Thank you for listening to The Champion Forum Podcast with Jeff Hancher! If you work with clients, you know that closing the sale is only the first step in establishing a strong relationship. If you want to create loyal customers, increase your profitability, and leverage your relationship to create scalable customer service solutions, you need a strategic account management process! In today’s episode, we’ll talk about seven steps you can take to select and nurture your strategic accounts so that you have a mutually beneficial relationship.
What is the difference between sales and strategic management?
Sales programs focus on acquiring new customers and short-term goals. Strategic Account Management focuses on developing your company’s relationships with a small number of important accounts over a longer period of time. The most successful organizations don’t just wing it; they use standardized processes to develop and maintain these crucial relationships.
Q: Have you ever heard of a strategic account manager? What is your first impression? How do you think that having a formal account management process could benefit your business? What reservations do you have?
7 Steps To Implementing a Strategic Account Management Process
1. Assign dedicated strategic account managers
Separate the sales and account manager positions. By allowing each position to focus on one piece of the relationship, you will prevent your employees from having a divided focus. You also will be able to hire people who have the unique skill set that will make them successful account managers. When you are looking for a strategic account manager, look for someone who is both personable and analytical. You want someone who can make their customers feel secure by being highly collaborative in a cross-functional team.
2. Create criteria for selecting your key accounts
Save your most valuable clients for your strategic account management system, and involve your senior managers in the process. These clients should be the ones who will propel your organization toward its goals. Your selection criteria could include product fit, revenue potential, growth potential, cultural fit, location, and existing relationships.
3. Perfect the transition from sales to account management
Take the time to script how the handoff from your sales team to the account management team should work. How well you handle account transitions is an important part of building a trusted relationship with your customers. Communicate what the customer can expect moving forward. Anticipate questions like, “Who can I talk to if I have concerns or questions?” Setting clear expectations and following through will create trust and security with your customer.
4. Get to know your customer
The more you know about your customer’s pain points and goals the better your account manager can serve them. Build a comprehensive profile that includes your customer’s
Business and markets
Goals and initiatives
Stakeholder roles and responsibilities
5. Assess your customer’s needs
Conduct a needs assessment. Answer the questions below and look for opportunities to collaborate and partner with them. Your typical account will last 3-12 months. In a strategic account, your goal is to create a strategy for the next 1-3 years. Remember: your goal is to grow with you customer.
What are the organization’s pain points?
Where do your needs or goals overlap, and how can you help each other progress?
Are there any problems looming that you can anticipate and address for them?
6. Schedule contacts, meetings, and follow-ups regularly
Don’t just check in on your clients when issues arise! Set up a regular schedule to help you understand how your customer is using your product and how you can help meet their needs.
7. Evaluate your performance
Find a way to measure your success with your customer. Focus on tracking not only how you serve your customer but also how they serve you. If you notice that your relationship is no longer benefiting your organization, you may need to reassess your relationship.
Q: Think about a time when you had an excellent experience with a company or product. What set them apart? How did your relationship evolve after you became a customer? How could you apply their approach to your own business?
Q: Do any of your clients provide value to your organization? How? What other characteristics set those accounts apart? How are you currently nurturing and maximizing those relationships?
If you do not currently have an employee engaging with your strategic accounts, evaluate your need for it. Look at your current number of salespeople. Ask them how much of their time they spend selling and how much time they spend serving their accounts. If you are a small business, you might not have a dedicated person for your strategic accounts yet, but it is never too early to structure your team for the future. Start evaluating how you could choose one salesperson to take on this new position. Talk to HR and look at your budget for next year. If you have the financial ability to create a new position, start evaluating your team and looking for people with the qualities listed under point one.
Create a customer profile for your top 3 accounts. Use the questions above, and check out this link if you need more assistance. If you already have customer profiles, make sure that they are updated, and schedule a time to regularly update your information. If 2020 showed us anything, it is that businesses’ needs can change at any moment! Don’t let your relationship suffer because you failed to notice that your customer’s needs changed.
How often are you evaluating your success? If you already have a strategic management process, how are you assessing your success? Take some time to look over that assessment and make sure that your goals are clear, measurable, and relevant. If you are not involved in strategic account management, evaluate how you are measuring your success in your current role. For accountability, plan time to go over your success with a mentor.