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.
The reason is…this reactive approach to account management is no longer enough. Customers today expect more. Much more. Not only are companies experiencing lower revenue growth but 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, many times even pricing. Decision makers have accepted the fact that someone has to PUSH providers for price decreases, so why not let their own 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 area of 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 how additional value can be created for the customer.
It is grounded in thought leadership and is constantly striving to identify new ways to enable the customer to achieve their business goals. It is built on strong relationships at senior levels across the business, while understanding the organizational politics of influence and personal agendas, and on how decisions are really made. Your customers need to view you as thought leaders and business advisors, whom optimally become an extension of their team.
The personal relationships and close ties from these activities create advantages for Account Managers as well. You can erect strong barriers of entry for the competition, often times 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 a set of meaningful and purposeful activities that enable you to regularly keep in contact and stay relevant to the customer 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 also needs to be reviewed and modified in collaboration with the customer to best reflect the impact they value most. The Account Value Vision helps ensure that the account team is aligned with the strategy of their customer 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, his/her Personal Agenda(s), and whether they are aligned with any 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 with your customer that are regularly measured and jointly reviewed. These should include operational metrics, as well as business metrics, enabling you to measure and leverage both operational performance and financial impact. These are especially valuable when a customer requires a trial prior to full commitment. Agreeing on desired metrics and evaluation timeframes helps ensure focus and success.
- Quarterly Strategic Reviews: Many account teams meet quarterly with their customers to review performance metrics. While these meetings are important, 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-makers’ most important initiatives in order 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 are doing for the customer, and which customer contacts are aligned to them. Also, what is your perception of your capabilities and offerings, and how that is being received by key customer stakeholders. This is extremely challenging to find out without a Partner Ally relationship that is willing to provide organizational insights. Building a Partner Ally in each account is so 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 that can then become part of your Account Management Playbook. The key is to perform the right activities, proactively, 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 also require the sales management team to perform, coach, and inspect different activities and outcomes as well!