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Sales Account Planning For Complex Sales

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
13 min read

Key takeaways in this episode:

  • Work with your Client Advocate to identify everyone involved in the decision making process so you can know what they all want and need
  • Use your Decision Maker Map to help you through this process, and enlist the help of your Champion to become a co-conspirator
  • Craft individualized messages and build out your sales story with the key needs of all stakeholders

A strategic account plan is the cure to acquisition addiction for your business and, done right, will act as the blueprint for each customer’s success with your product. It will guide your sales team towards growth opportunities, flag churn risks and defend against potential attacks from your competitors.

Begin your plan with your customer in mind. Start with an understanding of the current and future state of the customer’s business and their key initiatives that will bridge the gap. Review the customer’s strategy to determine which of their objectives and initiatives connect with the solution’s capabilities. Determine where you can provide the most value within the context of the customer’s plans.

By showing your deep understanding of the business’s problems as well as a deep understanding of how your product can help, clients will be assured that your product isn’t just a tool for the here and now, but a long-term investment that has the flexibility to match their needs as they evolve.

Mentioned in this episode:

SDS Training Complete Audio Series
The Sales Process You Need to Win Big Clients

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.

Sales Account Planning For Complex Sales:

Full Transcript

How many $160 billion deals have you hammered out? Well, if you’re like me, probably none. But if you’ve ever worked on a six or a seven-figure deal, you know just how complicated sales can be. Now, raise that complication by 1000x. That’s exactly what John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile, set out to do when he announced the potential all-stock merger of T-Mobile and Sprint on April 27, 2018. But the announcement was nothing more than the start of a long, excruciating process to merge the two companies. You see, in order to complete the merger, they need approval from the FCC, the Justice Department, and eventually the SEC, once they clear the first two. Now, this is no easy feat. In 2014, Sprint was the larger company at the time and they dropped their attempt to buy T-Mobile because it didn’t look like they’d get regulatory approval. Here they go again.

The FCC broke with tradition and announced they’d approved the deal. Ajit Pai, the Chairman of the FCC, has publicly stated his desire to push the next generation 5G wireless network, and the joint Sprint/T-Mobile merger will be the best shot at doing that quickly in America. Why that’s the case is another story for another time, but let’s just say it involves the Pentagon and the Department of Defense and some antiquated rules. Now, once Sprint and T-Mobile received FCC approval, the merger now has to get approval from the Justice Department. Their concern is competition or the lack of it. There’s an antitrust concern that comes with a merger because the U.S. would go from four major carriers down to three. Still, the new combined T-Mobile and Sprint would have less subscribers than either AT&T or Verizon. Side note, did you know there are more active SIM cards in the U.S. than people? Crazy world we live in.

So the merger deal has a lot of selling points both to the FCC and the DOJ. Job creation due to the 5G investment will be huge. The FCC and the administration have 5G coverage goals of 97% of Americans within three years. This is their best shot at doing it. The Sprint/T-Mobile new company has offered to freeze pricing for three years to address pricing and lack of competition concerns, so there will be lower pricing for consumers overall. It’s also implied that Sprint and T-Mobile are saying, “Hey, help us stay alive so we can give consumers an alternative to AT&T and Verizon.” And finally, T-Mobile and Sprint will still have less subscribers combined than both AT&T and Verizon do individually. So what the heck gives? Why isn’t this a no-brainer? Well, that’s a question for the Justice Department.

But on the other side of it, T-Mobile and Sprint have their own concerns. The merger comes with significant risks for both of these companies and the larger resulting company. If the merger happens, there’s a possibility that Dish Network, an alternative to cable TV, will be a new competitor in the mobile space. You see, the merger would require Sprint and T-Mobile to sell their Boost Mobile brand and mobile bandwidth to Dish. Dish Network for their part could then get an outside cash injection from a company who wants to enter mobile in a big way, let’s say Google or Amazon. And boom, instant overnight competition that they created for themselves as a result of the merger. T-Mobile/Sprint would not like that.

If any of this sounds complicated, it is. Just think of the cast of characters involved in getting this deal done. We have the Justice Department. We have Sprint and all of their board and all of their management. We have T-Mobile and all of their board and all of their management. Dish Network, FCC, SoftBank, the company behind Sprint, and of course, I didn’t even mention, the state attorneys general who are also bringing suit to stop the merger. If T-Mobile and Sprint really want to get the deal done, they’d better understand every interested party and not just at the organizational level, but at the individual level. Luckily, your deals aren’t nearly this complicated. But in larger and more complex deals, you’ll still have to plan for everyone involved in the deal so you can meet their demands and devise a solution that works for you too. In today’s episode of Modern Sales, I’ll talk about account planning and how you can do it to anticipate potential issues and create solutions that work for everyone.

Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners and salespeople looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics and sales studies to help you create win-win relationships. I’m your host, Liston Witherill, and I’m pleased to welcome you to Modern Sales.

Welcome to Modern Sales. This is episode six in the SDS, that’s Serve Don’t Sell, training series of podcasts where I’m reviewing the core topics and ideas you’d get in my sales training. If you’d like to start from the top, just go back to the sales process, You Need to Win Big Clients, it’s five episodes back in the feed, to hear the overview and then you can go sequentially from there. You can also get all of my training decks by visiting my website, That’s S-E-R-V-E-D-O-N-T-S-E-L-L dot C-O. And there’s a link right on the homepage that gives you instant access without even having to sign up with your email address. That’s another conversation for another time if you’re ever wondering why I give away my content without gating it. Please do ask. Email me, And finally, if you’d like to receive sales insights sent to your inbox weekly, be sure to sign up for the Serve Don’t Sell newsletter, which is painfully obvious and easy to do on that same website,

Now, let’s talk about account planning. Let’s start with a fun stat. The average enterprise sale has about six people involved in making a decision about whether or not to go with a vendor, that includes on your deals. Not surprisingly, these decisions are painfully slow. And the more people that are involved, especially when more than two are involved, your timing falls off a cliff. It gets really, really slow and the more people that are involved, the slower the process works.

What we need to do is figure out who those decision makers are, and that’s the first step in our account planning and strategy. We need to figure out who’s involved. And to find out who’s involved, we’re going to ask our client advocate. That’s the person you’re working closely with, most believes in what you’re doing and usually has surfaced the need to hire you. They’re the person who’s most interested in talking to you, but also ideally in a decision making capacity and even better, they’re the ones who write and sign the checks. Then when you’re talking to your advocate, I want you to ask questions like these: Who else do we need to involve? What do they need to know? What do you anticipate they’ll require to sign off on this? Who do you think is most likely to veto this deal and why is that? Is there anyone else we need to involve? And then my favorite question, let’s jump ahead and pretend we got the deal done, what happened in order to make it so?

What we want to do is put our advocate in a position to help us strategize and plan for the other people who have a say in getting the deal done. And what these questions will do is help your advocate jog their memory and even become a co-conspirator with you. Now, I like this phrase because what we’re really trying to do is almost scheme with this advocate. We’re playing a sneaky little spy game. And we’re putting our advocate in a position to significantly help us out, obviously, but also help themselves out. Who doesn’t like solving a puzzle? Okay, maybe that’s a nerdy question, but I really like solving puzzles. And a lot of people that I talk to and a lot of people I work with also like solving puzzles.

And a lot of times getting these deals done is like solving a puzzle. There are moving pieces. There are people who need to know what we’re planning to do. There are people who we need to prove value to. There are concessions that need to be made. There are particular things that people need to see as part of the deal. Some people need to put their stamp on it in one way or another. Whatever it is, we want to put our advocate in a position to become co-conspirators with us so that we can figure all of that stuff out, plan accordingly, and move forward with a strategy that actually gets this thing done.

So the main question you have for your advocate is, how are we going to work together to do this? Look, the thing is they want to work with you. Have them help you figure it out. They know the other personalities involved. They know who blocked what deals and why. They know who might even have special demands or requirements as part of accomplishing this deal. Ask them, have them tell you. Trust me when I say this is not self-defeating, having more information in the sale is better. So we want to know from our advocate who else is going to be involved in this and what do we need to tell them?

Now, once you have that information, you’re going to build a decision maker map. A decision maker map is simply a one-page snapshot of who’s involved, what they care about, and what you need to do for each of them. By the way, if you want to download a decision maker map template, you can go to my website, You can get it there for free. You don’t have to give up your email address even. But of course, I would love it if you signed up for my weekly email list, but it’s optional. You can still get the decision maker map right now,

Once you have your map together, it’ll be far easier to understand all of the needs, wants, and requirements you need to balance in your overall account strategy. It’ll all be on one sheet of paper. The decision maker map is simply a matrix. In each row will be all of the people who are involved by title, I’ll get to that next. In each column will be, number one, key messages and value that this person needs to know about. How will they perceive value from the project you’re doing? Now, you may think your value is obvious. Well, it is to you, but it’s not necessarily to everyone else. And in particular, since you’ve been working with an advocate for a while now, they totally understand your value. But will they be able to sell on your behalf? And maybe they don’t even understand the value that other people need you to bring to the project. So we want to understand, number one, key messages in value.

Secondly, we want to know likely objections. What are some issues or obstacles these people might see to actually doing the deal? Is it about pricing? Is it about timing? Is it about overlap? Is someone worried about looking bad? Are there internal resources that you’re competing with? Is there an outside vendor that this company already works with that you need to either unseat or play nice with? All of those types of things are likely objections. Let’s plan for them. They’re going to go right on your decision maker map.

