Jacques, tell us about your journey as a Key Account Management Professional and how do you help companies achieve growth through focusing on their strategic partnership with the key account?
For context, as a CFO and COO for several global organisations, I chaired Capital Committees and Investment Committees and thus was responsible for making major buying decisions. Salespeople, engineers, consultants, and marketing professionals would present their solutions/proposals/services to us, and we would decide whether to invest with them, with their competitors, do something internally or do nothing at all. Leveraging on this C-level experience, I have been helping Key Account Management teams better understand the decision-making mindset and buying criteria of C-level Executives. My personal value added is that I have been on the other side of the table and sharing these insights with sales / account management teams is very helpful for them in identifying and closing opportunities, and in developing strong long-term relationships with the C-level clients.
My approach involves a journey starting with understating the client’s industry, strategy, initiatives, the needs and priorities of the key decision-makers and influencers, as well as those of the customer’s customer. Also required is to know how to demonstrate the operational and financial impact of the proposed solutions for the client, differentiate yourself from your competitors, and be able to put all this together in a compelling value proposition with clear before/ after scenarios. So overall the focus is on demonstrating a differentiated long-term value to the clients in their own language, consistent with their priorities.
When is the right time for businesses to start looking at their client relationships in the more strategic manner?
From the very beginning! That is how Executives think, plan, and are judged by. So the closer you get to understand our mindset, the more prepared, credible, pertinent and convincing you will be to us.
Moreover, a strategic outlook is vital for a long-term client relationship. Of course, you have to prioritize among clients. Among the factors to consider are the scale of business and the strategic impact the client can have on your own business. In the case that these two criteria are met, it becomes critical to have a strategic outlook. When clients view you as a strategic business partner – someone who really understands their business and can add value in the form of demonstrated operational impact and ROI, they are much more open to taking the relationship to a new level—something that a transactional supplier can never achieve.
What are the biggest obstacles you see businesses face toward becoming more oriented toward servicing & acquiring a deeper understanding of their strategic accounts?
There are a multitude of factors, but one of the biggest by far is not to be well prepared. This is not about the amount of preparation, but the right type of preparation, such as understanding trends and external factors that we can’t control but need to manage. For example, the digital world is transforming many businesses, as well as roles and responsibilities of the C-Suite Executives. Salespeople need to understand how that affects the buying process. I’ve seen over 1000 salespeople in my corporate life as COO and CFO and conducted over 300 workshops and keynotes globally and invariably the right preparation is still the one common element that is lacking for success among the Key account salespeople.
Software is eating the world & account management could not escape! Do you feel there is a need of having specialised platforms or software for strategic account management?
Yes. Having specialized platforms/ software for account management enhances overall productivity and streamlines the entire process. Some of the potential benefits include less deal slippage due to disorganised interaction, efficient management of multiple contacts, stronger collaboration, better visibility on communication with the account through documentation and overall time savings for the account management function personnel.
Will such tech platforms become ‘a must have’ for account managers and their leadership or do you feel it constitutes ‘a nice to have’ capability?
It’s a “Must Have”. Especially in order to be competitive in the age of technology-enabled account management.
What is your one mantra for growing strategic client relationships?
Building trust with clients. And trust first before anything else. If you don’t earn trust, you’ll never get my business. Trust is the foundation of great relationships and in the long-run winning key strategic deals.
Would you like to share an interesting business book you have recently read and what was the key takeaway for you?
I like “Good to Great”, a classic by Jim Collins—which I paraphrase as “Very good to Spectacular”. I read it several times and like to re-read it. I often meet a lot of General Managers and Heads of Sales who are satisfied because their teams have delivered very good results vs. their sales quotas and didn’t believe they need to change anything. Getting the C-level Buyer’s perspective can turn very good results into spectacular results.
Read another Interview of Brian Dietmeyer- CEO, Think! Inc. & 5600blue.