Are you a B2B account manager or sales executive who is serious about account-based marketing (ABM)?

If the answer is "yes," chances are you understand your customers want partners, not vendors.

To win new business and grow key accounts, account managers and sales executives must become thoroughly invested in their customer’s challenges, goals, and competitive landscape.

By using strategic account planning to target your key accounts, you can become your customer’s trusted partner, solving problems instead of selling products.

This article will touch on two viable account planning solutions — account-based marketing software and a manual, template-based approach. Below, we share one of the best templates to begin the account planning process in your sales organization. 

Free Access: Strategic Account Planning Template

Strategic Account Plan Template Layout

If you're reluctant to invest in ABM software or just want a solid starting point to better understand ABM strategy, this strategic account planning template will help you:

Featured Resource: Strategic Account Planning Template

Free account strategy template

Download This Template for Free

Ready to explore what account planning is all about and how it can increase your sales? In this article, we’ll go over the following topics: 

Let’s get started. 

Account planning is about partnering with your customer instead of selling to your customer.  It looks at sales not as a transactional process but as the start of a strategic partnership. This term is usually applicable in B2B organizations rather than B2C organizations.

Because account planning is such a thorough process, it allows you to ask your customer highly specific questions that relate to their business and their challenges. 

These questions are usually related to the product or service you offer, giving you further insight into how you can solve for them in both the short and long term. After creating an account plan and getting to know your customer inside out, here are a few questions your account managers can ask: 

  • “We noticed that your industry has seen a decline in _______. How has your business fared since this trend started?” 
  • “Your competitor recently developed a new product. How does leadership plan to tackle this new challenge?”
  • “Your initiatives for ________ did well for Q4 of last year, resulting in X% growth in revenue. Do you have any plans to continue those initiatives in Q1? What challenges do you foresee?” 
  • “I saw that you expanded into ________ market. How has that been going? Are there any plans to expand into related industries?” 

Compare these questions to more vague ones such as “What are your challenges?” and “How can my company help your business reach your goals?”  

While the purpose of account planning is to decrease customer attrition, it can also be a useful tool for acquisition. Understanding your most profitable customers can help you identify better prospects to target in your future sales efforts.  

Related Account Planning Terms 

Account planning is related to various terms in B2B sales environments. Here are a few that you might see here and around the web: 

  • “Sales account planning” is an alternative term for account planning. 
  • Strategic account management is when you choose high-value and high-profit accounts to grow and nurture, because not all accounts or customers warrant a plan. These efforts are typically spearheaded by strategic account managers. Account planning and strategic account management can go hand-in-hand.
  • Key account management is similar to strategic account management and may also complement the account planning process. Sales leaders and representatives build, maintain, and nurture the business’s most profitable accounts by offering exclusive resources, recurring meetings, and dedicated key account managers (KMAs). 
  • Account-based marketing is usually carried out after key accounts have been established and account plans put together. After these high-value customers have been identified, the marketing team will create campaigns, assets, and messaging that targets these accounts. 

As you can see, account planning can be a huge asset to your business, allowing you to delve in-depth into each customer profile. 

By knowing the customer’s challenges, industry, and goals, you can position your product as the solution in a much more specific and targeted way, which can help increase close rates

Now, it’s time to create a plan that can help you jumpstart your account planning efforts. 

Recommended Resource

Free Account Planning Worksheet

Fill out the form to access your free template.

Before Starting: Download HubSpot's Account Planing Template

HubSpot's pre-built Account Planning Template contains prompts for each of the subsequent sections, as well as suggested topics to include in each. Rather than start from scratch, we recommend you follow along by downloading the free template. 

Section 1: Business Overview

The most effective account managers and sales teams understand their customer’s narrative. They ask value-focused questions to get to the root of their customer’s business objectives, internal and external challenges, and industry landscape.

This questioning and learning must be an ongoing exercise. Objectives and goals are ever-changing, and customers often reposition their value in the face of new technology or market shifts.

In this section, identify the following:

  • Your customer’s vision/strategy
  • Your customer’s vital numbers
  • Year founded
  • Annual revenue
  • Number of employees
  • Industry
  • Target markets

Section 2: Key Business Initiatives

As former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss outlines in his book Never Split the Difference, all successful negotiations begin with listening. To develop a value-based action plan, you need to discover what your customer values most.

By focusing on your customers’ value expectations, you create opportunities to grow customer relationships that are more strategic in nature, which safeguards against competition while increasing customer loyalty.

Ask questions that will reveal your customer’s:

  • Short-/medium-/long-term priorities
  • Key projects
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs)

Section 3: Customer Relationship Landscape

When it comes to understanding your customer relationship landscape, Mike Broomfield, Managing Director of Intellegentia, says, "When working on complex deals with multiple decision-makers, it’s difficult sometimes to see the ‘wood for the trees’ unless you have a clear view and understanding of the org chart and who the players are."

This is also true for expanding key accounts. The decision-maker role might change depending on product, budget, and influence.

To create a robust customer relationship landscape for your acquisition efforts, ask the following questions:

For current customers, your relationship landscape should include:

  • Relationship history
  • Relationship map (org chart)
  • Whitespace map
  • Project status
  • Customer value scorecard
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS®)

Section 4: Customer Products and Revenues

Today’s customer desires a strategic partner to deliver value across their organization. In this section, list and describe where you are currently adding value, analyze the ROI of that value, and identify gaps in the value chain.