Next up, there are deliverables. Some people will require you to sign contracts and NDAs. Other people will want certain collateral that you can provide. Other people will want a copy of your proposal or other materials or collateral you’ve provided or offered throughout the process. What are those specific deliverables and who do you need to give them to?

And lastly, we want to know what phases these people will all be involved. So that includes both in the project, when will they be involved in the project you’re executing for them, but also at what points are they involved in the sale. Because we want to make sure we’re giving them the right things at the right time. So this may include things like timing and phasing and deadlines and whatever urgency people are feeling internally, we want to document what those are. So those are the columns of your decision maker map, key messages and value, likely objections, deliverables and timing or phases.

Next up, we have the rows of our decision maker map which will include a BADUI, and I don’t just mean a crappy user interface. Actually, that’s not what I mean at all. It’s not just an excuse for my lackluster design on the downloadable decision maker map that I’m offering you, but it is an acronym that stands for BADUI, buyer, advocate, decision makers, influencers and users. These are the people who are going to be involved in the sale. They all have different roles starting with the buyer. The buyer is the person who has ultimate authority over spending budget. That might be different than your champion and it might be slightly different than your decision makers. Always though the buyer will be one of many decision makers. The question is, how much decision making authority do they actually have? But there usually will be an owner or a steward who owns the budget that would pay for your services. Now, like I said, that person has ultimate authority over spending budget. We want to know specifically who that is and we want to fill in our decision maker map for that person.

Next up, we have our advocate. That’s the person we’re working with who’s most interested in the project and working with you. This should be a decision maker. If your advocate is more on the influencer level and not part of the decision making unit, you my friend are talking to the wrong person. Ask for immediate access to someone who’s in the decision making group and can advocate for the project.

Next up, we have decision makers, which is all of the rest of the people who are involved and have decision making authority in the sale, but they’re not our advocate and they’re not our buyer. It’s the other people involved. Usually, they’re in a more senior level. Typically in a sale that I’m making, they’re the director, VP or even C level. It really depends on the size of the company you’re working with and also that company’s structure. Titles are very fluid. In some industries, VP means a lot. In other industries, there’s a thousand VPs in a 10,000-person company. So this really depends on who your clientele is and how your industry assigns titles.

After decision makers, we have influencers. Those are people who are consulted during the sales process and perhaps weigh in on the decision but have no decision making authority. They will be asked for their opinions, but they will not be at the table when a decision is made by those other five or six people who are decision makers.

And finally, last but not least, we have users in. And those are the people who will be using your products and services, assuming that they’re different than the first four groups. If users are a big contingent, you will have to do demonstrations. You will have to do proof of concept. You will have to show them how this is actually going to work, how users would use it and get the buy-in from at least some small group of users in order to move forward. So the rows of your decision maker map include BADUI, buyer, advocate, decision makers, influencers and users. Once again, I know this is a lot to digest while you’re listening to a podcast, so do feel free to head over to and you can download the decision maker map template there.

Here are the key takeaways I want you to think about. Number one, there are a lot of different decision makers who can decide the fate of your opportunity, typically between five and 10 in a mid market or enterprise level sale. What you’re going to do as a result of that is work with your advocate to identify everyone involved in the decision making process so you can know what they all want and need. You’ll use your decision maker map to help you through this process and enlist the help of your advocate to become a co-conspirator and give you the information you need in order to craft individualized messages and build out your sales story with the key needs of all stakeholders involved.

Now keep in mind, everyone has emotional needs. Be prepared to differentiate between shared motivators and individual motivators, meaning the emotional fulfillment you can give to an individual is appropriate for small group conversations. It’s not appropriate for your proposal, but still incredibly important. So make sure you have the right context to talk emotions with your clients. Once you have your decision maker map, update your sales story, update your proposal, update your lo-fi proposal so it reflects the needs of all decision makers in a cohesive single story that will become your formal offer, my friend, and then you are off to the races.

Next up in episode seven of the SDS training series, we’ll talk about how to have money conversations and handle those pesky little objections. But I’ll give you a little spoiler here, anytime you hear an objection, it’s simply means this person is considering buying from you. Yes, it is a positive sign. I’ll tell you what I mean by that in the next episode.

If you are not already subscribed, please do so by clicking the subscribe button. I appreciate that you’re here and if you’re so inclined, there are two things you can do to help support this podcast. Number one, leave a review in iTunes. As outdated and antiquated as it is, it does help people discover this podcast. And secondly, tell someone else about Modern Sales. Email it to them, share it in your podcatcher of choice. However you’d like to spread the word, just tell someone else that you’re getting something out of Modern Sales and they might too.

And finally, if you’re looking to level up your team’s sales skills, I can help you with onsite or remote training options. Just head over to Click the content button and you can fill out a quick form to begin the conversation. Thank you so much for listening. My name is Liston Witherill, and I hope you have a fantastic day.

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