Top 10 Techniques To Get Explosive Revenue Growth From Key Accounts

Tony Hughes

Top 10 Techniques To Get Explosive Revenue Growth From Key Accounts

80% of your company's future revenue will come from 20% of your existing clients [Gartner]. Here are the top 10 ways to ensure that magic happens for you... consistently:

  1. Insight Selling - There are not one but two bestselling books on insight selling on the market right now. Insight Selling and wait for it... Insight Selling. In a nut shell, one is about the proactive selling behaviors of Eagles versus 2nd place sellers. (Connect, Convince & Collaborate) - The other is about how to differentiate your value in a crowded B2B marketplace. Where can I help you in this latest insight selling craze? For starters, how to generate the insights themselves with a process called Design Thinking applied to strategic sales. The biggest question I get is: 'How do I generate the unique compelling business insights to present prescriptively to key accounts in order to grow them?' Ideation & innovation come together in a foundational exercise called First Principles thinking. Apply this to selling and you can be endlessly innovative! In Musk's words, 'First principles' is a physics way of looking at the world. What that really means is that you boil things down to the most fundamental truths and then reason up from there. That takes a lot more mental energy.'
  2. Target Account Selling (TAS) - TAS Dealmaker - Donal Daly's Book Account Planning in Salesforce (download an extract at this link) has become the bible of Key Account Management in the Salesforce CRM world. This is a 'must read' for anyone farming or hunting in named accounts. You'll love his musical metaphors and cogent key account growth opportunity creation structure. Military strategy, gap analysis, political power base mapping and territory plans are all covered expertly as well as advanced tips on using this gold standard software.
  3. SWOT, GAP or White Space Analysis - Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats is a great process to leverage in assessing the viability of opportunities within existing accounts or the account renewal and Annual Contract Value (ACV) growth potential in and of itself. The simplest way to look at gap or white space analysis is to take a look at a global account you're servicing and apply facets of the technology in a grid looking for areas where one business unit has not applied what another has. You can also create a beautiful chart quite easily in Excel or natively in Salesforce with Dealmaker to do this. Another way to bring solution insight to your largest key account, is to take a look at the usage of your technology across the entire portfolio of accounts you manage (and ideally on the existing side this should be limited to less than a dozen key accounts.) Pattern recognition will emerge, you will begin to see gaps between what some clients are using and what you could recommend as a high value insight to another customer. Another way I like to think of white space analysis, is simply mapping all their existing processes on a white board and then moving to a second white board to think outside-the-box with their input. Current state to future state. Work together to prioritize. Arrive with two or three prescriptive insights for them to confirm and improve. Generate new areas of opportunity with them. Prioritize. Rinse and repeat! 'Here's what we are seeing the leading companies like you doing in the marketplace; here are some key strategies and tactics in 2015 in order to dynamically expand your approach. Here's how we're helping clients with a similar pain solve these challenges!'
  4. Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs) - At the beginning of fiscal Q1, ensure to get on-site and kick off the year with a bang. This is an opportunity for diagnostic business development and consultative selling at its finest to occur. You'll want to present an enterprise account management plan that lays out (and gets buy-in) all the key meetings each quarter for the year. You may have 3 meetings per month on-site scheduled in advance in managing the largest accounts in a cloud-based SaaS software company, for example. The whole key here is to get on-site with a cadence of accountability for all facets of the interactions. The first meeting can be a presentation of things to come. You'll only want to talk 25% of the time and flip the meeting for them to lead and brainstorm out their challenges and strategic objectives for the year. Each subsequent meeting moves the process forward on several opportunities that can be developed. You'll want to loop in various stakeholders to join these meetings, take screenshots of the white board that can be turned into Vizio flowchart diagrams and presented back as a prescriptive presentation of high value, high growth areas in the business the various stakeholders in the account have agreed upon. Always be thinking: current state to future state. Actively listen and ask hard-hitting, incisive questions that peel the onion on symptoms getting to the real underlying problems. How can they go from where they are now to where they want to be? Some of the key tools of the trade are ROI calculators, where you can build an Excel pivot table based on industry or customer benchmarks to plot out various degrees of success and the impact to their top or bottom line revenue via implementation and pulling various levers in variable upside results. Jeff Thull calls this a 'value hypothesis' and I think that's a great term for it as what we seek to accomplish in our greatest accounts is both qualitative and quantitative. Ultimately we will be judged on our ability to create value consistently over time. Another very polished way to proceed, is to print out a poster-board with Gantt charts showing progress up to this point with key milestones and the various paths to value in forward momentum going into the next quarter (or year.)
  5. 90-120 Day Renewal Process - When you have a massive emphasis not just on renewal for flat revenue growth but accretive annual contract value (ACV) growth, it's critical that you treat a renewal like a big initial sale in that you plan for it, start the conversations three to four months out and have already configured your key account plan to recommend prescriptively new exciting opportunities for the strategic partnership that either drive incremental revenue or increased operational efficiency. In software start-up at early or mid-stage, annual recurring revenue growth ARR, is hypercritical as a predictor to future success. Customer retention is paramount. Raving customers will get you 'word of mouse,' increased adoption and accelerate market penetration; results-focused executives talk about what's working throughout the industry. In the hardware technology space, these strategic recommendations could be upgrades, virtualization or a move to private clouds. In the software space, this could be various other modules of the software, additional licenses, or experimental new products in order to get your best customers into an exclusive beta program (see below). Customers get very excited about this! It's critical to 'sell the dream' in their own words so they can visualize the results for themselves. In preparing for a renewal, highlight not only how far the account has come but also the tremendous upside opportunity (or opportunity cost if stalled) of engaging with your suite of solutions at a deeper level. Remember, sales cycles on six and seven figure deals can take up to 18 months, so be sure to plan for success well in advance. The P for Process in RSVPselling will help you here. Understand your client's procurement process to bushwhack through red tape. Also remember, you haven't won once the ink is dried and revenue is booked. On the contrary, we must focus on the execution phase of implementation and build out our collaborative calendars working backward from that start date of production or 'go live.' Keep customers focused on delivery and carry-through as opposed to simply when the deal will close, this will keep you from a white-knuckled New Year's contract negotiation session with stressed-out attorneys. A good theme of selling disruptive technology to keep in the back of your mind at all times is 'crawl, walk, run.' Moving too fast or failing to educate your clients, can cause deals to lock up and increased customer attrition risk.
