March 6, 2024
March 7, 2024

Strategic Account Planning: How to Increase Lifetime Value

Account planning is a critical process for strengthening relationships, driving growth, and increasing customer lifetime value.

However, many companies fail to invest the time required to develop comprehensive account plans. In this post, we'll walk through a tactical framework for researching your accounts, constructing detailed plans, monitoring success, and leveraging AI to scale the process.

Follow this step-by-step account planning guide to set your team up for enduring account success.

What Is Account Planning?

Account Planning, particularly in sales, is a strategic approach to maximize sales effectiveness and customer satisfaction.

This process gives dedicated key account managers a robust strategy to handle, nurture, and cultivate customer accounts, particularly strategic accounts, offering a deeper understanding of the customers' needs and values.

Sales account planning implies creating an organized, in-depth, and customer-focused strategy by sales teams to manage existing customer relationships and potential business opportunities efficiently.

This integrating process strengthens the overall sales process by enabling the company to identify opportunities and challenges within the customer's business structure.

An account planning template is a valuable tool that provides structure to the account planning efforts.

This template helps to consolidate and evaluate critical information about the customers - their industry, competition, key decision-makers, and unique business needs. This systematic documentation enables the sales teams to develop customized and value-driven solutions, thus optimizing the sales account plan.

Sales account planning also employs strategic account management, an approach that specifically targets and manages existing customers of the business.

Under this concept, dedicated key account managers are tasked to ensure these strategic customers are prioritized, and their needs are met effectively.

Account planning tools play a significant role in effective account planning, aiding in the systematic collection, interpretation, and management of valuable customer data.

These digital solutions empower the sales teams to proactively monitor, analyze, and strategize their account planning efforts, leading to better relationship management and increased sales.

Finally, effective account planning isn't a one-time activity but a continuous process of learning, understanding, and executing. Utilizing a strategic account planning template facilitates this process, providing a blueprint for systematically managing customer accounts, identifying cross and up-selling opportunities, mapping competitive threats, and fostering long-term, fruitful relationships with customers.

Why Account Planning Matters

Taking a strategic approach to planning for each of your key accounts has a multitude of benefits:

Increases Customer Lifetime Value

By aligning your actions directly with customer goals and metrics, you ensure you are delivering maximum value. This leads to higher retention rates, share of wallet, and lifetime value from each account.

Some specific ways account planning increases lifetime value include:

  • Identifying upsell and cross-sell opportunities earlier in the customer journey
  • Building loyalty through highly personalized service and support
  • Gaining share of wallet by displacing competitors within accounts
  • Securing contract renewals and expansions proactively

To quantify the increase in lifetime value, analyze metrics like average order value, purchase frequency, customer tenure, and customer referrals before and after implementing account plans.

Strengthens Customer Relationships

Getting deep visibility into account needs, challenges, and objectives allows you to provide tailored support. This level of personalization strengthens engagement across stakeholder relationships.

Specific relationship-building benefits of account planning include:

  • Learning the goals and success metrics valued by each stakeholder
  • Understanding past pains and friction points to avoid
  • Mapping the decision-making hierarchy and processes
  • Identifying which contacts influence initiatives

This intelligence allows you to segment stakeholders based on needs and priorities. You can then develop targeted messaging and value proposals for each segment to boost engagement.

Drives Account Growth Opportunities

Comprehensive planning exposes expansion areas you may have otherwise missed, leading to increased account growth through upsells and cross-sells.

Analyze current solution penetration, upcoming projects, and stated needs to uncover specific upsell and cross-sell opportunities. Quantify the expansion potential by estimating:

  • Applicable deal size
  • Likelihood to close
  • Expected sales cycle length

Build these opportunities directly into the account plan and arm reps with value-based pitches to accelerate growth.

Researching the Account Landscape

Before constructing an account plan, you need to deeply understand the landscape. Key areas to research include:

Gather Background on Company and Industry

Get context on the account's history, financials, organizational structure, business model, products, and overall industry dynamics.

Leverage both internal resources (CRM, past sales materials) and external sources (news sites, company website, financial filings) to build a comprehensive profile covering:

  • Founding story and key milestones
  • Current leadership team and org structure
  • Funding rounds, revenue, profitability
  • Market position and share
  • Strategic priorities and past initiatives

This background equips you to hold more strategic discussions anchored around their objectives.

Identify Goals and Success Metrics

Uncover the stated and implied goals across departments and roles through conversations and past interactions. This allows you to tie activities back to measurable outcomes.

