How to Boost Sales Productivity with Account Planning

16 minute read

Let’s face it, B2B sales can’t happen without good leads. Winning sales teams know strong leads must be converted into successful sales transactions. Sales productivity involves how efficiently and effectively a sales team can generate revenue—while managing costs and resources, building customer relationships, and staying competitive in the market.

If sales productivity isn’t achieved effectively—through high lead conversion rates, efficient sales cycles and low sales costs—overhead goes up, and revenue goes down. Sales productivity becomes even more difficult for complex B2B accounts with large buying groups and multiple divisions involved in the decision-making process. 

Why account planning is essential to boost sales productivity

Account planning is the process of mapping out key aspects of a potential customer or account. A robust account planning discipline helps your sales teams more deeply understand your customers, build strong relationships, efficiently allocate resources, and drive more sales and revenue. 

Without account planning, the sales process is reduced to putting basic facts and information into a proposal and emailing it to the prospect. In a world with account planning, sales productivity is greater, revenue rises, and customers are better served. Let’s break down the benefits in greater detail:

  • Improved customer understanding: Account planning involves researching and analyzing each customer’s needs, preferences and requirements so your sales teams can collaborate with their customers to tailor .their approach and offer more valuable solutions.
  • Increased sales efficiency: By focusing on the most promising accounts and understanding their specific needs, sales teams can allocate their time and resources to more productive activities.
  • Enhanced relationship building: By consistently addressing customer needs and providing value, sellers can establish trust and credibility, grow customer loyalty, and increase repeat business.
  • Better cross-selling and up-selling: With a thorough understanding of each account, sales teams can identify opportunities more effectively—while nurturing increased customer satisfaction.
  • More accurate sales forecasting: By understanding customer decision-making and buying cycles, your teams can create a more predictable sales pipeline and plan their strategies accordingly.
  • Greater team collaboration: Account planning often involves multiple departments, such as marketing, customer success, and technical support. This cross-functional teamwork helps you foster more unified and effective customer account management.
  • Competitive advantage: A well-executed account planning strategy can provide an edge in the marketplace. Sales teams that anticipate customer needs are better positioned to offer superior solutions than competitors.

Next, we’ll outline key account planning strategies and how they improve sales productivity. 

Sales Productivity: More Than Increasing KPIs

Effective account planning isn’t “doing the same thing as before, only better.” Rather, it’s about people. It’s about relationships. Account planning focuses on your customers first—and the sales numbers follow. By gaining a thorough understanding, sales professionals can tailor their offerings to align precisely with what the customer values most. Key strategies for boosting sales productivity include:

Know your customer

True sales productivity hinges on a deep understanding of your customers. Without it, there’s a risk of misdirecting efforts towards less ideal prospects, squandering valuable time and resources. Our sales teams can identify and focus on the most promising opportunities by fully understanding customer preferences and behaviors. This targeted approach makes successful sales and better relationships more likely. It’s simple enough: aligning with customer requirements is the direct path to sales productivity and achieving more sustainable business outcomes.

Know the people that matter

Efficient selling requires identifying key players within an account—people who have true influence over purchasing decisions. By focusing on these pivotal contacts, your team can channel their energy and resources toward nurturing relationships, streamlining the sales process and ultimately, closing deals. Sellers often doggedly chase the wrong people, which is worse than not chasing at all! Valuable time is misdirected rather than used to understand your customer’s key pain points, motivations, and internal relationships.

Know your customers’ goals

Too many sellers start with what their product can do and go from there. Successful account planning prioritizes your buyers’ unique needs and challenges over promoting products or solutions. Rather than starting with the offering, your team can delve into the specific business issues faced by their clients. This tailored, customer-centric approach ensures your solutions align with each customer’s complex challenges—enabling you to boost the relevance of your proposition and build stronger, more trust-based connections with your customers.

Know how to target whitespace

A significant way to bolster sales productivity is identifying untapped revenue opportunities, often called “whitespace,” within existing accounts. This key component of account planning involves analyzing current client relationships to uncover areas where additional products or services could be beneficial. Your sales teams can expand your offerings within known accounts, leveraging established trust and empathy with clients. Effectively, account planning is a key to unlocking additional value in established customer bases.

Insights: The Heart of Sales Productivity

By leveraging the right insights, your sales team can more deeply understand customer realities and market trends. This knowledge helps anticipate customer requirements and make informed decisions, leading to more effective strategies and enhanced sales performance.

Gathering a holistic view

Account planning insights go beyond surface-level customer details and delve deeper into who they are, their core values, and what drives their business. This process includes analyzing their operating model, market position, competitive landscape, and internal dynamics. It’s about getting to know their key challenges, goals, and motivations—and how industry trends, company culture, and individual decision-maker personalities influence them. This requires that sales teams work with their greater revenue teams. Together, they become trusted advisors, helping solve real business problems and supporting the customer’s strategic objectives.

