidate your insights and create an action plan for winning the deal or renewing or upselling an existing client. It outlines the steps, timeline, and responsibilities of each team member to drive the account forward. 

In this part of sales planning, you will iron out:

  • The account strategy: How will you manage and grow this account in the short and long term?
  • Proposal details: What is the proposal and are there any modifications? How is the proposal tailored to the prospect or client’s needs? 
  • Mutual activity plan: What is the mutual activity plan? Who has reviewed it with you and approved it?
  • Support: If challenges or delays occur, what process do you follow to ensure you don’t lose momentum? 

Closing Thoughts

In the complex and ever-changing world of B2B sales, account planning helps reduce deal uncertainty. By creating a key account plan for each prospect and client, reps can focus on deals that are likely to close while building trust and rapport. 

For managers, the account mapping process enables better, more accurate forecasting. It provides a data-driven view of potential sales outcomes so managers can help their teams determine where to focus and when. 

To get started with account planning, download this plug-and-play template