How to build a killer account plan for your sales territory
About 15 years ago, I was fortunate to interview the president of USC while he was in the middle of a multi-hundred-million dollar fund-raising drive for the university and had just secured a $50M donation to rename one of the schools.
I asked him how he did it. He said, “Arnie, it comes down to 3 things; preparation, preparation, and preparation.”
Whether you are raising $50M for a university or selling a $100k software solution for a SaaS company, preparation is the key to success—the better prepared you are, the better you will stand out from the crowd and the better first impression you will make.
The best way to prepare is to build an account plan for each of the key prospects in your territory. An account plan has 4 major sections:
Goal—what you want to accomplish with the prospect, and by when.
Research—an overview of the prospect’s situation; financials, key execs, customers, competitors and current solutions.
Stakeholders—a profile of the key buyer personas you need to connect with.
Discovery Questions—the specific questions you are going to ask in your first meeting.
It’s a lot of information to gather up but spending 2-3 days on account planning ahead of a 90 day sales cycle is an investment that pays dividends every time. Let’s go through each section one by one:
Write down what you want to accomplish with the prospect. This is important so that you don’t get distracted and wander down rabbit-holes during the sales process.
Target ARR (or target bookings). Plan for the Target ARR across all your key prospects to be 3-4x your quota, to account for the likelihood that you are not going to win every deal.
Target close date—e.g. November 2021. Try to stagger your target close dates across your quota period (i.e. don’t aim to close them all in the same month). This will set you up to give each deal the right amount of attention.
This is the biggest section and its purpose is to set you up to make a great first impression by having an elevated conversation from day one. Buyers generally like to talk about themselves and their problems, rather than you and your solutions, so the faster you can demonstrate empathy for your prospect’s situation and challenges, the stronger first impression you will make.
There are 5 areas of research to focus on, each with a specific purpose:
Financials—gives you an idea of the prospect’s appetite to spend money.
Key Execs—gives you an idea of the prospect’s biases towards your product and willingness to make a change.
Customers—gives you a starting point for how your prospect describes their challenges in their own vernacular.
Competitors—gives you an idea of what keeps your prospects up at night.
Existing Solutions—gives you an idea of your competition.
The 3 financial metrics to focus on are Revenue, Expenses and Profit. You want to understand where each metric is today and how it is trending, as it gives you an idea of the company’s tolerance for spending money—a company with huge revenue, slow growth and thin profits is going to scrutinize major new expenses far more so than one with moderate revenue but high growth and solid profits.
The best sources for this information are:
Public companies: 10K/10Q reports (just Google “company name 10K”). These are a goldmine of info. I am going to do a post next month on how to get what you need out of them.
Private companies: Funding announcements, press releases and headcount growth—if a company hasn’t raised money in a while and headcount isn’t growing, they are going to more cautious in approving new expenses than one who has just done a raise and is hiring like crazy.
Key Exec Research
The 3 questions you want to answer about the key execs at your prospect company are:
Who is the CEO and what is their sentiment towards your domain—this is important because the CEO’s sentiment influences the rest of the company. For example, a company led by a sales-centric CEO will be more likely to invest in sales and marketing before technology, whereas a company led by a product-centric CEO will be more likely to do the opposite. You can get a good idea of a CEO’s sentiment from their public statements, Twitter feed, LinkedIn posts and career history—execs’ strongest points of view are commonly formed by their early career successes.
Who is the top exec in charge of the function you are selling into—for example, the CTO, CMO, CIO, CFO etc. Even if they aren’t one of your key buyer personas, they will still be involved somewhere in the approval process for your deal as most 6-figure purchases go through several layers of exec approval for compliance and control reasons. You want to get ahead of any biases they have—for example if a CTO is a huge proponent of open-source software, you are going to need to emphasize the interoperability and lower maintenance overhead of your product, likewise if a CMO is heavy on performance marketing, you are going to need to emphasize how your product improves their CAC or LTV.
How long has the top exec been in the role—the longer someone has been in a role, the more entrenched they will be with their current vendor lineup, as they will have had the chance to change out vendors to align with their strategy. The shorter someone has been in a role, the more likely they are to want to shake things up, try new solutions and change out existing vendors. Easy to figure this out from LinkedIn.
You want to develop a starting point for how your prospect describes their challenges in their own vernacular, so that you can ask questions and frame your value proposition using similar language. The best way to do this is to figure out who your prospect’s customers are and how they talk about them:
If they sell to businesses—who are their key logos, which industries and geos are they in, how do they describe them (e.g. clients, customers, partners) and how do they segment them (e.g. enterprise, emerging, mid-market, SMB).
If they sell to consumers—who are their key personas, how do they describe them (e.g. customers, guests, clientele), how do they segment them, how do they sell to them (e.g. direct, via distribution, via retail).
How do they describe the problem they solve—can get this from their website, press quotes and job postings. The key is to find and get comfortable using the language they use.
The goal here is simply to understand the category your prospect is in and who they compete with directly, so that you can use relevant insights from your own data to drive engagement. For a deeper dive on this topic, check out my earlier post.
Existing Solutions Research
You want to understand what you are trying to displace. There are generally 3 types of existing solutions that you run into:
Homegrown solution—winging it with spit and duct tape, paper and people, maybe an internally developed tool. These are the low-hanging fruit for you.
Direct competitor—if a prospect is using your direct competitor, you need to know how long it’s been since they bought the product and whether the person who bought it is still in the role.
Legacy incumbent—older companies will often have solutions that are 10-20 years old. Even if your product is demonstrably better, it’s a long sales cycle to displace these incumbents because of poor documentation on how they’ve been customized and a high risk of something breaking.
The best sources for this info are job postings (looking for people with expertise in certain systems), competitor sales pitches (everyone touts their key logos), your own CRM (as someone at your company may have talked to the prospect in the past).
Your Ideal Customer Profile should have already outlined the key personas involved in buying your product. For each persona map the following stakeholders:
Job Title—e.g. CFO, VP Finance
Buying Role—e.g. champion, economic buyer, influencer.
Challenges—start with the common challenges outlined in your ideal customer profile doc and narrow them down using what you’ve learned through research.
Key Metrics—for public companies you can often find their key metrics referenced in their 10K/10Q. For private companies the best approach is to start with financial metrics and use the discovery process to learn what additional metrics your prospect focuses on.
Relationship—i.e. strong/weak, positive/negative. If your company has been around for a few years, there may have been prior conversations with the prospect documented in your CRM. This can be a good source of intel in addition to anything you’ve gleaned in the research stage above.
4. Discovery Questions
Your ideal customer profile should have example discovery questions for each challenge. All you need to do is write them down in your account plan, so that you can easily pull them up for your intro call, and tweak the language using what you’ve learned from your research.
That’s it. Phew! A lot of work I know but trust me it will pay off for you down the line.
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