The Fundamental Guide to Account Planning

Key account management is as much a science as it is an art. Create a consistent approach to how you build background information on critical clients, develop a sales approach, and build a relationship based on proactive management and support. 

Without an overhanging, strategic framework, it's hard to develop a playbook of tactics that protect your brand reputation and cultivate long-term business relationships — let alone train your team on how to do the same thing. In this ultimate guide to account planning, you'll learn more about:

  • How to create key account and sales account plans
  • Best practices for strategic account planning
  • The growing role of automation and technology in key account planning and management
  • How to find the right key account management software for your organization

Table of Contents

What is a Key Account Plan?

The 4-Step Guide to Creating a Sales Account Plan

The Role of Automation in Strategic Account Planning

Do's and Don'ts When Creating a Key Account Plan Template

Why Modern Businesses Are Changing Their Account Planning Methods

5 Steps to More Proactive Key Account Planning

Are You Utilizing Strategic Account Mapping Successfully?

How CRM Integration Is Changing the Strategic Account Planning Process

5 Things to Look for in a Strategic Account Planning Software

What Is a Key Account Plan?

A key account plan is your methodical strategy for ensuring your key client has an enjoyable customer experience throughout the life of the account. It's your roadmap for reaching out to the client to grow the relationship, tracking their deliverables, renewing contracts, or securing more orders. 

In most businesses, approximately 20% of your accounts are responsible for 80% of your business. These high-volume accounts make up your key accounts, though clients with influential ties in your industry can also be key accounts. 

Every business has its own unique approach to crafting key account plans that position its brand favorably and ensure that the relationship is providing value both for the client and the organization.

A key account plan often has these essential elements:

  • An overview of the account's business, pain points, and contacts within the client organization
  • Long-term objectives for both the client and the sales team
  • Action items stretching from day one with the key account to fulfilling and resetting the long-term objectives
  • A change management process for assessing the key account over time so the account manager can recognize if they are succeeding with the account or if they need to take additional steps to cultivate or save the relationship

Learn more about what a key account plan is and how it can help grow your revenue here.

The 4-Step Guide to Creating a Sales Account Plan

Creating a sales account plan is a critical part of ensuring a new client — whether they're a key account or a new business — doesn't fall through the cracks or have a substandard experience.

Create a standard operating procedure you and your account management team can use to consistently create sales account plans for each new account. We recommend following these four steps:

1. Divide the Accounts

Your business will have multiple different types of accounts based on their recurring revenue, strategic value, size, potential, and other factors. Categorize your accounts into key accounts, strategic accounts, and other divisions so you can develop specialized teams devoted to the different types.

2. Assess Their Needs

For each account, take a deep look at their overarching goals, their short-term goals, the opportunity for upsells, and other ways the account manager can satisfy their needs while growing the account.

3. Create the Sales Account Plan

Develop a sales plan of step-by-step actions the account manager can perform to both grow the account relationship and satisfy current orders.

4. Implement the Plan

Now that there is a fleshed-out plan with supporting details and rationales, it's time for the AM to take the first step.

Read our in-depth guide to creating sales account plans to get started.

The Role of Automation in Strategic Account Planning

Businesses are turning to automation for a lot of their revenue and administrative functions. After all, newly developed AI and machine-learning systems can quickly enter, analyze, and compile data. 

Integrations and increasingly sophisticated connections between different business tools can copy data from one platform to another with far fewer errors or manhours than manual systems. As a general rule, automation is making businesses more efficient, faster, and more client-ready.

However, automation and artificial intelligence aren't tools for replacing humans. Instead, they're ways to allow humans to focus on creative or critical thinking-based tasks that manual data entry often interfered with.

In account management, for example, clients still want human interaction and personal attention to ensure their needs are being sufficiently (and proactively!) met. Account managers can use automation to quickly fill data into CRMs and account management software platforms, generate reports that capture trends and insight, and manage repetitive tasks.

In turn, AMs can spend their time developing strategies for each client, focusing on building relationships, and resolving unique challenges and one-offs that automated systems simply can't handle.

Learn more about where automation does and doesn't fit into strategic account management.

Do's and Don'ts When Creating a Key Account Plan Template

Earlier, we discussed the value of creating key account plans. Having a repeatable process can guide your team and new account managers in the future so they can quickly and consistently create sales account plans that meet your business's standards. Another tool for guaranteeing consistent quality and key account management practices is to develop a key account plan template. 

This simple tool will provide a starting point for account managers so they can organize their information and hit the ground running with a time-tested management approach. Key account management software with customized templates can make the approach even easier.

You and your team can develop a gallery of template styles to fit each account type or have different drag and drop elements so KAMs can record their thoughts and account-critical details.

This blend of consistency and personalization allows your team to make each plan their own while still making the plans universal enough for team leads and new AMs to easily understand the documents. 

