Definition: What is account planning?
Account planning is about nurturing customer relationships to drive revenue.
Through account planning, you form a strategic partnership – typically with a B2B company – to help them become more profitable.
A solid account planning strategy seeks to understand a client’s key initiatives and challenges and form action plans to meet their objectives.
Strategic account planning is a complex exercise with many moving parts. Read on for our playbook and free account planning template.
The benefits of account planning: Why bother with it?
At a high-level, account planning makes it easier to advance projects with existing customers, grow your business book, and increase customer satisfaction.
Account planning solves three key problems: acquisition, expansion, and retention.
- Acquisition: Account planning gives you insight into who your best customers are. You can fine-tune your marketing collateral and sales motions to attract more of your ideal clients.
- Expansion: You can discover new opportunities to increase your customers’ spending with you as you serve more of their needs.
- Retention: Through strategic account planning, you help your best customers achieve their top goals and prevent them from leaving prematurely.
Strategic account planning is like an ever-expanding magnet: bringing in more business on one side, and keeping your clients from leaving on the other side.
Account planning falls under the umbrella of key account management: courting, nurturing, structuring, and growing your most profitable clients to drive more revenue for your business.
If you sell a complex product or service, good account planning guides all parties through the implementation process and minimizes hiccups.
You get to know all the decision makers, communication channels, and approval processes required to move projects forward. You capture all of this information in an account plan.
What is an account plan?
An account plan is an internal document that outlines key info about your client.
If strategic account planning is the race, the account plan is the car you race in.
In an account plan, you typically capture information about your client’s:
- Action plans
- Priority levels
- Key stakeholders
- Purchasing criteria
- Measurement criteria
- Decision-making processes
- Potential upsells and future services
- Past initiatives + success and failure rates
You can create an account plan from scratch for each new customer, or use a template to speed things up.
How does an account planning template help?
Account planning templates help you start faster. You can use an account planning template to simply fill in the blanks for each new account.
You can print out an account planning template PDF and fill it out during the client discovery call.
We’d recommend using an account planning template spreadsheet instead. Such spreadsheets are easier to fill in and amend over time.
Account planning template structure: What’s included?
Account planning templates are all different, but the one we use has the following sections:
- Brief business overview
- Goals and initiatives
- Business processes
- Revenue sources
- SWOT analysis
- Action plan
Section 1: Brief business overview
In the business overview section, you’ll note down the customer’s vision, vital numbers, and target market.
Your customer’s vital numbers include the year it was founded, its annual revenue, and the number of employees and branches it has.
You can also include its number of offerings, customers, and funding, if any.
You can go deeper and add context to the business overview. Additional contextual information can include:
- How the company has fared in an industry decline
- How their initiatives are impacting growth
- How they’re responding to competitors
- How their current expansion is going
- What they’re planning to do next
Section 2: Goals and initiatives
Your customers’ goals reveal where they’re falling short and where they can increase ROI.
More importantly, they reveal opportunities for upsells and other account expansion activities.
Your account planning template helps you categorize and prioritize your customer’s goals into aspirational and realistic goals.
Aspirational goals may require more resources than currently exist. Realistic goals are those you can prioritize and execute on.
To fill out this section of the template, ask your customer about their:
- Short, medium, and long term goals
- Current key projects and the status of each one
- Key performance indicators and how they’re measured
Section 3: Business processes
Each account runs its business differently. They all have different buying motivations and payment preferences.
One company may have a long approval process, while another may be more straightforward.
It’s important to understand and note down the internal business processes for each account to facilitate projects and payments.
In your account planning template, you’ll need to note down the company’s:
- Payment processes
- Decision evaluation criteria
Section 4: Revenue sources
You must understand how your customers make money so you can help them make more.
A business might offer products and services at different price points. This information reveals gaps in their revenue or potential leaks you can plug through your offerings.
In the revenue sources section of your account planning template, note down your account’s:
- Current sales performance (including profit margins)
- Short, medium, and long-term revenue goals
- Wins and losses over the past 12 months
- Products, services, and price ranges
- Cross-sell and upsell opportunities
- Customer demand trends
- Whitespace analysis
With this information, you’ll be better poised to increase your customer’s revenue and yours in turn.
