The Sales Rep’s Guide to Strategic Account Planning

By Lenore Lang

Don’t create account plans in Q1 only to ignore them later. Create living account plans that drive pipe and revenue year-round.

If your idea of account planning involves hustling to create a document you ultimately end up ignoring, you could be missing out on one of the most powerful tools sales teams have. Proper account planning ensures that sales teams maximize revenue opportunities, create team alignment, clarify rep goals, and understand customer needs. Account plans are key to building strong customer relationships so you can crush your goals.

Sadly, the typical reality of account plans involves working hard to create them in Q1 and then largely forgetting about them for the rest of the year. The problem is that most account plans are static documents, rather than dynamic, “living” account plans that remain relevant all year long. 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.

Living Account Plans: The Basics

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 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 If the account plan doesn’t have the ability to hold dynamic data, information can become quickly outdated, which could lead to confusion, lack of organization, and additional time requirements.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: Planning 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.

1. Build An Account Profile
The customer profile 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, recent press releases, and LinkedIn 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 also help you understand connections your company may already have.

2. Requirements
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?

3. Opportunity
You can now determine what opportunities are available 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: Be sure to consider how the customer will buy what you’re selling. What is their process?

Step II: Building 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.

1. Offering Value
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 will have the ability to 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 help ensure a full pipeline. A customer journey map using a KanBan board can be great for this type of exercise.

2. Goals
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.

  • Pro tip: Schedule a roadmap discussion with the customer to discuss how their future goals align to your products and offerings. This can be a good time to discuss future possibilities.

3. Plan of Attack
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 been sold and which products and services 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 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.

1. Maintaining the Relationship
It’s impossible to have weekly or 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 there to help.

  • Pro tip: Collaborative opportunity notes covering key conversation points are an essential accompaniment to living account plans. Reflect key client insights and competitive intelligence in your account plan, but client interaction details and action items belong in your opportunity notes.

2. Up-selling and cross-selling
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 interest that may signal that your account may be interested into 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.

3. Reassess Your Strategy
Account planning offers the ability to 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.

  • Pro tip:Check in with your plan on a monthly or quarterly basis to update account requirements and revisit your strategy accordingly.

Ready to get started with your account planning strategy? Learn more about building out a living account plan as well as other sales tips at