During a recent keynote speech, I was asked what methods I use to lock in my most important clients. Here is a brief summary of my response:

For a long time, I used some very specific business objectives for major accounts (“We will increase turnover by X percent” or “We will introduce two new programs to increase profitability by Y percent.”) But I began to understand that these business objectives were not enough.

Multilevel objectives have proved very powerful in winning and keeping business. I use four levels of objectives and together they excite and motivate our team. At the same time, they are also very practical.

First we set “visionary” objectives. We picture what the result would be if everything went well. We discipline ourselves not to be limited by what has gone before or by current obstacles. The outcome is a very strong vision of what the account could be like in one, three or five years.

Second, we set relationship objectives—everyone in the account team needs to know what we want the relationship to feel like. Imagine you could hear your customer talking about you in two year’s time. What would you want to hear? Perhaps you’d like to hear statements such as “We trust them completely,” “They always give us new ideas” or “Things do not go wrong often, but when they do, they always fix them quickly.” We have found that these relationship objectives help us do everything in the way we should and in the way the customer wants us to.

So far we have talked about “soft” objectives — how we want things to feel. The first two objectives are about imagination and emotion, but we need some hard objectives as well. The third level is the level of business objectives. These objectives are very specific and clear: “By the end of this year we will have increased sales of Product X by 25 percent.” They are also measurable, which is very important for knowing if you are progressing. They must receive the approval of the account team and possibly also the customer. They must be realistic — after all, other people will be depending on our forecasts. Finally, they must be tied to a timescale. These business objectives provide the strong disciplines we need in order to know if we are succeeding.

The final level of objectives deals with stage goals. We may say that we will achieve a result of Y by the end of year two. If this is to happen, we need to set interim goals and plan the steps necessary to achieve them.

If the objective is to sell five products by the end of next year, for example, and we’re currently selling two, we need to plan to have three in place by this October, four in place by next March and five by next September. The stage goals ensure we’re on target and allow us to solve problems before they become unwieldy.

We have found that using these multilevel objectives helps to motivate each team member, but can also help us significantly increase the amount and quality of business being done within our key accounts.

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Jonathan Farrington is a globally recognized business coach, mentor, author, consultant and chairman of The JF Corporation and CEO of Top Sales Associates. For more information and tips from Jonathan, visit http://www.topsalesworld.com/, or go to his blog at http://www.thejfblogit.co.uk/.