How to Create a Sales Account Plan that Works for You

By Mark Donnolo

Strategic sales account planning has created more than its fair share of heartburn in sales organizations.

But it doesn’t have to. Account planning gets a lot of attention because it works, but it shouldn’t be overly complex or laborious. Salespeople don’t need to be tied to desks for extended periods of time – and most top salespeople will tell you planning makes them better.

The first step in sales account planning is to use the right structure. I’ve seen plans within the same sales organization that are so wildly different sales leaders had to spend hours trying to decode and orient themselves to each one. Not an efficient use of time. Your sales account plan should follow the same basic structure throughout the company and not be designed only so that sales leaders can quickly find key information. Key information – customized for your business – should consistently be included in your sales account plan.

The following six basic components should be in every sales account plan.

Component #1: Profile and Position

This gives an overview of the account and the strengths and weaknesses of the relationships. It answers the question, “Where are we now?” Consider including the following sections:  

  • History. This is your history with the account from a financial, buyer, and product or service perspective.
  • Addressable market. Look at the customer as a market in itself. The addressable market is the total annual spend it makes for services your company can provide. For some businesses, this information might be known at a high level, such as total IT or software spend if you’re selling technology services. For other businesses, this information may be harder to come by.
  • Current pipeline. The pipeline reveals information about your current pursuits and progress within the account. This is useful to understand where you have momentum and where you can build. If your organization uses a CRM system (accurately), good pipeline information should be easy to obtain.
  • Financial summary. A financial summary shows the historic performance in the account from different perspectives, including prior years’ revenue, bookings, profit, and performance to plan or budget.
  • Competitive landscape. This includes competitors by offer and their value propositions, strengths, and vulnerabilities.
  • SWOT. Finally, include a classic analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats with this customer. Remember, the SWOT analysis is from your company’s perspective regarding the customer.

Component #2: Needs Mapping and Alignments

This describes your understanding of the customer needs and the organizational alignments of your team to the account. This section answers the question, “Who are the buyers and how do we align?” Consider including the following sections:  

  • Summary of customer needs as an organization
  • Your account team
  • Account map of buyers and your team

Component #3: Goals and Strategy

This section describes your overall objectives for the account and how you will get to your goal. It answers the questions, “What are our objectives, and what’s our overall direction to achieve them?” It includes the goal build that takes the overall growth objective for the account and builds up the components of how the team’s going to reach that objective.

Component #4: Action Plan

The Action Plan takes each component of the goal build and develops a tactical plan to achieve the goal. It answers the question, “What is our plan to achieve each opportunity?” For each opportunity identified in the goal build, the action plan includes the challenge the customer is trying to address, a summary of your strategy, key steps, timing, and accountabilities.

Component #5: Team Support

Team Support describes how your organization needs to come together across functions to support the account plan. It answers the question, “What internal commitments do we need?” It includes key external dependencies for the strategy. These may be factors such as market conditions, client conditions, and political/environmental conditions that are out of your control.

It also includes the internal dependencies for the strategy across functions (e.g., delivery, innovation, marketing, finance, legal, HR). By identifying dependencies and required support, you’ve established the conditions you need (e.g., a stable economic environment, passage of certain regulations) and your expectations of the investments from the company that will be required to accomplish the goals in the plan. For example, you may require new team members in sales and support roles to have the capacity to work with all the decision makers and influences in the customer.

Component #6: Performance Dashboard

The Performance Dashboard sets milestones and tracks your progress to those milestones; it also helps identify any adjustments that need to be made. It answers the questions, “How have we performed? How should we adjust?” Consider including the following sections:  

  • Dashboard with dimensions for each tactical action plan component (e.g., action, timing, accountability)
  • Commitments, updated regularly for each tactical action plan component
  • Financial, offer, and buyer goals and year-to-date progress toward those goals.
  • Actual performance to goal by division, product, etc.

Note: The Performance Dashboard section may be hosted online for full access and visibility by the team and executives.

We’ve seen this structure work especially well when account teams complete the first three sections before coming together to discuss goals and strategy. With all the past and present information at hand, it becomes easier to plan for the future.

Mark Donnolo is managing partner of SalesGlobe and author of The Innovative Sale: Unleash Your Creativity for Better Customer Solutions and Extraordinary Results and What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation.