Account Planning Best Practices You Need To Know Right Now

Want to improve your sales performance sevenfold? 

Follow account planning best practices.  

Next Quarter’s customer data proves account planning works. Industry leaders report an average sevenfold increase in win rate when they follow account planning best practices. 

In addition to higher win rates, account planning also provides: 

  • Greater insights into clients’ businesses
  • Shorter sales cycles
  • Repeat business
  • Larger deals
  • Easier executive access
  • Increased visibility 

So what’s the fastest and easiest way to execute account planning best practices? 

OK, we’re biased (see the bonus tip), but Next Quarter’s Account Growth solves the challenges of account planning across your entire enterprise, allowing you to revolutionize growth.

But…

If you want to do account planning the hard way, here are some account planning best practices tips.

Make Your MAPP

Account planning best practices can be summarized in one acronym: MAPP (Map, Align, Prepare, Performance). It works like this:

First of all, account planning is a process that produces a solution: the account plan. 

For many companies, that account plan resides in a static PowerPoint presentation and a few spreadsheets. This is the hard way to plan accounts.

The best way to create an account plan is to use a CRM like Salesforce. (More on this later.)

Even if you don’t show your account plan to a single soul, we promise that all this upfront effort produces a huge ROI. 

As Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”

Account Planning Best Practice #1: Map the Client Landscape

  • Business Overview
  • Competitor Analysis
  • Relationship Map

The most effective account managers understand their customer’s business objectives, internal and external challenges, and industry landscapes. 

For these sections of your account plan, use tools like ZoomInfo, LinkedIn, and your company’s CRM. 

Account Plan Section #1: Business Overview

  • Account Name
  • Account Owner
  • Public/Private
  • Annual Revenue
  • Year Started
  • Number of Employees
  • Company Website
  • Contact Details
  • Industry 
  • Customer’s vision/strategy 
  • Target markets 
  • Financial information 

Account Plan Section #2: Competitor Analysis

Make a competitor comparison table. Make sure to include your target company in the first row under the headings.

Account Plan Section #3: Relationship Mapping 

Org charts are NOT relationship maps. 

When working on complex deals with decision-makers, budget owners, and influencers, there are many people who influence a buying decision who aren’t in the org chart hierarchy. 

Relationship maps show you who the players are based on the solution, budget, and influence. 

Your relationship map should include: 

  • Relationship history 
  • Contact role 
  • Relationship status 
  • Influence 
  • Org chart 
  • Whitespace map 
  • Sales path

Account Planning Best Practice #2: Align with Client Objectives

  • Customer Solutions and Business Initiatives 
  • Align Solutions With Your Client’s Goals
  • Client Confirmation

* Highly important Activity 

For these next sections of your account plan, almost every one of your client’s goals is an opportunity to grow relationships, increase customer loyalty, and safeguard against the competition. Solving these challenges is easier with Next Quarter’s Account Growth tool, which makes account planning faster and easier, but more on that later.

Account Plan Section #4: Customer Solutions and Business Initiatives 

  • Short-/medium-/long-term priorities 
  • Strategic opportunities 
  • Account scorecard 

Account Plan Section #5: Align Solutions With Your Client’s Goals.

Align customer initiatives to the solutions you want to propose, including time frames and potential revenue.

Client Confirmation 

This is often the hardest part of the process, where you need to show the client what you’ve created. You need to confirm that objectives are actually objectives. The same goes for goals and long-term strategies.

You also need to confirm your relationship map of your client’s decision-making process is accurate. If your whitespace analysis has shown new potential targets within the company, you need to get as many details as you can from your contact(s) within that organization. 

Once you have an ally in the company, you can make the sale by encouraging that person to be your advocate. You want to make them the hero. Talk about the value of co-creation with your customer. Ensure you have well-defined and prioritized value opportunities. Then, work with the customer and provide appropriate materials or resources for secure buy-in. Finally, involve the customer in a collaborative role to establish the review process, timeline, and next steps. 

Account Planning Best Practice #3: Prepare Your Account Plan

  • SWOT Analysis 
  • Whitespace Analysis*
  • Long Term Goals and Strategy 

* Highly important Activity 

Account Plan Section #6: SWOT Analysis 

Armed with the information you’ve already gathered, it is essential to do a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of your relationship with the client.  

SWOT provides a clear view of your obstacles, objections, and red flags in the account. 

Account Plan Section #7: Whitespace Analysis

Whitespace analysis is the process of using your company’s data and sales records to discover fresh opportunities to target. Whitespace analysis includes: 

  • Opportunity analysis 
  • Current sales performance 
  • Revenue numbers 
  • Win or loss over the last 12 months 

You can also spot obstacles with whitespace analysis and discover what’s preventing you from engaging in new solutions, new groups, and new markets. You can prepare your answers to objections well in advance.