Key account plan templates should include these standard blocks:

  • A simple overview section with business details, contact information, and a brief summary of the relationship.
  • A robust objectives section where the account manager can identify short-term and long-term client needs, pain points that the client has experienced before or with other services providers, and their own expectations for service.
  • An area for competitive analysis and risk analysis so account managers can strategize on best practices for retaining the account and ensuring your organization is more appealing than competitors.
  • A timeline of actionable tasks so AMs can create a to-do list that doesn't rush the client or let them feel ignored.

Read more about the best practices for developing key account plan templates here.

Why Modern Businesses Are Changing Their Account Planning Methods

Developing your current clients into key accounts and focusing on recurring business is more predictable and more profitable than chasing after new clients. As a result, more and more organizations are focusing on customer service and account-based relationships to wow clients and ensure a longer-lasting relationship that benefits both sides.

This is a significant change in how businesses are handling their account management, but it's not the only change.

Organizations are also prioritizing technology and strategy development. This includes creating resources for remote work and communications, investing in key account management software with in-depth data and templates for account management, and focusing on collaborative tools that connect all branches of the revenue team. This results in a less siloed, more relationship-driven workplace.

Learn more about how and why modern businesses are changing with technological advances and shifts in account management mindsets here.

5 Steps to More Proactive Key Account Planning

Reactive account management is about solving problems, but that still means problems have to occur — and that's bad for business. Instead, more businesses are focusing on proactive key account planning to anticipate changing client needs and resolving problems before they reach the client or become a substantive problem.

This creates a smoother, more positive client experience. Five of the most important steps for incorporating this practice include:

1. Be an Ally

Instead of simply fulfilling sales and attempting to upsell clients at regular intervals, create a long-term success plan with your client. Discuss what their needs are year after year and what their expectations are both for your services and their total growth. Taking an authentic interest in their needs allows you to develop more personalized plans and create upsells that provide them with more value.

2. Assign a Key Account Champion

Instead of simply having key account managers mixed in with your other types of account managers, have a leader who represents and champions key accounts. They should engage with key account managers to ensure they have the resources they need, regularly communicate with business leaders so the value of your key accounts stays visible, and continually educate revenue teams about the needs of these unique accounts.

3. Make Sure the C-Suite Is on Board

Your C-suite team should receive regular updates on how your organization's key accounts are performing and the value they bring to your business. This turns them into opportunities, not just disruptive accounts that seem to require more hand-holding. It's also important to have your C-suite executives engage with key contacts. This allows for better feedback and more authentic connections.

4. Communicate With Your Team

While the key account manager for a key account may know how important a client is, the product delivery team, customer service representatives, and even the marketing team may not be equally informed. Ensure that all of the departments that serve each key account are kept informed of changes and new developments — negative and (even more importantly) positive. This builds more engagement across your revenue team.

5. Give Key Accounts Attention

Don't overwhelm key account managers. Key accounts require more attention than self-service accounts or accounts that fall more in line with your standard business practices. If your AMs have too many clients, things will start to slip through the cracks, and your clients may look elsewhere for service providers.

Learn about each of these strategies in more depth here.

Are You Utilizing Strategic Account Mapping Successfully?

Strategic account mapping is all about identifying critical contacts in a strategic account client's organization. By identifying contacts, decision-makers, and how different agents within the client organization interact, your team can better communicate the value you're providing and anticipate changes in client needs.

Recording all of the client details in an account map helps your team stay on top of shifting contacts due to turnover; it's also a good resource for when your own team has turnover or you need to reach out to a key account while the typical AM is out of the office.

Learn more about how to make your strategic account mapping practices stronger.

How CRM Integration Is Changing the Strategic Account Planning Process

Customer relationship management tools (CRMs) and key account management tools (KAMs) need to talk to each other, but they can't replace each other.

CRMs are generally used for cultivating new business and organizing a prospective lead's journey so it's as fulfilling as possible. KAMs help organize account details and long-term strategies to support the account manager over time.

Despite these distinct purposes, the two platforms need to share profile details and sales details so your organization fully understands revenue and can create accurate forecasts.

Read our in-depth article about how your business's CRM fits into how strategic and key account management processes.

5 Things to Look for in a Strategic Account Planning Software

Strategic account planning software needs to offer account managers critical resources and organization so they can manage contact details, short-term and long-term goals, and actionable tasks so the account stays as healthy as possible. We recommend looking for strategic account planning software that allows you to achieve all of the account planning fundamentals we discussed in this guide. Five of the most critical elements include:

  1. Interactive Org Charts
  2. CRM Integration
  3. Reporting Functions
  4. Deliverables Tracking
  5. Planning Templates 

Explore these 5 specific elements of strategic account planning more in detail here.

Contact Kapta for Account Planning Support

At Kapta, we've created a complete software platform with the resources and organizational tools account managers need to stay on top of key and strategic accounts.

Revenue teams can use our platform to share information, analyze trends, manage deliverables and upsell opportunities, and more. Schedule a demo or contact our team today to see how Kapta can support your organization.

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CEO at Kapta
Alex Raymond is the CEO of Kapta.