Planning to grow your most strategic customer relationships is a game-changer for many salespeople and account managers, but if you haven’t added this best practice to your arsenal of success tools, you may be wondering how to get started. You may have tried strategic account management in the past, when the emphasis was on lengthy, complex forms rather than results and execution. But it’s 2017, and things have changed! Consider the following question:

Does a relatively small percentage of your customers represent a disproportionately large percentage of your revenues (and success) in 2017?

Even if you’ve thought about this question before, are you actually doing anything about it? Many top performers are convinced that their success each year begins with adopting a planning mindset. Why? Because if you “plan to grow” your strategic customer relationships in 2017, it’s much more likely that you actually will.

If your plan to grow isn’t focused on driving success with your customer, then you’re inadvertently “planning to fail.” It’s just a matter of time.

But let’s suppose that you’re beyond this point and that your plan to grow is properly centered on achieving mutual success with your customer. Now the question becomes “how do you get there?”, which is typically a function of exploring four critical areas:

  • Value (creation and co-creation with your customer)
  • Alignment (internally, within your own organization, and externally, with your customer)
  • Trust-based relationships (with customer sponsors and supporters)
  • Growth (that is mutually profitable for both parties)

Your Customer: Value, Alignment, Relationships, Growth

Think of these areas as the impact zones of planning. If you interconnect them, you have an integrated framework to support your growth plans. Most of the benefits that come from planning to grow strategic customer relationships occur between the four walls of this model.

Value refers to the positive business outcomes that you will create and co-create with your customer, and it begins with an understanding of what matters most to them. What types of pressures or drivers are being placed on your customer’s business? What are their objectives or plans for addressing these pressures? What are the challenges or obstacles that they must overcome if they are going to meet and exceed their objectives? It’s the answers to these questions that will enable value creation and co-creation with your customer, and if you don’t have them, then it’s time to start asking!

Alignment is all about balance and harmony—both inside your own organization with your colleagues and with your customer. This two-dimensional view of alignment is important, because unless you have some level of internal alignment, it is virtually impossible to align externally with your customer. Many sales professionals feel that the largest single obstacle to their success this year is misalignment within their own company, so if you and your organization are even 33 percent more aligned than others in your market, your customers are likely to notice.

Relationships are a core component of planning to grow with customers. During a period when business is moving more rapidly and customers are under more stress to deliver results than ever before, there’s no substitute for a trust-based relationship with your customer. Plans to grow should always include a component focused on leveraging and expanding the individual relationships you’ve developed within your customer’s organization. If you’re entering 2017 with a lack of sponsorship and support within your most strategic accounts, you’ve got some work to do.

Growth is the final impact zone of your plan. It’s certainly a function of value, alignment and relationships, but account growth doesn’t just mean growth in revenues. The most effective plans to grow with customers include a specific strategy for growth between both parties, and this component requires customer input. You can’t plan to grow with your customer if they aren’t interested in growing with you. When the customer is willing to “meet you at the planning table” to collaborate and discuss mutually profitable growth, you’re in a very advantageous position.

Wrap all of these zones together with a proactive action plan, and you’re almost ready to plan to grow. But there’s one more thing to consider: If you haven’t asked your customer what’s most important to them this year, and what a successful 2017 looks like, it’s time to do so. Planning to grow with your customers should begin with an understanding of how they will define success in the new year, which can be as easy as simply raising the question.