Major Account management is not a single act, but a series of actions which link together to produce a powerful, professional and profitable result. There are two ways of looking at this process. One is to examine each element of Major Account management; the other is to create a model which can be applied flexibly, but effectively, across a range of situations. We will first look at the elements of Major Account management. We created this approach for a major institution that wanted to break down the different elements of the process to be sure they were doing everything as well as possible.
Many organizations do not know who their major accounts are. Certainly, many of the people who manage the relationships do not know, and even if they know, very few people understand why this customer is a major account but that one is not. A quick way to test this is to ask ten people in your organization who your ten most important accounts are. You can be sure that you will receive more than ten answers. In one company we worked with, we received 56 different answers from 10 senior managers! The clarification of major accounts has been a critically important part of our work with a number of the organizations with whom we have worked.
We need to understand our major accounts better than our ordinary customers. We need to understand the world they work in, the challenge of their markets, the competition they face, etc. We need to understand the individual projects (be it fighting to win new business or managing an existing project for maximum profitability). Major Account management involves understanding who takes decisions and how, who are our competitors, how does our offering impact on the customer’s business?
Those who manage need to keep developing their skills of questioning and listening, of networking and analyzing.
If a customer is worth being called a Major Account, then they are worth a plan. It is of course possible to sell successfully in an unplanned way – there are always opportunities to be seized by chance. But if we are serious about developing a long term relationship, and if this customer is really important to our success as a business, then we need to plan. We will look later at two types of planning. One of the most encouraging spin-offs in our work with clients is when we see the emergence of succinct, professional business plans for major accounts that cascade down into satellite plans for other parts of the business.
There are many people to influence. We need to influence technical people and commercial people; we need to influence our customers, their clients and our colleagues. The Major Account manager often has little authority to tell people what to do. Instead, he or she needs to influence and persuade.
It is good to plan and understand and influence, but our business will depend on our ability to deliver what we promise. This is often seen as the responsibility of customer service, but in fact the whole organisation needs to be committed to delivering what the customer needs – the right quality at the right time – and to do it in such a way that the customer feels good about it.
Any key account needs managing, because success does not just happen. By manage, I mean doing all those things which make things go smoothly – It may be arranging a regular review meeting with the customer, training the account team to understand the customer better, or handling problems and managing complex projects. If we work hard on all six areas of account management and if we gain the trust of our customers, then we will greatly increase our chances of long term, sustainable success.