Take Steps to Deepen Your Relationship with Your Key Accounts

By Joe Truncale
In June 8, 2010

Last time we talked about the importance of "key accounts" (our 20 or so best client relationships) and about creating a simple grid listing our top accounts on one side and our products and capabilities on the other, then tracking what and how much they are buying from us.

One of the things we should be trying to determine is whether there are noticeable gaps in what they need (and buy) and what they buy from us.  These gaps represent opportunities for us to further our service levels with them.  Now what? Well, what comes next are two steps:  Planning and execution.

First, we need to take a deeper look at the customers who comprise our "top 20" and frame the discussion of each account three key questions:  Is the account significant?  Is it strategic?  And, is it profitable?

Key accounts are significant if they are doing a high volume of work with us, but in other ways as well.  Do they hold a high position within their field or profession?  Are they well known in the local business community?  What type of industry are they in and what is the short- and long-term outlook for that industry (or profession)?  How are they positioned in their industry and what is their outlook as an entity?  What is their management structure?  Are they in a growth mode, or are they a takeover target?

Key accounts are strategic if they might help us get a foothold in a new industry or if we are launching a new product or service they want.  Can they help introduce us to other accounts (more about the many missed opportunities for client referrals later)?  Does having their name on our roster of customers bring increased credibility? 

The profitability of a key account seems straightforward enough.  However, we should look beyond the most obvious measure of profitability and toward other issues that may not factor directly into traditional methods of analyzing profitability.  For example, does the account require special estimating, billing or delivery?  What amount of senior management’s time is involved in serving these accounts?  What is the level of service expected?  What is their payment history like?  All of these issues affect profitability, but don’t necessarily show up when reviewing P&L by account.

Planning for growth among our key accounts is a team sport.  It begins with a management imperative that brings increased urgency and scrutiny, and generally requires input from sales, customer service, technical support, and senior management.  In most cases, this is not work best left to individual sales reps alone.  Armed with information gleaned from the grid analysis, we can determine a go-forward plan to approach customers and introduce them to our broad array of products, capabilities, and services.

Among the best ways to begin is with an Annual Meeting of the Relationship™ (AMR™).  Begin by requesting a brief face-to-face meeting between the owner or CEO of your company and the decision-makers in your top accounts, ideally at their location.  (The sales rep on the account may or may not be included.)

There are two primary objectives of this meeting.  The first is for each party to learn more about ways to advance the relationship toward a higher level of mutual benefit.  You will ask questions about their goals, objectives, needs, concerns.  They will learn more about your capabilities, which likely go beyond what they know now.

The second objective is all about positioning your company.  When the owner/CEO of a business cares enough about a customer to request time not for a sales call, but to thank them for their business and to identify ways to serve the customer even better, it goes a long way toward building loyalty and trust.  And here’s an added benefit to conducting an AMR™; your competitors are probably not going to bother!

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