Let’s be real: If someone asks an Account Manager to explain their role, most would say, “I am responsible for keeping strong, positive relationships in a customer account, solving their issues or questions that arise with our company, and ensuring our revenues continue as our customer.” Traditionally, Account Management has been characterized by having lunch, golf, or dinner with important, yet favorite, customer contacts. There is the annual “dance” around the contract renewal or price increases and the occasional opportunity to put on our capes and play “Super Hero” when issues arise.
Yet today, companies around the globe and across industries are complaining about their lack of revenue growth in their customer base even more loudly than low new logo growth. Why is this? Especially when they have specific roles dedicated to account management, even with multiple levels like Strategic, Global, or Key Account Managers.
There needs to be more than this reactive approach to account management. Customers today expect more. Much more. Companies are experiencing lower revenue growth and increasing customer churn, too—with account retention becoming more of an issue.
Many decision-makers don’t have the time they once had to spend with Account Managers. Others have governance requirements that limit when and how they spend time with you. Through the magic of the internet, they have every bit of information they need regarding your products, services, and, often, even pricing. Decision makers have accepted that someone has to PUSH providers for price decreases, so why not let their procurement group do that for them?
So, what do Account Managers need to do differently? Customers today expect their Account Managers to deliver thought leadership, provide advice in their specialization, and demonstrate real value that improves their company. To do this, you must shift to a proactive approach to support your customers.
Proactive Account Management starts with a vision for creating additional value for the customer.
It is grounded in thought leadership and constantly strives to identify new ways to enable customers to achieve their business goals. It is built on solid relationships at senior levels across the business while understanding the organizational politics of influence and personal agendas and how decisions are made. Your customers need to view you as thought leaders and business advisors who optimally become an extension of their team.
The personal relationships and close ties from these activities also create advantages for Account Managers. You can erect substantial barriers to entry for the competition, oftentimes enjoying the first right of refusal or possibly helping to shape a competitive RFP.
Proactive Account Management requires different behaviors, activities, and even different skills.
Establishing an Account Management Playbook with meaningful and purposeful activities that enable you to keep in contact and stay relevant to the customer regularly will help move the organization to a more proactive approach. These should, at a minimum, include:
- Account Value Vision: Every Account Manager should have a strategic Value Vision for where and how you can help the customer achieve their business goals. While the account team needs to create the initial draft, it must also be reviewed and modified in collaboration with the customer to reflect the impact they value most. The Account Value Vision helps ensure the account team is aligned with their customer’s strategy and, most importantly, with their top executives. It becomes a “passport” that enables the Account Manager to discuss, refine, and enlist support to execute the Value Vision throughout the customer’s organization.
- Relationship and Political Strategy: Every Account Manager should have a documented relationship and political strategy. It should identify the relationship with each key current and targeted stakeholder, outline the power and influence that person has in the decision-making process, their Personal Agenda(s), and whether they are aligned with competitors. These should be consistently evaluated within your organization and evidence-based. The most critical piece is the strategy and execution plan to create and leverage Partner Allies in the account.
- Client Scorecard: Account Managers should develop a set of KPIs that are regularly measured and jointly reviewed with their customers. These should include operational and business metrics, enabling you to measure and leverage operational performance and financial impact. These are especially valuable when a customer requires a trial before total commitment. Agreeing on desired metrics and evaluation timeframes helps ensure focus and success.
- Quarterly Strategic Reviews: Many account teams meet quarterly with customers to review performance metrics. While these meetings are essential, too often they are operational with non-decision makers and do little to create new value for the customer. Besides the Operational Review, Account Managers should also conduct a Quarterly Strategic Review with key senior leaders. In this meeting, you can highlight key insights from the Operational Reviews and discuss the decision-maker’s most important initiatives to determine if there is a way to help its success. You can also refine and advance the Customer Value Vision, deliver industry thought leadership, and strengthen your relationship with key executives.
- Competitive Strategy: Every Account Manager should know who the competition is in your account, where they are positioned within the account, what they do for the customer, and which customer contacts are aligned with them. Also, what is your perception of your capabilities and offerings, and how key customer stakeholders are receiving that? Finding out without a Partner Ally relationship willing to provide organizational insights is extremely challenging. Building a Partner Ally in each account is critical.
- Executive Briefings: Executive Briefings held with the right customer audience (both the right level and breadth of function) are extremely effective in strengthening relationships and driving new business. Focused on a combination of industry thought leadership for typical business challenges and unique goals of the account, they should be held at least annually. (Preferably at one of your showcase locations where customer executives can meet your executives and experience the royal treatment.)
Certainly, there are other repeatable activities that the account team should do to become more proactive that could be unique to your environment. So, get the best in your organization to share their practices, which can become part of your Account Management Playbook. The key is proactively performing suitable activities with the right customer contacts to get the desired outcomes…account tenure and consistent revenue growth. Activity drives results!
NOTE: The shift to a proactive account management strategy will require the sales management team to perform, coach, and inspect different activities and outcomes!