What is a key account?

That’s easy. It’s any account you decide is key to you and your business.

It’s doesn’t have to be a monster account that will generate millions, but of course they’re nice to have.

A key account could be a single new business opportunity that you’re focused on winning.

A key account could be an opportunity to expand in a company where you currently have a small foothold.

A key account could be a global account which involves managing contacts across different companies, divisions and countries.
Whatever you determine is key, relationship mapping is a must have if you want to successfully navigate the complexity.

What complexity?

There is a term we hear all too often and that is – Complex Sales and Complex Selling.

This is misleading as it’s coming from the wrong side, selling is complex not because of the sales process but because of the buying process.

If you don’t know by now that buying has changed and is complex and difficult, then where have you been.

Buying has become complex due to the continuing increase in the number of people involved in company buying decisions.

It’s gone from an average of 5.4 a few years ago to 11 in 2021, it’s even more if your sell technology/software.

Sceptical about this number?

Most sales leaders and teams are because they don’t identify and engage with everyone involved. But extensive and highly credible research backs this up.

It’s all too easy to engage with the active and obvious buyers in the process, yet the ones we don’t identify often have influence or the power of veto.

Alongside this increase in the number of buyer contacts involved there’s also been a decentralisation of buying power. This doesn’t mean that decision makers are no longer decision makers, because they are.

Winning deals is about getting a collective yes from across the larger group of contacts.

Decision makers sign off once consensus has been achieved.

They don’t want to move forward without the agreement of other stakeholders, line managers, users and others involved or impacted with the decision.

Everyone has to buy into the way forward to ensure they’re behind it when a project starts.

The difficulty in achieving alignment and consensus agreement across the buying committee is a key contributor to the growing number of opportunities that end with the customer doing nothing (it’s above 50%).

Selling involves people management, and people are complicated. How you understand and help them will determine your success.

What is Relationship Mapping in key accounts?

Most salespeople know the answer to this, but for those that are unsure here’s a basic introduction.

Relationship Mapping is the most well-known term, but it’s also referred to as Stakeholder Mapping or Powerbase Mapping.

In its simplest form it’s the visualisation of your customers organisation chart with a sprinkling of influence connectors overlaid.

Showing hierarchy and the levels of buyer influence in the process helps focus sales teams on the right people and activities.

But this doesn’t go far enough to reflect the new levels of complexity.

Influence is important, but you have to dig deeper in your buyer discovery.

Creating a basic relationship map

A relationship map is not a do once to tick a box and complete an objective activity.

It’s an evolving aid for sales teams that needs to be updated regularly based on what they’ve learnt.

A complex sales cycle could be 6, 9, 12 months plus and during that period salespeople engage and discover information that needs to be added.

Mapping out a customer’s organisation can be overkill and create an overly complicated relationship map. If they’re not involved, or can’t help or hinder you, then why include them.

Polarise your efforts on mapping out the buying committee showing everyone who you’ve identified will be or needs to be involved.

Plot each of these buyer contacts with direct or indirect reporting lines as your starting point.

Now it’s time to add some relationship indicators between contacts.

The sales industry is full of elaborate terminologies to define or categorise a buyer, my recommendation would be to use words that are easy to relate to so that anyone who see’s the relationship map can understand what they mean. The simplest way is to use connectors based on what you’ve seen, heard or discovered showing:

• who is allies with who?
• who influences who?
• and who is in conflict with who?

You don’t need much explanation to interpret them.

Conflict does not necessarily mean something personal; it should represent individuals with conflicting views, opinions or directions.

More advanced relationship mapping

There is value in a basic relationship map, but taking it to another level increases your ability to understand the who, why, what, when and how.

A collective yes is achieved from individual yeses.

Each buyer contributions with a vote, recommendation or influence.

Adding some additional colour or icon indicators about each buyer increases the benefits of the map.

What you add will depend on what you see as being valuable to visualise.

Here are some ideas:

• Your relationship with them
• Their role in the process
• Your frequency of access to them
• Their position on change
• Their view on your solution fit
• Their preference to win
• Where are they in the buying process?
• Who’s your Champion?
• Who’s key in the process?
• Who owns the business problem you solve?
• Who’s aligned with who?

The visualise aspects of your relationship map are clear, but you need to go one step further.

Because every buyer contributes to the decision you have to capture more information about them.

No matter what their role each buyer will have challenges as well as criteria and concerns that will influence their recommendation or decision.

By adding this detail, you see what you know and what you don’t know, it focuses you on the gaps in your knowledge and which buyers you need to work on.

If you don’t know this then you’re reducing your chances of getting their vote.

Who benefits from Relationship Mapping?

Salespeople are demanding professionals when it comes to allocating their time. Their primary goals are to defend, develop and win.

– Defend the existing customer base
– Develop the existing customer base
– Win new customers

All three scenarios involve a wide group of contact buyers, so all three goals would benefit from relationship mapping.

It’s not just for salespeople, it’s for sales leaders as well as others in your organisation that support the sales activities.

Sales leaders need to know that their team know what’s going on in their accounts and opportunities. A well-maintained relationship map provides the proof and the basis for productive reviews and coaching conversations.

Sales is a team sport, without the back up of many colleagues’ deals won’t get done. The more they understand who’s who and what’s important to each of them the better equipped they are to add value in the sales engagement.

When salespeople leave undocumented information is no longer available to those that need to pick up the baton. Momentum is lost, and in many instances so too is the business. Maintaining a good relationship map is essential for sustained sales success.

Relationship Mapping Tools

Relationship Mapping for key accounts or opportunities is not a new activity, it’s been around for decades.

There are still many sales professionals who swear by it and map out customer organisations in PowerPoint.

This helps, but it’s limited and is a pain to update and collaborate with others.

A good relationship mapping tool should connect to your CRM, as this would be your source of contact data.

The majority of relationship mapping tools available only work in conjunction with a CRM, and often it’s limited to Salesforce, and maybe Dynamics 365.

In addition to this, the relationship mapping feature in some of the tools is part of a bigger and more expensive sales process platform which makes it a broader decision to consider.

If you use a CRM with no options available then there are a few relationship mapping tools that can work as a standalone solution. It adds a little extra work to manually import your contacts via a csv file, but the upside of using it makes it all worthwhile.


People buy from people is still relevant today, there’s just a lot more of them involved now.

The complexity of having to engage and understand a broad group of buyers will continue to grow and that’s why relationship mapping is so important.

The ability to capture and visualise buying information about these people helps everyone involved.

Relationship mapping is not just for sales teams, organisations that have perfected internal collaboration to win business make it available to their wider team.

If you want to transform your sales activities it’s wise to start building relationship maps, then update and review them regularly.

If you want to align your selling with your customers buying then take a peek at Boxxstep’s Relationship Mapping capability, no other platform comes close to enabling you to focus on and help your customers buying committees.