Section 5: SWOT analysis
You’re not just a transactional service provider – you’re a strategic business partner.
Running a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis on your customer’s business is thus crucial to a fruitful relationship.
When you understand your customer’s challenges, you can help them differentiate their offerings.
In the SWOT analysis section of your account planning template, list your customer’s:
- Direct and indirect competitors (and their strengths and weaknesses)
- Product and process weaknesses (e.g. lack of automation)
- Strengths and competitive advantages
- Financial, regulatory, and market risks
- Opportunities to improve
- Operational restrictions
The information in this section determines how you can improve your customer’s business.
Section 6: Relationships
People run companies. You’ll need a handle on who’s who in each company you work with.
An account may only involve one key stakeholder, while another may require working with two or three.
Some contacts may prefer frequent emails and calls, while others insist on in-person updates twice a month.
It’s important to understand and note down the communication styles for each account.
The relationships section also helps you determine where you stand with each account, who the account manager is, and how you’ll progress the relationship over time.
For this section of your account planning template, determine and include your customer’s:
- Key stakeholders
- Communication styles
- Stakeholder motivations
- Communication channels
- Business account manager
- Communication frequency
- Current relationship status (Vendor, Preferred Supplier, Planning Partner, Trusted Advisor)
- Relationship progression strategy
Section 7: Action plan
With full context on the account, it’s time for action. Your action plan lays out what you’re going to do, in what order, and how you’ll measure progress and effectiveness.
You’ll assign team members to different tasks, allocate necessary resources, and agree on accountability.
Ensure your action plan template includes the following information:
- Account objectives and priority levels
- Project timelines and milestones
- Assigned team members
- Goal review criteria
- Resources required
- Potential risks
As promised, here’s our strategic account planning template to help you get started:
How to implement account planning in your business
There are three steps to implementing account planning in your business:
- Assess your key accounts thoroughly
- Create actionable plans for each
- Measure the right metrics
1. Assess your key accounts thoroughly
Not all your accounts need extensive planning. Focus on your high-profile, scalable accounts with high revenue potential.
Once you’ve identified your highest-value accounts, it’s time to assess their needs. You’ll typically do this over the course of the relationship, but the first needs-assessment exercise is crucial.
Over a client call, you’ll ask about their goals, challenges, stakeholders, and processes. This information will be captured in their account planning document.
Your goal is to:
- Understand your customer’s organizational chart and key players
- Outline their buying process and selling points
- Summarize your customer’s business strategy
- Know your customer’s key business initiatives
- Identify sales opportunities, targets, and risks
- Audit your customer’s products and revenue
- Analyze your customer’s competition
2. Create actionable plans for each account
After your research, you’ll develop actionable plans for each account.
These plans will include a summary of your account analysis, the long-term and short-term initiatives to help your customers meet their goals, and how you’ll monitor and evaluate performance.
You’ll share this account plan with your client’s team of stakeholders before execution.
3. Measure the right metrics
After executing the account plan, it’s essential to track progress over time. You’ll do this by:
- Measuring the plan against project milestones and timelines
- Tracking the effect on revenue and customer satisfaction
- Soliciting feedback from the client
The KPIs you track will differ from one account to another, and will depend on the type of processes and resources in place.
FreeAgent CRM software makes strategic account planning easier
Tracking everything in spreadsheets is a great first step. But over time, this can add friction to the strategic account planning process.
Having to flit between spreadsheets to find information quickly gets cumbersome, and such context-switching hampers productivity.
That’s where CRM software comes in.
With CRM software like FreeAgent CRM, you can add important notes about each account within the contact record itself.
See all the crucial information about a company in one place, from their objectives and key stakeholders to their goals and relationship history.
FreeAgent CRM also allows you to add helpful tags and fields to different contacts and accounts, such as “Open to upsell,” “Churn risk,” and more.
This keeps everyone on your team aware of account changes and potential threats and opportunities.
What’s more, you can track all your action plans, monitor, and assign tasks to different team members, and generate reports. Track what’s blocking your projects and unblock them quickly.
You can also connect your work apps and bring your emails into FreeAgent CRM, and send emails directly from the app.
Take FreeAgent for a spin today – no credit card required. We’re confident you’ll love it.