You need a watertight account management plan to keep customers happy, entice repeat business and inspire brand advocacy.
Building one will help you understand and account for buyers’ needs, challenges and competitive landscapes.
In this article, you’ll learn how to create a reliable account management plan that helps you improve customer retention, uncover cross-sell and upsell opportunities and win new business with minimal effort. We’ll also provide a handy checklist for your account management plan.
What is an account management plan and do I need one?
An account management plan is a strategy that aims to retain and maximize the value of every customer. The term “account management plan” can refer to:
A physical or digital document that tells you important information about a customer. It includes their goals, pain points, priorities, competitors, decision-making processes and purchase criteria.
In this article, we’ll focus on the process of building an account management plan.
The value of strategic account management
To understand the value of a key account management strategy or plan, it’s most helpful to think about the pitfalls of not having one.
Keeping customer relationships on track without an account management plan is more difficult and time-intensive. Every challenge is a surprise that can use up days, weeks, money or extra staffing to overcome. With no time left to strategize or organize resources, you’ll struggle to deliver positive experiences.
For example, entering a customer relationship without knowing the company’s key stakeholders might begin the following chain of unfortunate events:
It takes weeks rather than hours or days to get approval on deliverables because you’re chasing contacts in order to find the right decision-maker
As a result, you struggle to provide value early in the relationship
You then fail to impress the customer or gain their trust
The customer decides they’re not getting enough value and ends the relationship
Instead, you could build an introductory customer questionnaire into your account management plan with a field for key figures’ roles and responsibilities.
If you make that information accessible using a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, every team member will know who to contact first.
How to plan for more profitable client relationships
Every customer relationship is unique because the circumstances and priorities of each customer are different. However, you can follow the same high-level process to set any account up for long-term success.
Below we’ve grouped the process into three stages: understanding your customer, building your strategy and executing your strategy. Use this as a repeatable roadmap to connect with a new customer.
Understand your customer
If you’re going to put your customer and their needs first (an approach known as “consultative selling”), you’ll need to learn who they are and what they value.
Here are four ways to do that.
Build a profile
Write down everything you already know about your customer – ideally in a CRM so it’s always accessible.
Include information such as:
This is the foundation of your customer profile. At the start of your data collection, you may only have a few fundamental facts, like industry or location. The picture will become clearer and more useful as you add details from conversations, company data and research.
As the profile becomes more comprehensive, it’ll get easier to personalize your services and increase customer satisfaction. For example, if a candid conversation reveals a competitor had neglected your customer, you might send a reassuring message so they know you’ll be in more frequent contact.
Start gaining trust
With your account profile created and the details falling into place, you can start developing those relationships with good relationship selling. Do this in the following ways:
Encourage your account managers to develop soft skills
Center the needs of prospective customers in your interactions
Be empathetic toward the challenges they face
Develop trust by being authentic and honest
Trust, in particular, is essential to forming and maintaining valuable customer relationships. Developing this kind of bond between customer and business takes time, so start early in the sales process.
Give your accounts visual journeys and checklists, if possible. A welcome email series can walk your new accounts through the necessary steps to get started with your company.
To really personalize your account management, go further than automated emails. Arrange a kick-off meeting to formally introduce your business and team to the people they’ll work with.
Use that meeting and the communication around it to:
If you can’t organize a meeting in person, create a client workspace and include a section for onboarding. You can send a video to explain the next steps, preserving everyone’s time while delivering the human touch.
In addition, you can create a centralized knowledge base, providing all the information your client may need about your company and the services you offer your accounts.
Above all, be honest and transparent. Set expectations and explain any learning curves the customer may experience. The more predictable the buyer’s journey is, the happier they’re likely to be.
Your prospecting and nurturing will have uncovered the customer’s main challenges, so you should know from a high level what you aim to achieve (you’ll dive deeper into objectives in the next phase).
Now, work out what that journey will look like.
For example, what does the customer want from your relationship? Maybe they’d appreciate weekly check-ins, while others may prefer to be left alone until a need arises.
They might want one dedicated account manager or prefer to have specialists on hand for each service or product feature.
Understanding these kinds of expectations will allow you to deliver the exact service your customer wants from day one.
Understand your customer’s customers
When you understand the value your customers provide to their customers, you can do more to help them excel.
