A key account plan is essential to identify opportunities, improve client relationships, grow revenue, create value and reduce risk. But who’s got time for that?

A key account plan is your compass. Your north star. It’s the map that shows where your client is today, where they want to be tomorrow – and how you’re going to get there.

But the reality is most of us are too lost in the daily grind to give account planning the attention it deserves.

Until now.

Because I know you’re short on time, how does a one page account plan sound? One that’s designed for maximum impact but doesn’t take over your entire life. Pretty good, right?

What follows is a simple 7-step key account planning process should take no more than 2 hours to prepare and around an hour a month to maintain.

Let’s dive in.

What is key account planning?

Above all, key account planning is the process by which you:

  • learn about your clients’ objectives;
  • decide the actions that help achieve them;
  • uncover potential risks to retention;
  • opportunities to drive additional revenue.

In addition, they set your priorities, get alignment with stakeholders, improve communication and lots more stuff.

What’s not to love?

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Albert Einstein

A few things before you start

The best time to start your key account planning is at the beginning of the year. Your clients are fresh from the holidays and full of resolutions to make this year different. So strike while the iron’s hot and the motivation to change is high.

The second best time to start is now.

Things to remember:

  • Just write down what you know today. Don’t worry if there are gaps, you’ll fill them in over time.
  • Keep it simple. You only need a couple of solid objectives for your plan, not a shopping list.
  • Set targets using KPI’s that are relevant to your client, not to you.
  • The secret to a successful one page key account plan is to keep it at one page. Be brief and be ruthless. Only go after the activities with the highest return on investment.
Key account plans are easyunt planning is easy with this 7 step key account planning process.
7 step key account plan process

Key account planning process

1. Overview

Just like it sounds, you’ll write down the important information about your client like:

  • Client name.
  • Main contact.
  • Client since.
  • Relationship strength.
  • Period of the plan.
  • Plan last reviewed.
  • Summary overview.

It’s mostly self explanatory, however let me highlight a couple of things.

Relationship strength. I like to include a rating just to remind myself if my partnership with my client is solid or on shaky ground. Choose your own values (e.g. bad, good, awesome).

The period of the plan. This is important. You may jump to the conclusion that it’s annual. It doesn’t have to be. I could be a quarterly or half yearly. It often makes sense to tie your account plan with your business review cycle.

Summary overview. Write a few sentences about your plan and any relevant client information. For instance:

  • their industry;
  • any major news;
  • buying process;
  • overall strength of the relationship;
  • primary objective.

Are you thinking, “I know this stuff so why bother?”

True, I get it.

However, the summary isn’t for you. It’s for anyone else who’s involved with your plan that may not be as close to the client as you are.

Keep it updated as things change or new information is available.

Summary overview example:

“ABC Company develops packaging for the pharmaceutical industry and has been a client since 2008.

They are publicly listed company and with disappointing earnings the past two years have recently implemented an ambitious plan to trim $20m from indirect costs.

The focus is primarily on cost avoidance and we have already partnered with them on several projects delivering savings in excess of $3m in the last 12 months.

This year’s account plan builds on those achievements with forecast savings of $5m. Miriam Davis is the Procurement Director and also executive sponsor of the plan.

Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains

Steve Jobs

2. Objectives

The fastest way to find out what your client wants to achieve is to ask. Schedule a 30-minute call with your point of contact and ask:

  1. What do they want to achieve in the next 12 months?
  2. What challenges are they facing today? 
  3. How have they tried to solve them (what’s working and what isn’t)?
  4. How will they measure success at the end of the year?

Those four questions alone will reveal some juicy opportunities worth including in your key account plan. If they don’t, then maybe your contact isn’t the right contact after all and you should find someone else to talk to.

If you want to go deeper, here’s 45 client questions you can ask.

3. Solution

Now you know what your client wants to achieve, it’s time to make a list of potential solutions. Ask yourself:

  • How do your products and services support your client’s objectives?
  • Is your client making the best use of them? If not, why not?
  • What else do you offer that could make an impact?
  • What would be the return on investment for your client?
  • Are there any objections (e.g. to expensive)?
  • Is there any other advice can you give your client on how to achieve their goals?

The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook.

William James

4. Action Plan

You’re half way there! You know the problem and the solution. That’s the toughest part. Now you have to decide how you’ll make it happen.

List all the steps you need to take to, who needs to do them and by when. If you don’t have names don’t worry. Just put a placeholder and assign owners as you find them. You’ll validate all this with your point of contact anyway.

Why do you need to do this?

Because even simple tasks can turn into nightmares. If you identify all the tasks needed to get the results you want, you’ll stay on track, anticipate issues and be able to swiftly change course if things go wrong.