  6. Internal Knowledge Transfer (IKT) - Your CRM should ideally be your single source of the truth on every account. Build out custom fields if you need to in order to bullet proof each account unless someone gets "hit by a bus." Translation - A deft strategic account manager needs to be able to inherent this account at any time and understand who the various power-bases are (both permanent and situational to the opportunity) and all the background driving the deal. The competitors in the deal, any issues with implementations of past solutions. Any politics in the account must be mapped and key strategic points to understanding a path forward in the account.
  7. Visual Pipeline Opportunity Management - You've gotta have a tool inside your CRM to effectively visualize the pipeline. Pipeline Manager is an amazing instrument I endorse to do this. It provides a dead simple view of all the key opportunities in your territory against a timeline with color coding and visual cues so that you can effectively implement your close plans. Phenomenal managers, track this customised opportunity view and can spot trends where various stages have been stalling and help to eliminate roadblocks with sales people or flawed process on their team. The other major piece of this is holding weekly WIG sessions where "wildly important goals" are tied to key strategic objectives and KPIs within each key account - the account plan and pipeline report are reviewed. Many software companies plug in to CRMs to display this. As a rewarding exercise, I still have the teams I coach build out an enterprise account plan quarterly and annually that they update in Excel and load up to the Opportunity Level. This is a living, breathing document that can be printed out and shared customer-facing as well, so do encourage sales people to build it out in that way - 360 degree and holistic. TAS Dealmaker also has the ability to print out political power base maps as well as customer facing engagement - evaluation plans.
  8. Collaborative Brainstorming - White Board Sessions - There is nothing more powerful than getting 'smart' people in a room. My theory has always been, if you put enough smart people in a room, something great is always bound to happen. Remember there are two sides to the coin of every strategic sale: the technical and the strategic. You must win them both or failure is the reality! Also remember, everything is a triangle: no deal is every bi-directional. There are always competitors nipping at your heels calling into the account unannounced attempting to get a foothold with fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). As I've said before as a mantra, the third party in this bizarre love triangle we call key account management is often the hidden hairy hand of machinations, aka the Status Quo or 'do nothing.' White boarding sessions are a simple, secret sauce. They'll prevent disaster if your client is required to go to RFP periodically enabling you to remain a preferred supplier as you'll facilitate internal brainstorming frequently and therefore stay upstream omnipresent to all innovation. Map out the lifecycle of a marketing campaign, map out the path of engagement with the strategic decision makers in the account (strategic sale). With the technical folks, white board out diagrams of the entire technical stack and how the big data flows (technical sale). Technical sellers can go wild with CTOs and CIOs and strategic sellers can stay at a 10,000 foot level of managing objectives and risk. You must win both sales to ensure explosive account growth. This type of executive pictionary is not a frivolous exercise - even if in chicken scrawls, it helps to connect the left and right hemispheres of the brain and everyone involved can 'break the fourth wall' to elevate the spirit of collaboration and innovation in the relationship, bringing unexpected value and synergy to a whole new level.
  9. Enterprise Account Plans (Project Management) - The best account managers grow accounts by sharpening this unspoken weapon: organization. You must stay brutally organized. You don't see too much sales material written about organization or execution. They'll both give you a massive edge, especially applied in tandem. You must think like a project management professional (PMP) and bake in a project management perspective into your interactions with key clients. Every meeting is mapped with the precision of a Swiss watch in advance with executive assistants. Lunches are brought in, meeting are recorded and transcribed. Follow-up emails and calls feature collateral built from your time engaging with them. These resources are collaborative in that customers are suggesting additions and revisions based on agreed upon ideas that come out of your visits. Think structure and organization. It's helpful to leave behind a poster board with your phased approach. This is the Gantt chart of all four quarters and via white space analysis, the various solutions you'll be approaching within each are laid out like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Collaborate on this resource, revise this repeatedly and provide status reports on progress. You may be feeling like "Wow, this is a lot of work!" True, but have you ever tried getting a hold of the Chief Strategy Officer of your million dollar spending client a month out over the holiday season in the final quarter of the fiscal year? Mission Impossible (Improbable at best!) You don't need to work this hard. As part of investing at this level into the quality of the relationship with crucial customer's organizations, key account strategists get deployed and these white-boarding sessions are a necessary value-add. Make it all about them: it's never about you. It's an enablement session first and foremost - sell later.
  10. Strategic Existing Business Units - We've talked in depth about my LinkedIn War Room idea for Social Selling 3.0 (context) in other posts. You want to build a social command center to track what all key stakeholders are sharing and watch how they're connecting in order to deftly leverage trigger events within existing accounts. Job changes, promotions, funding events, new initiatives, notes on the annual report and political firestorms - keep your finger on the pulse of the account. It's a breakthrough idea if you are not resource-constrained to build an elite unit of your top sellers, give them fewer, bigger accounts and get them laser focused on driving huge revenue growth via the methods in this article. This is a way to imbue a start-up culture into a sales organization that may even tout a global salesforce of thousands.
  11. Bonus: Alpha or Beta Test Programs - Your raving customer advocates mobilizing within accounts and most ardent technologies lovers, desire nothing more than to be guinea pigs, in a good sense. Whether you have 100 or 1,000 clients you're looking to derive year-over-year steady growth from, you'll know intimately the super-set that are the early adopters and love to try the cutting edge new stuff. These folks are first to market, looking for competitive advantage and want to buy and road test anything you sell. Make it count and get them into the beta program even in the Alpha stage. Work with them to improve your products, prove out the ROI of new solutions you offer. Set realistic expectations and exceed them, the mantra of all successful key account managers. Be very sensitive to their needs and ensure a quality feedback loop between sales, customer service and product development teams.