Common goals to explore include:

  • IT: Security, reliability, scalability, cost management
  • Marketing: Pipeline growth, brand awareness, lower CAC
  • Sales: Win rates, deal sizes, reduced cycle times
  • Finance: IRR, margins, cash flow, cost savings

Identify both short-term and long-range objectives across functions to incorporate into planning.

Conduct Competitive Analysis

Analyze positioning and penetration of competitors across the account to expose potential displacement opportunities and win themes. Refer to our GTM AI post for AI-powered competitive intelligence ideas.

Gather intel during meetings and discovery calls on:

  • Where competitors are embedded
  • The value they currently provide
  • Known pain points or gaps

Look for changes like leadership turnover, budget shifts, or growth goals as triggers for competitive displacements.

Map Relationships and Influencers

Visually map out the key contacts and decision makers, highlighting process influencers that can accelerate initiatives.

Identify who controls budget, defines requirements, evaluates options, and gives final approval.

Call out key attributes like tenure, risk tolerance, and past project history to inform messaging and actions.

Creating an Effective Account Plan

With research completed, it's time to construct your plan. Be sure to include:

Historical Overview of Account

Document factors like past deals, expansions, strategic projects, and account communications to preserve institutional knowledge.

Construct a visual timeline of key milestones including:

  • Initial deal signed and subsequent renewals
  • Follow-on sales with products and pricing
  • Leadership changes or restructures
  • Major initiatives you partnered on
  • Expansions into new departments or geos

This historical view enables you to showcase expertise while identifying patterns and triggers to guide planning.

Outline Goals Aligned to Customer KPIs

Translate your understanding of account objectives into tangible goals tied back to their success metrics.

For each stakeholder, define:

  • Applicable metrics they use to track success
  • Current performance levels
  • Target performance levels
  • The impact your solution can drive

This allows you to quantify potential value and demonstrate clear ROI.

Detail Targeted Upsell/Cross-sell Opportunities

Call out specific expansion areas uncovered through your research along with estimated deal size potential.

For each opportunity specify:

  • Product/Service being proposed
  • Target buyer and decision makers
  • Expected deal size or contract value
  • Likely budget source
  • Proof points and ROI analysis

Prioritize opportunities delivering maximum value backed by solid proof points.

Define Timeline and Tasks for Your Team

Break initiatives down into owner, due date, and status to coordinate cross-functional efforts and track progress.

Across sales, marketing, service and support, detail:

  • Specific actions and tasks required
  • Person responsible for each
  • Target due dates
  • Status indicators (not started, in progress, complete)

Add this directly into your CRM workflow or project management tool so progress automatically updates.

Monitoring and Updating the Plan

To keep account plans current, you need to continually review and refine them:

Schedule Regular Plan Reviews

Set calendar invitations for your account team to revisit the plan, covering changing dynamics, blockers, and next steps.

Cadence can be monthly or quarterly depending on account size. Include sales leadership when possible to secure buy-in.

Send prep materials like updated lifetime value metrics ahead of each review to enable productive working sessions.

Realign Based on Changing Account Needs

As new intel emerges from meetings and conversations, evolve the plan to align with shifting objectives.

Watch for triggers like new leadership, completed projects, mergers & acquisitions, or changes in growth that warrant plan realignment.

Update stakeholder profiles if new decision makers emerge. Refresh goals and timelines if priorities shift.

Leverage AI to Automatically Update Plans

AI solutions like Workflows can automatically analyze communications and activity to surface insights for updating account plans. This eliminates manual analysis while keeping plans current.

Configure rules to scan email, calendar invites, and call logs to detect:

  • Emerging upsell opportunities
  • Friction points needing resolution
  • Leadership changes or reorgs

As insights are detected, automated alerts trigger recommended updates to the account plan.

Continually Refine Planning Process

Learn from each planning cycle to develop account intelligence faster and construct even more effective plans over time.

Look back at win/loss performance, sales cycle lengths, and expansion rates to identify what worked well and areas needing refinement.

Build best practices back into the research framework, planning templates, and account analysis tools to maximize performance over time.

Thorough account planning is invaluable for customers and companies alike, leading to enduring partnerships that drive mutual growth. Use this guide to implement a scalable framework tailored to your team and accounts. Consistently planning and evolving that strategy based on changing customer needs is critical to maximizing lifetime value.

To discuss how AI could accelerate your account planning process, schedule a demo of the Workflow platform. Our AI solution can automatically analyze historical account data and communications to surface strategic insights for planning. This eliminates the manual heavy lifting while keeping plans dynamic.

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