While the short-term success of any sales organisation relies on the quality of its offering and the individual abilities of sales team members, long-term success is rather different. Indeed, success in this area is less about sales skills and more about the ability to manage relationships with existing clients through key account management.
In this article, we look at the best ways to manage those large accounts successfully, so that you build lasting relationships, are able to adapt as their needs change and, ultimately, maximise the lifetime value of customers.
Identifying Key Accounts
One of the first steps to successfully managing your large accounts is to identify them and decide which of them constitute key accounts. The precise definition of a key account will vary from business to business, but there should be some shared attributes which separate them from your other accounts.
It may be that your key accounts are all your biggest accounts, but this is not always the case. You should consider things like the frequency of business, whether there is the potential to sell them additional products or services in the future, whether there are further collaborative opportunities to work towards, and so on.
“Good advice here is to start small,” says Lynette Ryals, writing for the Harvard Business Review. “It is easier to add customers to your key account management program than it is to ‘demote’ customers once you have told them they are key accounts. Be clear about what defines a key account and stick to that.”
Understand Your Customers
Next, you need to truly understand the people and businesses behind those key large accounts, because the more you know about them, the more personalised your service to them can be. Obviously, you need to know what their business does, but it is also important to understand what the key challenges in their industry are, who their competitors are and what their goals are as well as recent developments and news within the organisation.
Miller Heiman Group’s Large Account Management Process goes into more detail about enhancing the relationship between the buying and selling organisation, helping to unlock the true potential of strategic accounts. The aim of the programme is to help businesses to analyse relationships and set measurable goals.
Of course, technology also has a key role to play, not only in terms of organising information through CRM systems, but also in acquiring some of that information in the first place. Thanks to the internet, a huge amount of useful information is now publicly available and can be used for sales management and sales prospecting purposes.
Manage For the Long-Term
Finally, it is important that once large accounts have been established and key accounts have been identified, those accounts are managed for the long-term, rather than sacrificed for short-term success. This means maintaining relationships during non-sales periods and using the information you have to spot potential changes in advance.
“Key account relationships should outlive the KAMs and all the members that constitute the key account management teams” says Milind Katti, CEO of DemandFarm. “Therefore, it is critical to build account and people knowledge into the system so all internal stakeholders are tuned in and can do their part seamlessly.”
Crucially, a huge amount of large account management is not actually about making a sale – at least not right now. The absolute key to account management is customer retention and this should be over several years. As a result, the focus should not simply be on today’s opportunities, but also on opportunities in the distant future.