The strategic account management process has always been complex. The complexities exist at all levels – thinking, documenting, presenting, planning, training and reviewing. Therefore, key account managers dread that time of the year that they need to create account plans with the best practices. Taking you through the entire process and strategies may be a bit too long for a blog. But in this one let me make the ‘thinking’ part a little easier with frameworks, directions, and principles for a phenomenal account planning exercise.
Understand account information in terms of revenue/profitability/growth, products/services, geographic spread, and the account’s strategic initiatives and plan for the year. This is publicly available data that can be easily found so it makes no sense to not use this to analyze your client’s financial position and organizational structure.
The most relevant questions and the ones that will be unique from your competitors are questions like: Which areas of your business are most important to you? Where do you see yourself in two to four years? Are there areas of interest that you might either reduce or grow? What kinds of obstacles do you worry about? What would you like to see from a prime supplier?”
Voice of Customer (VoC)
Ask any strategic account manager and they will tell you that the days are gone when the client account landscape was represented by a one-way dialogue for engaging prospects. Today, account heads are shifting their listening and response mechanisms quicker as VoC represents a huge chance for driving loyalty and increased sales.
What are the challenges, concerns, and problems clients have been talking about? How can you address those problems with the products/services of your company? This kind of insight is usually not available publicly. It involves having an in-depth discussion with customers to understand their plan and pain points which can help in new product development or even tweaking the current product to suit their strategy and requirements. The success of this depends on the quality of relationships between the client and their customers, knowledge of both customers and your business.
Relationship Stage with Account
You can have multiple types of relationships with clients, and they can be either Tactical, Cooperative, Interdependent or Strategic. You can use a simple weighted attribute method to arrive at one of the four. A Skilled manager uses the best practices and strategies to plan and create the account management organizational structure with an account plan and process in place. Having the right training and using certain principles increases the skill set of the manager.
Relationship Study with People
Sketch an organization chart with hierarchies, titles, and roles of all the contacts that matter. What is also helpful is to identify your supporters/detractors/champions among those contacts. Who controls what budgets? Who influences whom, both positively/negatively? Why?
In order to convert deals and present your customers with the high-grade experience, you need to be informed of the positions your contacts hold within their business and their level of influence in the decision-making process. Mapping their level of influence and their relationships within the organization can help you to concentrate your efforts on the plan appropriately.
Relationship mapping helps the sales and marketing units of business to optimize their lead generation plans and increase revenue from existing accounts.
Modern technology keeps the method of creating relation maps automated. Gathering insights using modern technology can automatically keep your relationship mapping efforts up-to-date
Growth Areas and Whitespaces
Based on the above 4 data points, identify the buying centers in the account and map which of your products/services is consumed in which buying centers.
Understanding the Buying Centers can help key account managers in planning and innovation. The Buying Center is a 40-year-old concept associated with Webster and Wind and can be hugely useful. The Buying Center is a part of the organization which involves a bunch of executives who have varying influence on the B2B buy decision.
Performing a complete buying center analysis is an essential first step to help key account managers understand which messages and tactics best convey the value of their products.
That can give you an idea of two types of growth areas:
Finding out the which of the existing projects/contracts/business can grow this year is where mining can happen.
What are the new opportunities that can be explored this year in your strategic account management process? That’s where farming growth comes in! All this can allow you to set yourself a revenue goal for the year.
To achieve the goal, list down action items, specific activities, monthly plan and the support required along with timelines. We are a firm believer in keeping the strategic account management process simple and yet powerful. Over-analysis can lead to paralysis so keep it short and simple. I would emphasize more on action items and numbers, less on theory. In today’s dynamic business world, we would also change the plan if there are any dramatic changes in the situation changes. Don’t constrain yourself by a rigid plan, make changes and roll with the punches.
Although they seem small, it’s the doing and the duties you accomplish that will ultimately get you to your goals. Even when your goal seems far off in the horizon, if you stay true to your action plan and perform your daily tasks, success is inevitable.