This is a one-page key account plan, so be brief.

Just list the primary tasks or milestones. If there’s lots of moving parts, consider adding a project plan to capture all the sub-tasks too.

Have you heard the expression, “In God we trust, all others bring data”?

Here’s four of the best ways to measure success that will show an impact you can quantify with data. Choose those that are most important to your client.

  • Cost avoidance. How can you improve results without spending more.
  • Cost reduction. How can you achieve the same result but spend less.
  • Satisfaction. How can you improve quality or user experience?
  • Efficiency. How can you reduce the time or steps involved?

💡 TIP: Trello is a free project management tool that helps you stay on top of the tasks associated with your key account plan. I’ve set up a public Getting Things Done (GTD) Board you can copy if you need a project plan.

Use a simple Getting Things Done (GTD) board on Trello to help you stay on top of the tasks associated with your key account plan.
Trello is great when key account plans turn into projects
Action plan example:

Objective:

  • Reduce travel and entertainment expenses by 20%

Actions:

  • Reduce domestic meal allowance for business travel from $50 down to $30
  • Write draft amendment to meal allowance policy.
  • Submit to executive committee for review and approval.
  • Have ratified by trade unions.
  • Publish updated policy to the HR intranet.
  • Send email to all employees to notify them of the change.

Outcome:

  • Projected savings of $175k annually.

There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness and truth.

Leo Tolstoy

5. Change Management

Build it and they will come. I wish.

Before you commit to an action, think about how likely your plan is to succeed. You can’t do this by yourself. You’ll need the support of many other stakeholders.

Is it worth the pain of change? Will it inspire action? How do you know?

An easy way to do this is with Kurt Lewin’s Force Field Analysis, based on Newton’s law of gravity that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, the benefits of taking action have to outweigh the risks of doing nothing.

So from your plan, next to each action create two columns:

  1. Why change is good
  2. Why change is bad

Then under each write down all the positive and negative consequences of your action. Assign a strength score and total them up.

Subtract the change is good score from the change is bad score.

If it’s greater than zero, your account plan has a good chance of success. If it’s zero or less, your plan is likely to fail.

Force field analysis helps you understand the pain of change and how likely your key account plan is to succeed.
Force field analysis reveals your key account plan’s chance of success.

After that, you may find you have an objective that is impossible to get off the ground in it’s current form. Try taking a different path and find new actions that increase the number of reasons why change is good.

Or you may just need to put it in the too hard basket and come back to it later.

6. Implementation

OK, so this is the exciting part. It’s time to bring your key account plan to life and make it a reality.

Presenting your final plan to your client and ask them to agree to:

  • The objectives, measurement and actions on your plan;
  • The task owners, time frames and due dates;
  • The format of the plan (e.g. Excel, Word, Project management software);
  • How it will be shared (e.g, is it in the cloud or sent as attachments);
  • How often it will be updated.

If you’re client’s happy and good to go, get it in writing. Why?

ACCOUNTABILITY.

If your client agrees in writing, they’ll be that much more committed to your key account plan and motivated to get results.

A simple email will do.

Agreement email example:

“Please find attached our account plan for this quarter.  Together we’ve developed a robust set of objectives which I’m confident will deliver real value to your business.

I’m excited by these opportunities and delighted to be working with you on making them happen.

Please reply confirming the plan meets with your approval and I’ll get started right away!”

7. Review

How often will you review the overall plan? Things change and you’ll need to adjust it over time as you learn new information or new opportunities emerge.

Here’s a schedule that works for me – it might work for you too:

  • Bi-weekly. Email status update on current activities on your account plan.
  • Monthly. 30-minute account plan update call to your client (you may want to do this more often if you have a lot of objectives).
  • Quarterly. 1-hour progress report to your client. Include success to date, roadblocks, any unexpected events, new opportunities and decisions needed to move the plan forward.

Great acts are made up of small deeds

Lao Tzu

One Page Key Account Plan Template

Download your copy of the key account plan template and follow this seven step process:

  1. Account Overview. Define all the important information about your client relevant to your account plan.
  2. Objectives. What does your client want to achieve and how will success be measured?
  3. Solution. Identify the potential solutions that support your clients’ objectives.
  4. Action plan. Decide a course of action and list the steps needed to achieve your goals.
  5. Change management. Evaluate the chances of success through Force Field Analysis.
  6. Implementation. Agree actions, assign owners and due dates.
  7. Review. Regularly review and adjust your plan to ensure you stay on track.

Your key account plan doesn’t have to be perfect. Start with a minimum viable plan and fine tune as you go. Remember the most important part: have fun! You’re changing your clients’ world for the better.

Let me know in the comments about your thoughts on key account planning or any questions you have.