What’s your approach to customer/client engagement?
Are you just taking orders when they arise, or are you ‘managing accounts’?
If you’re interested in maximising the relationship and sales potential of each active customer or client (and which business wouldn’t be?) then an account management approach could be the key to sustainable business. This post is a brief introduction and appetite-whetter to what’s meant by account management…
What is account management?
Checking in with gartner.com gives us the following definition:
“Account management is the practice of providing customers with service, support and improvement opportunities to increase their consumption of a product or service and maximize retention, cross-sell and upsell opportunities within the customer base.”
The key feature is that while waiting for orders or sales is essentially a passive strategy, account management takes a more proactive stance.
An account manager:
- Assesses the sales profitability and potential of existing key clients.
- Prioritises where to put their time and energy for maximum profitability.
- Has a strategic plan for the development of each client relationship.
- Acts as more of a sales consultant than a ‘seller’.
A good account manager knows the clients that constitute their key accounts. They understand the client’s business needs, both current and anticipated. They understand how the services or goods they sell stand out from the competition and – critically – how those ‘stand-out’ offers will specifically meet the client’s needs.
What do account managers do?
Account management depends on information – gathering it, analysing it, understanding the results. The role is strategic and forward-looking. To assess client or account potential, an account manager will assess their market position and needs (using tools such as SWOT analysis to focus on key issues), looking for opportunities to support the client through the goods and/or services they offer.
It’s a role that depends on being able to build long-term relationships, understanding how individual client organisations make their purchase decisions, and being able to use this knowledge and understanding to leverage sales and a continuance of the relationship which, over time will begin to resemble more of a partnership arrangement.
However, future sales or orders are not the only goal. If account management focused only on getting more orders on the books, it would be a one-sided relationship (and unlikely to function). The account manager has the client’s business goals and interests at the centre of their relationship strategy. The orders come from searching for opportunities that genuinely serve the client’s interests.
Influencing is a key skill
No surprise that account managers rely less on ‘pure’ sales skills and more on their capability to influence clients. At The In-House Training Company, we look at influencing skills using Dr Robert Cialdini’s classic model from the book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”.
- Reciprocity – give something to get something
- Commitment/Consistency – people like to be seen as consistent, and once they’ve committed to an action, they’re more likely to follow it through.
- Consensus/Social Proof – people have a drive to fit in with the crowd, doing what they see others do.
- Authority – we all have a tendency to follow/comply/obey someone we see as an authority figure.
- Liking – the more we like someone, the easier they can persuade us of something.
- Scarcity – something that has limited availability is more attractive.
(Since the original book, Cialdini has added a seventh principle. Unity implies that we are more likely to be influenced by someone with whom we feel some kind of shared identity).
Just to restate the point from earlier, a good account manager uses these influencing principles with the client’s business needs and goals in mind – (by all means, use your influencing powers ‘for evil’ and go for the sales at all costs, but if you focus only on your own needs and goals, the account relationship won’t last long!)
Account management is the use of research, knowledge and influencing skills to understand the profitability and development opportunities for each client – and then strategising accordingly, for mutual benefit. The result – ideally – is that the role is seen as less sales and more advice and partnership, helping accounts make the right decisions for them and also maximising profit. The goal is win-win.
The In-House Training Company offers a one-day workshop, Account management essentials which can be tailored to specific business or delivery needs; or you can just give us a call on 01582 463463. We’re here to help.