As an account manager or sales professional the two most important objectives for your customer base is to retain them and grow them. In both cases your aim is to move from a transactional role with your customer to a strategic partner with enough influence to shape buying decisions.
It begins with establishing performance targets and metrics with your customer upfront and on an ongoing basis. Too often, account managers assume they know what customers want based on their internal company standards, what makes other customers happy, or their own internal compass.
You may think you know what your customer wants or expects but I remind you that customers do things for their reasons, and not yours. Each customer has a unique expectation for the ROI they get from your product or service based on their business situation and experience, which, by the way, is based on what is most important to them—not you.
If you don’t know what that ROI is for each customer, you’ll spend your time chasing your tail. You will also have a difficult time shaping your customers’ expectations should they be or become unrealistic. And when it comes time to renew your agreement you’ll just be lumped in with all of the other vendors your customer perceives as a commodity.
If the ultimate goal of account management and customer service is to help your customers win by solving their problems, doesn’t it make sense to know what winning means to them? If your account is going in the wrong direction or you find yourself chasing shifting customer expectations, it is likely you don’t know what the target is because you haven’t asked your customer to clearly articulate the ROI they expect.
Get a Clear Picture of the White Space in Your Accounts
A key part of your account management process must be establishing performance targets and metrics for each customer.
Likewise, you must gain a keen understanding of the opportunities to grow your business inside each account.
- What divisions, locations, departments are you not servicing now that need your product or service?
- What additional or new products or services can you add to the mix?
- Where are there opportunities to disrupt and displace your competitors?
- Who are the key decision makers, influencers, and coaches with whom you need to build relationships?
As Donal Daley, author of Account Planning in SalesForce (get it free) and CEO of the TAS group advises, there is white space in your accounts and you must have a strategic and systematic plan to move into it.
Account Management is a Process
We should not forget that account management is a process. Put simply, a process is a repeatable set of steps that, when followed, leads to your strategic or tactical objective. As the complexity and size of the account increases, so do the sub-steps and the number of people involved in the account on your team and your customer’s team.
Some of the key elements of an effective account management process include:
- Building a Strategic Account Plan
- Setting Growth Targets
- Developing Account Goals and Objectives
- Creating a Key Contact Map (key contacts and influencers inside your account)
- Account Segmentation
- Defining Internal Roles and Responsibilities
- Setting Call and Visitation Schedule and Frequency
- Defining Reporting (internal and external) Process and Frequency
- Developing and Account Review Process
- Managing the Contract Renewal Process
- Gaining Executive Level Account Involvement
- CRM Management
A Systematic Focus on High ROI Activities
Many account managers operate without a systematic process for developing new opportunities within their accounts and anchoring relationships with customers to retain their accounts. Their approach is random and chaotic. Far too often they spend their time in the weeds focused on individual opportunities while losing sight of the big picture and overall account strategy.
In the absence of a disciplined account management process, they have the tendency to focus on low ROI activities while neglecting more important customer touch points that shape customer experience and buying decisions.
Though the account management process and elements will differ based on the size and strategic importance of the account, the importance of following a disciplined, structured, and systematic process for managing your accounts cannot be understated.
Your account management process is where all the touchpoints that impact customer experience, retention, and growth intersect. It is the fulcrum on which you develop deep, enduring relationships that generate extraordinary ROI for you and your customer.
Learn how to grow and retain your customers in my book, People Love You. Far too many of today’s books on customer service deal with the mechanics and process of servicing customers, without teaching account managers the critical interpersonal skills they need in order to create real customer loyalty and competitive differentiation.
In a hypercompetitive global marketplace, protecting your customer base must be your number-one priority. In order to succeed, businesses need to win over customers at every level and earn their trust.
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