Say you sell project management software to a digital marketing agency.
You know your client works with small business owners who value transparency so you emphasize your product’s report-sharing functionality. That ability to share customized reports helps your client keep their customers updated and happy.
Talk to your customer to start the research process. Discuss their buyer personas and ideal customer profiles (ICPs) to build your understanding. You can also read their blog content and treat social media as a window into their interactions.
Build your strategy
Careful planning helps you spot winning opportunities and reduce risks. Use the knowledge you gained during the first phase to build a roadmap.
Plot the route to success
How will you help your customer succeed and what does their success look like?
Your product’s features are a natural starting point. For example, say the digital marketing agency from the example above wants to better organize its documents. The account manager could then explain how their project planning tool works and set up a personalized demo.
To surpass direct competitors, emphasize the value of your relationship as a whole, rather than just the item or service you sell. Focus on building a value-selling framework and you will sell more of your products and services in the long run.
Useful value-adds include:
Match each value point to a customer objective. For example, the marketing agency customer wants to increase productivity to improve sales performance. Your 24-hour support line will help them minimize downtime.
Turn your objectives into commitments
Turn those objectives and value-adds into commitments to add extra accountability to your relationship.
Instead of promising “around-the-clock” product support, commit to responding to all queries within 30 minutes at peak times and within two hours during off-peak times.
Rather than promising “robust data security”, list the measures you’ll take to keep your customer’s information safe. That could be two-factor authentication (2FA) or biannual security patches.
Your customers will know what to expect when you agree on specific actions rather than making broad promises.
These measurable commitments are key performance indicators (KPIs) that define success and failure in the relationship. Without them, your promises will be open to interpretation from either side, which could lead to you disappointing your key accounts.
A service-level agreement (SLA) can help you formalize expectations. It’s a document (often digital) that lays out the metrics by which that service is measured and what happens next should the agreed standards not be reached.
Execute your strategy to grow
You’ve laid sturdy foundations and are ready to progress, but the hard work doesn’t stop there. Maintain your relationship by staying mindful of the customer’s needs.
Re-align yourself with the customer
Reconnect with the customer to reiterate your plans and promises. Take any further questions and commit to moving forward together.
Showing your hard work so far will reaffirm your commitment to the relationship. It should get your customer feeling positive about the journey ahead.
Look for opportunities to impress
Delivering value beyond your commitments (or SLA if you have one) will help you to:
Keep customers happy and engaged. Customers have no reason to go elsewhere if you deliver better returns than expected.
Gain positive reviews. In a 2022 survey of technology buyers, 35% said they wanted vendors to provide customer reviews.
Create brand advocacy. Buyers can strengthen their own relationships by recommending your brand and its products to others, essentially expanding your prospects for free.
Helpful gestures of all sizes count as going above and beyond. For example, you could introduce a customer to one of your partners who can help them refine their B2B sales strategy. On a smaller level, you might highlight or fix a spelling mistake on the client’s website.
Keep refining your approach
Your customers’ businesses will evolve like yours. Revisit your key account planning process regularly to ensure you’re always providing optimal value.
Say you run a design agency and one of your clients hires an in-house designer. You could adjust your processes to increase collaboration. For example, you might encourage more communication during the content ideation and approval stages.
Plan for changes to your business too. If a team member is planning to leave, assess the impact that could have on your client and aim to minimize disruption. Actions might include creating a handover, giving the client notice of the change and introducing them to the new employee early.
Cheat sheet: Our account management plan checklist
Once you’ve worked through the account management planning process a few times, the sequence should become second nature.
The account planning template below will help you get familiar even faster. See it as an easy-to-follow action plan for building solid relationships from the ground up.
1. Understand your customer
2. Build your strategy
3. Execute your strategy to grow
Re-align yourself with the customer
Look for opportunities to impress
Keep refining your approach
A careful, strategic approach to account management increases customer loyalty. That will improve your company’s profitability.
As well as boosting customer retention rates, it’ll help your sales team have more productive conversations.
With planning milestones in mind, salespeople can enter every meeting knowing exactly how they or their account management team will approach the relationship. That means they can reassure leads that the journey ahead will be thoughtful with all customer needs considered.
Your sales reps will still need the initiative to close deals but your account management strategy should optimize the lifetime value of every new customer.