Well there you have it. Follow this blueprint in order to rapidly exceed quota and plan. I've lived it - I can safely attest to its efficacy. It truly works wonders in any technology sphere. Always focus on value and stay proactive. Organization and planning are strategic weapons that will box out your competition. Never stop learning and listening. Dr. Stephen Covey said, "Seek first to understand then be understood." Mahan Khalsa said, "Move off the solution." Combined - put your customers in the driver's seat and be passionate about what they're most passionate about by understanding their business inside and out. As Ago Cluytens writes brilliantly here, 'Give the buyer ownership of the idea.'

Be a trusted advisor seated alongside your dream clients at the conference room table, co-creating the business case to persuade senior leadership of the real results you intend to drive together. Yes, it's the era of the collaborative sale. Keith Eades is right! Your customers are your trusted advisors, too. Allow them the freedom to explore and experiment on product development with you. Generate excitement in these accounts and they will never stagnate! I've yet to meet someone that was so passionate about helping their biggest clients, that the flame burned out. Keep yourself top of mind, face to face, focused on the Human to Human (H2H) factors. To rocket existing business growth, the greatest type of social selling is analog in the customer's board room: listening and asking SPIN questions. - Client on-sites are a no Blackberry iPhone zone! - I reckon that gives a whole new meaning to 'social listening' and here's a hint: it's not software. It's you-ware. As I like to say, "be fully there." Perhaps the greatest sales technology ever fashioned is a pair of sincere, open eyes.

Now it's your turn: What strategies and tactics did I miss in the above list? Which techniques or methodologies have you leveraged to successfully foster double digit revenue growth from existing accounts? What inspires or informs your roadmap for account growth? Which technology tools improve your ability to execute in this area? How do you create new insight to bring unexpected value to your customers that know, like and trust you the most and will be most integral to the revenue growth of your company this year and evermore? Here are some brilliant ideas you already wrote in with; thank you for sharing:

  • Leverage the 80/20 Rule in all things
  • Set weekly or bi-weekly standing calls
  • Sell the value add of a strategic account manager as part of a large deal - You'll get a dedicated resource who meets with you monthly to share groundbreaking insights from the industry and strategize opportunities for revenue growth.
  • Storytelling - Building an emotional connection helps customers retain insights and cements in value creation.


If I can help train your team on these methods or speak at your next event or sales kickoff, please reach out to me personally at [email protected]

Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at or his sales methodology website at

Main image photo by Flickr: Steve Wilson


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