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A Sale’s Rep’s Guide To Creating an Account Plan You’ll Actually Use

Instead of creating account plans in January and ignoring them the rest of the year, create living account plans that drive pipeline and revenue year-round.

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[®ANNA BERKUT/Stocksy United]

If your idea of account planning involves hustling to create a document in January that you ultimately end up ignoring for the rest of the year, you’re probably  missing out on one of the most powerful tools sales teams have. 

Done right, account planning ensures that sales teams maximize revenue opportunities, create and maintain team alignment, clarify rep goals, and understand customer needs. Account plans are key to building strong customer relationships that help you  crush your goals, but in reality, account plans often fall by the wayside after they are created. The problem is that most account plans are static documents, rather than dynamic, “living” account plans that remain relevant can be flexible all year long, based on market conditions. 

COVID-19 threw into stark relief the need for flexible sales strategies, as companies of all shapes and sizes grappled with how best to serve new and existing customers. Living account plans work because account information stays up to date, making it easier for sales teams to create actionable strategies to earn the win. Armed with living account plans, sales teams are better able to deliver tangible benefits, eliminate surprises, and predict the ability to hit quarterly goals.

A living account plan should be created and maintained in a shared, collaborative document that team members can reference and revise throughout the year. Ideally, it should have dynamically updated customer relationship management (CRM) data so that changes in the client’s account record are reflected in the plan. If the account plan doesn’t have the ability to hold dynamic data, information can become quickly outdated, which could lead to confusion, lack of organization, and additional time requirements. Here’s a step-by-step guide to developing a living account plan.

Step I: Plan your success

Start by gathering client information. Before you work with a client, you need to understand who they are, what their goals and needs are, and what opportunities would be a good match for their needs.

Build an account profile, which serves as the foundation and starting point for account planning. To build the customer profile, gather specific account details such as team structure, key contacts, and opportunities. Who are the decision-makers, champions, and potential blockers? Try to learn all you can initially, but in a living account plan, the account profile can develop over time as new information surfaces.

Pro tip: Use the client’s website, press releases, and LinkedIn profile to put together an organizational relationship map of key players and subsidiaries, understand important news and updates, and get a sense of the client’s business model. The relationship map can help you understand connections your company may already have.

The next step is building out customer requirements. What are their wants and needs? What are their pain points? What solutions are they currently using and where might the gaps be?

Pro tip: Ask yourself, independent of the solution you offer, what really matters to your customer? What metrics are important to them?

You can now determine what opportunities to offer your customer. This means aligning their needs to your solutions, and aligning your team organization to the account’s. To create a winning strategy, also take this time to understand what your competitors are doing, as well as what sets you apart.

Pro tip: Consider how your customer will buy what you’re selling. What is their process?

Step II: Build a winning strategy

The second step of your living account plan is to develop strategic initiatives. How will you successfully sell your products or services? In some cases there may be multiple plans of attack.

It’s important to understand customer priorities and determine how you can help them be more successful. Hopefully, the products or services you are selling will push your customer’s ideals forward and help move them toward success. A customer journey map can help you visualize the steps a customer goes through during the process, from conception to sale. With a map, you can  better understand your customers, how they enter the sales cycle, and how they can find success with your products.

Pro tip: Map customer initiatives back to your products or services to ensure a full pipeline. A customer journey map using a KanBan board can be great for this type of exercise.

Set both long- and short-term goals for the account that are attainable and measurable, and establish milestones to track key items. This will help you develop your overall strategy.

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Pro tip: Have a roadmap huddle with your customers to discuss how their goals align to your products and offerings.

Consider how you are going to address the customer’s needs. You can now start to make strategic decisions about how you will sell to your account. Perform a white space analysis on a semi-regular basis using your CRM data for all of the customer accounts you are currently working with. This will help the entire sales team understand which products and services have already been sold, and which ones can be sold in future sales cycles.

Pro tip: Use a project tracker or create a series of tasks so you receive notifications that are outcome specific.

Step III: Maximize your opportunities

Since a living account plan is an ongoing, dynamic document, the final step is to continue modifying the plan, measuring results, and reassessing your strategic direction throughout the sales cycle.

It’s impossible to have weekly or even monthly conversations with all of your contacts, but you can focus on the most strategic accounts. Routinely reach out to your best customers, being sure to let them know you’re interested in their success and are there to help.

Pro tip: Collaborative opportunity notes, which cover conversations between a rep and the customer, are an essential accompaniment to living account plans. You should include the most critical client insights and competitive intelligence in your account plan, but you can leave the rest of the client interaction details and action items in your opportunity notes.

Up-selling and cross selling can help your business become more profitable as well as offer opportunities to create additional connections outside of your customer base. When talking to customers, be sure to capture key conversations or interests that may signal that your account may be interested in moving into an additional vertical, expanding their current footprint, or wanting additional capabilities.

Pro tip: Identify accounts with similar profiles. Understand the products and services similar customers have purchased and work with your account managers, marketing, and operations teams to target similar accounts that may have similar needs.

Flexible account planning helps you understand an account from all angles and prioritize various tasks based on goals and requirements. As you execute your plan throughout the sales cycle, it will become easier to see the big picture and understand where the biggest rewards will be. You should reassess your plan monthly or quarterly, and update the account’s requirements accordingly.

Lenore Lang leads the enterprise sales team for Salesforce Anywhere, and has been with Salesforce for over 4 years. Previous to Salesforce, Lenore led sales teams at both Mixpanel and New Relic.

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