Engaging the revenue team

Involving the entire revenue team in account plans is a key strategy for identifying and addressing gaps, risks, and opportunities. This inclusive approach brings together different perspectives and expertise, fostering a well-rounded and thorough understanding of the account’s potential by involving various team members such as sales, marketing and customer success. Sellers can strategize more effectively, pinpointing areas for improvement. Such a unified model maximizes account plans, strengthens team cohesion and ensures all efforts are aligned toward common goals and revenue targets. 

Employing deal qualification

Time is a seller’s most valuable asset. Deal qualification helps sellers devote their effort to deals that are winnable and worth winning. It’s a crucial practice that identifies the most viable and profitable opportunities. By focusing on deals more likely to close, teams can allocate their time and resources more effectively. Deal qualification requires teamwork and transparency—pooling knowledge regarding customer preferences, budget, authority, timeline, and compatibility with the seller’s offerings. Sales leaders who create a culture where people feel safe sharing information can outperform those who don’t. 

Analyzing customer data

High sales productivity requires sellers to identify trends, patterns, and hidden opportunities. By collecting and examining various data points, such as purchasing behaviors, preferences, feedback, and engagement history, your business can gain invaluable windows into customer needs, behaviors, and evolving market conditions. Recognizing patterns in the data allows you to identify new market opportunities and predict future trends. Data analysis is key to staying competitive, driving innovation, and achieving sustainable growth in a rapidly changing landscape.

Using data visualization

Defending and growing revenue in key accounts starts with making complex data more visual, comprehensible and actionable. Data visualization tools transform raw data into engaging charts, graphs, and maps, providing an intuitive understanding of customer behaviors and trends. Teams quickly grasp patterns, anomalies, and correlations. Through relationship and insight mapping, sellers see any buying group’s stakeholders, relationships and hidden motivations. Real-time data interaction allows sales teams to explore different scenarios, form a strategic plan and outflank theyour competition. 

The Sales Qualification Process: Q&A with Cisco’s Sarah Walker

Sarah Walker is the Managing Director for Enterprise Business at Cisco in the United Kingdom. She previously held myriad senior leadership roles at BT Group, including Director of Corporate and Public Sector Business.

At the start of her career with BT Group (formerly British Telecom), Sarah didn’t think much about qualifying deals. No one she knew did. And why would they?

“There was less competition then, less choice. So you didn’t have to work quite so hard or think so creatively about how to win,” remembers Sarah. “Often, you could get to the finish line on the brand name alone.” It meant thinking critically about which deals to pursue wasn’t part of her sales process. “We simply chased the deals that looked the easiest to win—the low-hanging fruit that would most quickly lead to cash.”

“I saw that good selling starts with customer focus and curiosity. You always have to have an outside-in lens. Anyone who’s focused on their products and business more than they are their customers is unlikely to do well.”

Her instincts served her well. Sarah started to discover things about her customers that other sellers overlooked. She started asking better questions and thinking more about the opportunities that landed before her. “There is so much value in having conversations around the qualification process and understanding the seller’s decision not to bid,” she says.

These conversations helped her team get better at qualification, engage with customers earlier and influence their decision processes more. “It moved us from talking about qualification to talking about account planning more broadly. It moved us in the right direction.”

In 2015, she got a chance to put this approach to the test. An RFP landed on her desk. Sarah’s bet paid off. “We built a brilliant relationship,” she says. “I’ve never seen such a success story at a sector level. We won every RFP that came to market for the solution that we built. I’m so proud of the team.”

And the success didn’t end there. Thanks to Sarah’s rigorous approach to qualification and uncompromising focus on relationship-building, her team created a foothold that grew by leaps and bounds. We asked Sarah about how it all came together.  

What process did you follow?

Sarah: We had quite a lot of volume business coming through, but we weren’t doing anything particularly interesting or creative with customers. I had a feeling that we could do more.

I wanted to focus sellers on what I call “transformative deals”—the kind of partnerships that made a big difference for the business and our customers. It wasn’t an obvious move. 

What changes did that process require? 

Sarah: It would require restraint. It would force my team to think beyond simply meeting the requirements customers were looking for. We would have to walk away from some deals to invest our efforts into others.

Thinking long-term didn’t mean we were just waiting for a contract to land in two years. It was about creating near-term proof points with metrics that kept people motivated and confident that they were doing the right things.

Was there pushback from your team?

Sarah: It’s scary to look at longer-term horizons when you’ve got quotas to hit in the short term,” admits Sarah. “But it’s worth it. I always told my sellers: Hold your nerve.

I didn’t want to force people to change their ways or come down hard on people who weren’t doing what I felt was best. Instead, I threw my energy behind creating an environment that would encourage the behavior I wanted them to embrace. 

I wanted my team to be a safe place where someone could come and tell me, ‘I don’t think we should pursue this bid’ without worrying that my reaction would be, ‘Well, you aren’t on target, so if you aren’t going after this bid, what are you doing?’

