Account Planning Tips to Help You Beat Competition
Ever hear the saying, “Fail to plan, plan to fail?”
It’s paraphrased from Benjamin Franklin, who, among other things, helped put together the strategy that led the colonials to victory in the American Revolution.
B2B selling isn’t fighting a war of liberation from a tyrannical king in a powdered wig, but it can feel like a battle – a battle between you and your competitors for your customer’s business.
When your sales team is eyeing key accounts loaded with potential revenue, planning ahead is crucial. A well-crafted B2B sales strategy can be the difference between victory and defeat. By 2026, companies that use a planned, orchestrated, and customer-aligned strategy will outperform their competition by 50% higher revenue growth, according to Gartner.
If you incorporate these account-based selling strategies into your plan, your team’s chances of being one of those outperforming organizations go up tremendously.
Let’s cover some of the approaches top sales teams take when taking on high-value accounts.
First, Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Sell Without a Key Account Plan
To provide context, we need to quickly go over why key account plans are vital – and how no top-performing sales org leaves home without them.
Account-based selling is all about pursuing business now and down the road. It’s not based on one sales rep pursuing one deal at a time, dealing with just a key stakeholder or two.
It’s about putting together a complete vision for the entire account to understand the organization as a whole, uncover pain points and needs throughout the company, identify key stakeholders, build consensus, and develop long-term plans for exploring a company’s full potential for deals.
Put another way, it’s about:
- Knowing your customer
- Figuring out what they need
- Finding the key people to talk to
- Getting everyone on board
- Closing the first deal
- Finding many more
This is accomplished by aligning sales, customer success, and marketing, and using all of your resources to coordinate and conquer. Your team will map out the sales cycle, draw up ideal customer profiles (ICPs), create personalized marketing content for each key stakeholder, identify supporters and champions, and dive deep into the web of relationships in the company hierarchy.
Every successful account plan needs:
- Your key business objective
- The average deal size and revenue potential you want to pursue
- Your ideal customer profile (a description of the most valuable personas you want to pursue in your target market who are also most likely to buy)
- A relationship map illustrating the hierarchy within the account and business units
- Your products/services and how they could align with the account
- Your account’s budget, typical buying process, sales cycle, purchasing guidelines, etc.
- A timeline of when your team will engage your targets within the account and the goal for each interaction
- Metrics you’ll use to track success
But having these components is a minimum requirement at best. A truly competitive B2B sales strategy takes things a bit further beyond what everyone else is doing.
The bottom line is simple: account planning isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have. Your toughest competitors are using this process. If you’re not, you’ll fall behind.
And if you use it and do it better, they are the ones who will fall behind.
To unlock the full potential of your sales org, here are top strategies reps can follow when going after customer accounts with the biggest deal sizes.
Top 4 Innovative Account Planning Strategies
1. Grouping Relationships by Something Other than Hierarchy
In relationship mapping, it’s important to know to whom each person reports and the level of decision-making each role has.
You also need to know which contacts have the most influence, and whether or not they support you (and to what extent).
But instead of sticking too much to the hierarchy in the account, try defining and grouping relationships by other factors – such as the pain points, needs, and priorities they have in common.
To win big deals, you’ll need to build consensus. This often means cutting across business unit lines and through traditional roles and relationships. The best way to do that is to find what people in the account care the most about.
If you can pinpoint these shared pain points, needs, and priorities, then you’ll have a much easier time pulling contacts together in a collaborative solution no matter what role they may have, how much seniority they possess, or which business unit or team they’re a part of.
Few stakeholders are willing to stick their necks out blindly. But, if you can build a coalition within a company, you’ll make it easier for each decision-maker to give their support.
2. Build a Customer Narrative and Tell a Story
Fact-finding and discovery are key parts of an account-planning process. The more you know about your customer, the better. You can use this info for anything from custom content creation to coming up with solutions and refining proposals.
But what most sales teams do is create a list of questions that may or may not be relevant or related to each other. Their conversations with different customers may not connect with each other or with the company as a whole. Their discovery and solution-planning sessions may be piecemeal and fragmented instead of united and cohesive.
One part of your account plan can be a customer narrative: something that tells a story about who your customers are, what they’re looking to accomplish, what barriers exist that keep them from their goals, and which solutions you propose to the problem.
Just like with writing a book, you’re creating the bones of the story with gaps that you’ll need to fill out. With each contact you engage or speak with, you’ll have more information to plug into the story and flesh out the details.
You’ll also have a way to tie everything together. The narrative is for the entire account, not just one business unit. Each person you meet will have something to contribute to the narrative. They’ll help you identify major themes, trends, and patterns throughout the account.
At the end of the day, if you want to woo a potential buyer, you need to sell stories, not solutions. Incorporating a customer narrative into your target account plan helps you do just that.
3. Finding and Farming Cross-sell and Up-sell Opportunities
It’s far easier to get more business from a customer you already have than to get a new customer altogether.
Account planning offers the means to do just that: farm new business from current business.
These opportunities to cross-sell other products and services and up-sell (or upgrade) current ones are collectively called the “white space” of a company – and it can be very lucrative.
But exploring this space can be confusing (perplexing, even) and ultimately unproductive if there’s not a method to the madness. After all, you need to not only be fully aware of what you’re already delivering. You also need to be intimately familiar with the entire organization, including every key DM and their different priorities.
It’s not as simple as saying, “They don’t have X. Let’s sell X.” Maybe no one in the org wants X, or has the budget for it even if they do. Maybe X isn’t the best solution – maybe it’s Y. Or maybe it’s a combination of X, Y, and Z if you can pull together a few different business units and deliver a more comprehensive solution.
Account planning is how this kind of targeted strategizing is possible. You can put together the pieces and build a puzzle of what’s possible within an account, and identify the relationships that can lead you to new revenue.
4. Improve Customer Relationships and Reduce Churn
Finally, an account plan isn’t just useful to land new customers; it’s also instrumental to pursuing customer success.
It’s no secret that one of the enemies every customer success org faces is churn. No one wants to lose customers, but it happens. It’ll happen a lot less if you have a plan in place to keep churn low and improve net revenue retention.
How? Sales is about relationships. Account planning puts into place ways to understand your customer, keep in contact with them, be responsive to their needs, and find new contacts who replace previous ones that are leaving the company.
Like we mentioned earlier, alignment between sales and customer success (among other departments) is crucial. Using an account planning app or system is the best way to make that alignment happen instead of just talking about it (something so many sales orgs fall victim to only a regular basis).
In short, by using a more creative and comprehensive sales strategy, you’ll increase your chances of closing a deal and turning one sales opportunity into a wide range of possibilities. You’ll close deals faster, and for more revenue per deal. Your sales team, marketing team, and customer success team will be able to contribute their talents in a united effort. And, you’ll be prepared for the inevitable twists and turns that come with B2B selling.
Don’t fail to plan or plan to fail. Instead, use these strategies and plan to succeed.
Want an easier, faster, and more efficient way to make account plans actually happen – all within Salesforce? Check out Prolifiq CRUSH.