Vijay had built a solid relationship with his contact, Evan, who was the director of fixed operations for a national car dealership group. They’d become good friends along the way and usually got in a round of golf when Vijay visited.
While waiting on the ninth tee box for the group ahead, Vijay made a light joke about being Evan’s favorite account manager. To Vijay’s surprise, Evan deadpanned, “Actually, Linda Worthington is my best account manager. She’s always one step ahead of me. No matter what I’m thinking, she’s already there.”
Linda was an account manager for one of Vijay’s competitors. They shared the service contract for Evan’s dealerships.
“That hurt!” said Vijay. “At first I just blew it off but the more I thought about it, I knew I had to change. I needed to get more proactive with my approach if I wanted to stand out with Evan and pick up more of his business.”
Proactive Account Management Pays Off
It makes a powerful statement, and you retain more control when you anticipate problems and bring solutions to the table before your customers ask for them. Savvy account managers are constantly analyzing each of their customers and developing solutions designed to help those customers deal with their unique problems. This proactive approach ensures long-term customer retention and opens the door to account growth because it demonstrates to your customers that you care and you are a valued partner.
From Transactional to Strategic Partner
Why is taking a proactive approach to account management so important? Simple. Because rarely do you have 100% of your customers business. There is almost always white space – opportunities to sell more to new divisions, to displace a competitor, or to bring in additional products.
There are basically three types of customer relationships.
- Trusted Advisor
- Strategic Partner
Most account relationships start off as transactional. You are viewed as just another vendor and your customer keeps you at arm’s length. Since trust is built one brick and one step at a time at a time, you have to prove yourself to your customer.
However, when you proactively tackle problems your customer has the opportunity to see you at your best. You also save your customers time, relieve them of their overwhelming workload, and position them to win with their boss, internal stakeholders, and company. You begin to be seen as a competent professional who understands their unique business issues
When you consistently operate at this level you become a trusted advisor. Your customer begins to give you urgent and important projects with which you gain the opportunity to earn even more share of wallet. As a trusted advisor it also becomes easier to retain your accounts.
Strategic Partners Shape Buying Decisions
Meredith, like many of the top account managers I work with, schedules regular account reviews with her large clients. During a recent conversation about strategic account management she told me, “When I first started setting up these reviews they were mostly a look back on what we had done in the account: service issues, cost overruns, quality problems, and things like that. After about a year, I realized that the meetings had become stale and boring and all we were doing was rehashing the past and pointing out what was wrong. It was like trying to swim in quicksand. I was working hard but getting nowhere and I felt like these meetings were just opportunities for my customers to beat me up.”
So Meredith changed her approach.
She explained, “After taking some advice from one of my peers, I began walking into these meetings with a plan for the future. Yeah, we still talked about past issues, but the dialogue changed. We began talking about ways we could innovate and how I could help my customer achieve their business goals. Over time, the conversations were more robust and I worked hard to bring real solutions and recommendations to each meeting. My customers liked it better and I walked away from those meetings feeling more confident and better about myself.”
Meredith described how, over time, she became a strategic partner to many of her customers. They began pulling her into strategy sessions to get her opinion. They gave her a seat at the table.
In this position, as a strategic partner, she gained enough influence to shape buying decisions and displace competitors with her products. Soon she was growing her accounts at an accelerated pace and blowing away her plan.
It’s Not About You
You become a strategic partner by maintaining acute attention on your customer and their business and delivering value for them at every turn.
The easiest way to do this is to put your own needs and wants aside to focus on what is best for your customer. Instead of focusing on how you and your company do things, ask your customers about how they do things. As you do so they will reward you with trust and pull you in more and more for help and advice.
- For more advice on Account Planning download the unabridged copy of Donal Daly’s new book Account Planning in Salesforce
- Get a sneak peek at my new book Fanatical Prospecting – Get TWO FREE Chapters Here
People Love You: The Real Secret to Delivering a Legendary Customer Experience teaches B2B and high-end B2C reps the skills and savvy they need to develop, manage, and grow their accounts.
In a hypercompetitive global marketplace, protecting your customer base must be your number-one priority.