Account Plan Section #8: Long Term Goals and Strategy 

A goal is a significant aspiration that the account planning process intends to realize over the next three years. A goal should: 

  • Reflect on the big picture for the account 
  • Be ambitious – even audacious! – but attainable
  • Be achievable within a reasonable time frame 
  • Be directionally aligned with your own internal strategy 

Account Planning Best Practice #4: Performance Optimization

  • Action Plan* 
  • Account Health 

* Highly important Activity 

You will have to adjust and improve your account plan along the way. This is where tracking your progress (number of contacts, method, message, response, etc.) inside a CRM like Salesforce proves useful.

You need to be able to compare your action plan (see below) with your actual progress, so it is best to track both in the same CRM system. Again, our Account Growth solution makes this process easier with its real-time analytics and out-of-the-box features and functions for more successful account planning.

Account Plan Section #9: Action Plan 

This is how you’re going to actually approach the target company and define what steps you’ll take and when.

If you are leading a sales team, you may need to divide your team to conquer different parts of the target company. Decide which team members own which task, what resources they require to achieve these tasks, and agree upon responsibility measures. 

Key attributes of good action plans are: 

  • Top five objectives 
  • Critical resources 
  • Tasks and key owners 

Account Health 

Look at various aspects of account health, including renewal opportunities, quality of contacts, and risk analysis.

Risk analysis is a method of reviewing an organization’s activities and investments to determine the likelihood of loss. Risks can typically be captured under three categories – strategic, operational, and commercial. 

A current customer saved from leaving is a customer earned.

Summary: 

Here are a few touchpoints to keep in mind as you create your account plan. 

  • Cadence: Clearly laid out account planning cadence with roles and responsibilities
  • Think in Client Terms:  Articulate the pressures associated with the client’s business and technology environment
  • Business Imperatives: Document the five-to-ten key business initiatives that will dictate the client’s focus for the next 18-24 months
  • Alignment:  Align offerings to top clients and identify your chances of success based on the impact on the client and the maturity of the offering
  • Involvement: Involvement of client in at least one of several phases: alignment, planning, post-planning validation
  • Explore beyond merely the “Art of Possible”
  • Include Partners (where applicable): Partners should be included in planning and validation
  • Relationship Gaps: Define gaps in relationship building with a clear action plan
  • Action Plan: Have an action plan distributed amongst the extended team
  • Regular Updates: Defined ‘cadence’ for reviewing and updating account plans
  • Living Document: Make account plans a living document
  • Play Your Position: Ensure all teams are working towards a unified objective
  • Unified Goals for the Account Team: Make sure your team is on the same page. 

Account Planning Best Practice Bonus Tip: Use Next Quarter Account Growth

A sales team uses digital tools to achieve account planning best practices and improve account growth for their organization.

This has a lot to do with using PowerPoint and Excel. What’s worse, these static tools will limit the effectiveness of your account plan.

We built all the account planning best practices into Next Quarter Account Growth, the solution needed to solve account plan challenges. With just a few clicks, Salesforce users in your organization can upgrade the performance of your entire sales operation and improve account planning. You can toggle this feature bundle on and off within the Next Quarter revenue intelligence optimization platform.

The result? You’ll see where the account plan rubber hits the road and how everyone performs in real-time, allowing you to manage account planning on the fly.

Recognized by Gartner as one of the premier solutions for cloud-based account planning, Next Quarter is the #1 customer-centric revenue intelligence platform native to Salesforce that improves sales productivity and predicts forecast performance

The reason thousands of sales professionals use Next Quarter’s Account Growth solution within Salesforce is that we’re experts in revenue planning and growth, account management, and pipeline management. For example, you can see entire account planning forecasts in a single unified view and deliver real-time actionable insights to your CRO or CFO.

Within the first hour, you can start to solve the challenges commonly associated with account planning:

Dynamic Relationship Maps generate automated client org charts, identify key relationships between and among client personnel, and develop influence paths to gain buy-in on proposed sales, upsells, and cross-sells.

Opportunity Influence Paths display potential advocates within the target company for unparalleled sales opportunities. 

Whitespace Analysis uncovers overlooked sales opportunities and displays them in tables for quick scanning and action.

Account Overview generates displays of the client’s revenue projection, risk score, and relationship score based on real-time data.

Curated News Feeds display workplace insights about your clients gathered from news organizations.

Account Plan Portfolio Analytics display charts generated from real-time data to show:

  • Accounts and account relationships
  • Relationship analytics
  • Whitespace analytics
  • Customer perception of solutions
  • Alignment with customer
  • Goals and actions
  • Account risk assessment
  • Customer landscape

With Account Growth, you can feel more confident making data-driven decisions and spend less time hunting for information and more time closing deals. This account planning solution knows more about your accounts than you do by identifying new growth opportunities, finding influencers and decision-makers, and guiding your sales team. In short, Account Growth supercharges your accounts.

If you want to automate and solve the challenges of account planning, schedule a Next Quarter Account Growth demo with us. Account Growth is the world’s first AI accounting tool, and Fortune 500 companies trust it to improve account planning.

Your best year starts with Next Quarter.

“Welcome, ForecastEra has been rebranded to Next Quarter. We’re so excited you’re here.”