At first glance Account Planning and Design Thinking don’t seem to have much in common. In our work with clients we took a closer look at both concepts and realized that there is a remarkable resemblance between their core principles: research, collaboration, consumer-centricity, and validation & iteration.


Jumping right into generating and working out a solution for a customer, isn’t the approach both Design Thinkers and Account Planners pursue. A great deal of their time is used to get an in-depth understanding of the problem and the customer itself. In both roles, people rely on quantitative as well as qualitative research results. Applicable research methods range from 1:1 interviews to focus groups and netnography techniques. Only once the Account Planner and the Design Thinker feel to have a sufficient understanding of the problem, the customer and the context, they move on to the ‘solution space’ – the stage where ideas to solve the problem and help the customer are collected and prototyped.


In both disciplines, Account Planning as well as Design Thinking, working in heterogeneous teams to solve a problem collaboratively is key. Why? It is essential to bring in different views and states of knowledge together to have a holistic view of the problem, the customer and the context. What Account Planners could learn from Design Thinkers here is to try to vary their team as much as possible, inviting external views. Sometimes one additional person can already change the group constellation and introduce a fresh wind.

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Empathy is the name of the game. Both Design Thinkers as well as Account Planners have to step into the shoes of their customer to truly understand underlying motivations, needs and fears. Hereby, customers might by end users that directly face the problem, but also stakeholders like decision makers within the client organization should be considered here.

Validation & Iteration

Prototyping is done by both disciplines, but the forms how this is done vary. Whilst in Design Thinking the phase of prototyping heavily focuses on touchable cardboard prototypes, in Account Planning drafts of the account plan in terms of problem-solution mapping is more common. What both Account Planning and Design Thinking share is the endeavor to validate the developed ideas and solutions with the customer. As Design Thinker you will invite end users to test the prototype of your idea and provide feedback on her/his experience. As Account Planner you will arrange a meeting with someone from the client’s organization, ideally someone who historically has been in favor of you and your company, to present the components of your prepared account plan and to start a discussion. As both Account Planning and Design Thinking are iterative processes you will incorporate the feedback and additional insights gathered into the further development of your solution and/or account plan. At heart an Account Planner, just like a Design Thinker, is an emphatic person closing the gap between the customer’s stakeholders and the business – always keeping the end user in mind. Contact us and join our Account Planning workshop to learn more about the Design Thinking infused Account Planning process as well as the range of methods and tools Account Planners can choose from.