You’ve completed planning for the upcoming year, and in order to hit your number, you’ve identified your most important customers. These accounts are where you cannot fail. Your key account program ensures your best account managers are engaged, but is that it? It shouldn’t be.
If you get this right, you’ve solidified a relationship that can expand further. Get it wrong, and your competitor’s top account manager just got a foothold.
Beyond just assigning your top reps, your key account program can be a competitive advantage. You must differentiate the customer experience in a way that your competitors can’t. Unlock new opportunities and increase the “stickiness” of your solutions.
To accomplish this, here are two aspects of a Key Account program that are often overlooked:
- Use Formalized Account Planning to Expand Relationships
- Equip Your Account Teams to Differentiate the Customer Experience
SBI’s CX Strategy Workbook will help you get started. Implement the use of a CX Design Strategy to have confidence that your teams can provide a superior customer experience.
You expect your sales teams to build progress in a sales pipeline, and you periodically review it. However, building relationships is also a core responsibility for account managers. Coach your account managers on their relationship-building activities in regular pipeline discussions. The key is to ensure there is a plan, and they are building the right relationships. A formalized account planning process is an ideal catalyst for this.
Ensure account plans are developed jointly with the customer, and the plans identify:
- The customer’s priorities/objectives.
- Current and potential solutions from your company that could provide value.
- Key contacts with the budget and authority to achieve those objectives.
- The strength of the relationship with those key contacts.
- An action plan to maintain, nurture, or build the identified relationships.
Review the relationship-building actions from the account plans regularly to track progress. Remember, the value is as much through the experience and value offered to the client as it is the tangible output of an Account Plan. For a more in-depth look at conducting a joint planning session in a way that optimizes the customer experience, see How a Sales Leader Leverages Customer Experience.
Proactively Monitor and Resolve Issues in the Customer Experience
Your top customers spend the most with you. They also have more touchpoints with more people, functions, and the risk of a problem arising due to complexity and a lack of coordination. Hence, your most valuable customers will stress-test your processes underpinning key customer touchpoints that may look normal in isolation but are actually disjointed when you consider the entire customer journey. For a more on this, see Touchpoint Analysis – Your Key to Unlocking the Secrets of the Customer Journey.
To mitigate this, it is crucial to enable your Account teams to monitor critical customer interactions. Why? The same complexity in serving your top customers often makes it nearly impossible for account teams to stay on top of the myriad of internal systems and reports. You could be forcing your key account teams to bootstrap their own management system inconsistently deployed from one customer to the next. Therefore, even modest investments in customer-centric dashboards and reporting capabilities can pay dividends.
This will allow them to stay informed and proactively take action before the customer raises the issue. Even if problems do arise, an engaged, informed, and empowered account team is a powerful asset in maintaining a favorable relationship.
What Good Looks Like:
- Automated account “health” dashboard.
- Visible to the account team and senior leadership.
- Exception based reporting to highlight issues.
- KPI’s measured as leading indicators of success.
Account Managers and Customer Success professionals should not be the primary support. However, equipping them to proactively resolve issues enables them to succeed in their primary mission. See Reallocating CSM Time Can Dramatically Improve Customer Success Revenue for more information.
Why Is This Important?
This disconnects in the end-to-end customer journey signal that you can’t scale to meet their needs. Executed well, a positive experience on your existing book of business is evidence of excellence. A hurdle that competitors without a foothold cannot match. Executed poorly, however, and the experience becomes baggage and a headwind to overcome. A competitor with a clean slate and no baggage is now calling on one of your top customers.
In closing, a key account program is an opportunity to encourage actions and deliver experiences for your most important clients that may not be feasible or realistic for the remaining tiers of customers. Leveraging the critical mass and visibility of a key account program to simultaneously improve sales execution while bolstering your standing with the customer can be a crucial step towards earning trust to expand the relationship further.
Launch and maintain a strong customer-focused culture by downloading SBI’s CX Strategy Workbook.