Include the following information:

  • Whitespace analysis
  • Current sales performance
  • Current margin performance
  • Wins or losses over the last 12 months

Section 5: Competitor Analysis

Performing a competitive analysis for your customer may not seem to provide high value to your sales team, but remember: Your goal is to move from a transactional relationship to a strategic partnership. Only when you understand your customer’s challenges can you help them differentiate their own products and services.

List your customer’s:

  • Competitors
  • Competitors’ strengths
  • Competitors’ weaknesses

Section 6: Buying Process and Selling Points

Businesses don’t buy products or services — people do. Expand on your org chart from section three to include personal motivations and decision criteria, and plot your value-based selling points to specific members of your customer’s organization.

The goal of a trusted advisor should not be to fit a product into an empty slot; rather, your focus should be to understand how your key selling points match each decision-maker’s goal.

Identify each of the following:

  • Evaluation criteria
  • Key decision criteria
  • Key selling points

Section 7: Relationship Goals and Strategy

Before an account manager can move the customer relationship forward, they must first establish their relationship baseline. Set your starting position. Be open and honest about your current relationship status.

Using the org chart from section three and the motivations from section six, determine which relationship target has the greatest opportunity for engagement, focusing on those who can provide the most productive outcomes for the customer’s business and your own.

Expand your relationship landscape to include:

Section 8: Sales Opportunities, Targets, and Risks

Once you’ve documented your customer’s objectives, motivations, and key relationships, determine the products/services that will help them attain their goals. List revenue goals and identify blockers — both internal and external — to shared-value realization.

List and define:

It can be easy to gloss over the final bullet — operational restrictions. However, this exercise can illuminate friction in service/product delivery and reveal opportunities for automation and processes that can impact your entire book of business.

Section 9: Action Plan

Although there may be many value-add opportunities, narrow your focus to a small subset. Move the needle one position at a time.

Determine which team members will own which task, what resources will be required to achieve these tasks, and agree upon accountability measures.

Ensure that you do the following in your action plan:

  • Identify the top five objectives
  • Create a list of critical resources
  • Assign tasks and key owners

Section 10: Plan Review

Discuss value co-creation with your customer. Ensure you have defined and prioritized value opportunities correctly, and work with them to provide relevant materials or resources to secure buy-in.

Engage the customer in a collaborative role to establish:

  • A process, timeline, and next steps

Supporting Account Planning with Account-Based Marketing Software

Creating an account-based marketing plan is the natural next step after finishing the planning process. But there’s no need to do it manually; instead, we recommend using an ABM software that can help you automate your ABM campaigns.  

Resources for the ABM Setup

A high-quality ABM software generally features tools and resources to help you to establish a solid foundation for an account planning strategy — typically rooted in defining and understanding your ideal customer profiles (ICPs).

It might also contain features that cover both company and contact properties, giving you pictures of both the businesses you're trying to target and the individual decision-makers you need to reach. Other tools — like workflow templates for building and maintaining your ICPs — can also be a big help for successful account planning.

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) software from HubSpot; Workflow view

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Here's how a workflow looks in HubSpot's ABM software. Certain actions are triggered depending on previous settings, automatically segmenting your ICPs by tier. 

Collaboration Tools

Team cohesion and operational visibility can be crucial to effective account planning. You want everyone involved in your ABM strategy to be on the same page when it comes to target accounts. Features like shared dashboards can be solid assets to sustaining well-oiled account planning as time goes on.

Personalization and Engagement

The fundamental basis of ABM, as a concept, is personalization. It's a process rooted in understanding and approaching individual accounts on terms that will resonate with the prospects and customers behind them, specifically.

Features designed for compiling lists of target companies with similar characteristics can help you group like-minded companies and contacts for streamlined outreach. Some types of ABM software allow you to send ads to influencers within your targeted accounts across certain platforms — typically LinkedIn.

Resources that allow you to engage with those targeted lists via email can also add value to your account planning efforts. One way or another, it's always in your best interest to reach your target accounts in ways that suit their unique values and characteristics. Finding software to simplify that process can make your outreach more robust without losing focus.

Tracking and Measuring Efforts

Account planning isn't a static process. You need to constantly look for ways to modify your strategy as you interact with more customers. That's why resources to track the efficacy of your efforts are crucial.

Target account reporting libraries can help you keep tabs on target accounts. A solid ABM software often includes resources that let you review internal stakeholders within your target companies — allowing you to see who's supporting, blocking, or influencing your efforts.

It also helps to have visibility into the various different interactions your business has with a target company. Some types of ABM software allow you to monitor activity like emails, meetings, and logged calls. Tools like that allow you to understand where and how your outreach and planning could be improved.

There are a number of different account-based marketing softwares that offer some or all of these features, including HubSpot ABM Software, Terminus, and Demandbase

Regardless of the one you choose, an ABM software will save time for your sales team while strengthening your key customer relationships. 

Account Planning and ABM Will Help You Grow Better

Account planning and account-based marketing takes time, but the rewards are massive. Establishing an account planning process in your sales team will help you nurture your current partnerships, increase customer retention, and boost repeat sales, empowering your business to grow better. 

Editor's note: This post was originally published in July 7, 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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Originally published Feb 5, 2021 12:45:00 PM, updated August 25 2021

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