Almost every sales organization places a premium on what they would call key accounts, major accounts, or strategic accounts. For new or expanding businesses, winning a few “big names” gives them a foothold in targeted market segments. For established businesses, these accounts can be linked to a significant portion of yearly revenues, either directly or through the credibility they provide when targeting new customers. Needless to say, these accounts are like gold.
The reverse is also true. A really good account executive is highly valuable to their large, strategic accounts. They understand their business so well, they are treated like an extension of the customer’s internal team. Unfortunately, the management of large, strategic accounts is too often approached very similarly as the approach to smaller accounts.
Different Types of Accounts Require a Different Approach
Managing a high-value account takes a different skill set than managing multiple smaller accounts. At any given time, a large account may have several purchasing projects in play, and each of these buying teams may follow its own process. They also often have more buyers on the team than do small organizations, and there are more political influences on the process itself.
There are extra challenges on the sales side, too. Almost all complex sales is team selling these days, but the size and diversity of the team handling a large account is usually much different than that required to cover smaller accounts. The selling team may even include channel partners or other vendors who provide complementary products or services.
96% of world-class sales performers say they “regularly collaborate across departments to manage strategic accounts.”
~ 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study
A Case Study on the Importance of Collaboration
Let me share an example of a global company that revamped its strategic account-management process to align with its objective of increasing account retention and penetration.
This organization sold some pretty complex products across the globe. Their customers were often multinational, with buying teams that crossed geographic boundaries. And, the solution usually involved multiple product lines, including complementary products from other vendors.
Needless to say, the sales process could get pretty hairy. The same buyers were being approached from many different angles: by product-line salespeople, by geography reps, even by channel partners. Sometimes buyers would play salespeople off each other even when they were all trying to sell the same ultimate solution. More often than not, the whole process was rife with confusion.
The accounts had account managers, but they were selling to their customers as though they were a collection of smaller accounts. They looked primarily at each opportunity, not at the organization as a whole. And, the lone-wolf attitude dominated their approach to selling. Other salespeople within their own organization were seen at best as a nuisance and at worst as “the competition.”
For this organization, collaboration was key. After a holistic account-management process heavy on collaboration was implemented, instead of being managed by one account manager, most of the large accounts are now managed by 12–15 person account-management teams. Of course the accounts still need a team leader, someone who orchestrates the moving parts and is accountable for the team’s success. This required creating a new and a very different role than the one they started out with.
The outcome is that this organization now pulls in more than half of their revenues from their large accounts and is seeing a significant increase in account penetration.
Is Your Large-Account Team Relationship Ready?
Ask yourself the above question and then think about the objectives of a solid account-planning process. Will the current approach help us understand how our customer views our relationship? What is the value the customer thinks our company provides them? Does our current approach promote our teams and executives to be aligned with peers within the customer’s teams and executives? And finally, does our approach expand the number of stakeholders within the account in a positive way? Put simply, a Relationship Ready PlatformTM will elevate the level of relationships with the customer.
If you’re not seeing the hoped-for results from your strategic accounts, take a close look at the way your account managers are managing the relationships and the opportunities with these customers. Are they using the same strategies they used when they managed a collection of smaller accounts? Or, have they adapted their approach to the needs of the large account so that they can effectively approach and manage according to their customer needs?