Any challenges in changing company attitudes?

Sarah: We had to shift our mindset to be more customer-centric: First, invest in what they want, then be really creative in the solutions you deliver. Overall we had to take a rigorous approach to qualification and uncompromising focus on relationship-building.

It wasn’t easy at first, but I knew if we believed in our plan and had clear milestones, we’d know whether we were progressing and could redefine what success looked like.

What kind of results did your approach produce?

Sarah: First off, there’s evidence of the power of better relationships everywhere you look. In terms of metrics, the massive NPS improvement is one of my proudest achievements. NPS played a huge part in testing the value we brought to our relationships. 

For example, when we began, this business segment had a “market-leading terrible” score of -44. Just three years later, it was an outstanding +56. That’s how much we could change customer sentiment just by being customer-centric. 

I’ve never seen such a success story at a sector level. We won every RFP that came to market for the solution that we built. I’m so proud of the team. Over three years, we achieved 65% growth, tripled our funnel improvement and doubled our win rate. We improved NPS by 100 points.


A Final Analysis: Account Planning and Sales Qualification

Account planning is the foundation of real sales productivity—and it all begins with sales qualification. Your sellers’ time and resources are finite. There’s simply no way around it. 

This means that, for every action a rep takes, there are other possible actions they’re not taking. Every deal you chase is a decision to knock on one door at the expense of another. You have to ask yourself, What is your customer trying to do? What’s stopping them from getting there? If the objectives are vague, you may be better off steering clear.

Good qualification is more than deciding whether you’re in or out of an RFP—it’s about orienting your thinking around four core principles.


  1. Is there an opportunity?

It’s a seemingly obvious yet often overlooked question—particularly when you’re trying to expand within an existing account. What may look like a great opportunity might be a dead-end if you don’t know what to look for. Before going all in, ask yourself: Is this initiative a priority for the customer?

Your customers are juggling countless demands and priorities. Is your project among the most important on the list? To find out, you’ll need to figure out where and why the project began. As importantly, you want to know which executive is backing the idea and if you have an existing relationship. If there’s support from the top, you’re less likely to see interest fade.

  1. Can we compete?

It’s important to match the customer’s needs with an honest assessment of your offerings. This involves a combination of your technical capabilities and market positioning. 

Key questions include: What are their formal decision criteria? Do you fit them? How will your potential customer evaluate their options? What mandates or deal-breakers define their search? What are their informal decision criteria? How do decisions really get made? What isn’t spelled out in the RFP?

  1. Can we win?

The size of the opportunity and level of brand recognition are inconsequential if you don’t have a realistic chance of winning the business. Assessing the odds comes back to relationships—and whether you have the trust and backing of the people who matter.

Key questions include: What do power and influence look like within the organization? Do you have a track record with this customer? Do we have access to executives or advocates who can help provide information? 

  1. Is it worth winning?

Sometimes, you’ll want to pass on an opportunity in favor of a more important pursuit. To identify how to move forward, ask yourself: Is the opportunity consistent in revenue, profitability or risk levels as current business with this client? Does the new opportunity offer strategic value to your company?

As importantly, ask your team: Will it be valuable for our customers? Will it help us do more with this customer in the future? Are our cultures compatible?

Rigorous qualification is the only way to focus on building real, mutually beneficial relationships. Chasing many smaller, transactional deals might help a seller hit their quota for the quarter, but it won’t create the kind of long-term partnerships that move you out of being “just another vendor” and pay off in the long term. 

Building trust, relationships and growing revenue

Account planning is not a simple solution or a ‘quick fix.’ More dimensional than ‘best practices,’ account planning is a shift in mindset and culture. Such a commitment requires time, training and collaboration—and in turn, pays invaluable dividends for years to come.

It begins with sales qualification. When carefully selecting which deals to pursue, you can hone in on the best opportunities to help your customers succeed. Then, you can go all-in on aligning an account team, building an extensive roster of relationships, and becoming a strategic partner to your customers. 

Better relationships: Relationships are at the heart of account planning. Through seeking to deeply understand accounts – and the people, problems and potential within them – sellers can land new deals, grow revenue, and deliver novel solutions to problems customers didn’t know they had.

Happier customers: Landing new deals isn’t the only incentive. Successful account planning also leads to satisfied and loyal customers. Sellers can nurture and improve relationships through effective account management strategies, turning customers into advocates while retaining and growing revenue in those accounts.

Revenue growth: Ultimately, account planning means growth. According to McKinsey, The five-year growth rate of total returns to shareholders for digital leaders is almost double that of all other firms when undertaking a digitally focused account planning strategy. A higher growth rate should pique large enterprises’ interest in formulating an effective account planning strategy.

In the end, account planning allows your whole team to impact every part of the customer experience. You’re helping them solve their most stubborn problems and identify previously unseen opportunities. You’re working more efficiently—pursuing the best prospects, navigating complex challenges and more effectively allocating time, resources and focus.


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