In my last post, I discussed the importance of strategic accounts and shared five critical signs that a key account may be in trouble. Here are five of the best strategies we’ve seen work with our customers to preserve at-risk strategic accounts and the essential revenue they generate — before it’s too late.
1. When account growth and/or activity unexpectedly slows
While account changes are unavoidable, that doesn’t mean you need to be blindsided by them. Information is your salvation. When your Strategic Account Managers (SAMs) have real-time, comprehensive visibility into your key accounts at all times, you can neutralize problems that loom on the horizon — or, at the very least, be part of the solution.
- Get granular. Just as you track your team’s individual performance levels, you should track the revenue activity of your strategic account. Instruct your SAMs to set goals for each customer and monitor their progress by account, not just by total numbers.
- When an account’s production isn’t tracking to plan — either up or down — talk to your SAM to find out why. Then, get strategic.
- Investigate all deviations, even the very small ones. Be sure they’re an inconsequential blip and not the early stages of a damaging trend.
2. When your SAM’s primary contact leaves or plans to leave
Good account management means having solid relationships with multiple parties in your key accounts. That way, you’re less susceptible to losing business to a staffing change.
- Ask probing, open-ended questions. One of the reasons your SAMs need to have relationships with your customers is having the platform to ask questions, such as: Is an older purchasing executive looking at retirement? Is a young, aggressive manager considering different opportunities? How is that going to impact your business, and what’s the best response?
- Connect with account contacts through social media. LinkedIn will notify you when one of your connections updates their profile — often, people who are in the job market will make changes in their descriptions designed to make them more attractive to a new company. Any profile change should be immediately checked out. Another effective idea is to follow companies on LinkedIn and search for insight into possible personnel changes that could affect your business.
- Move with your contacts. In the case that your primary contact does go to another company, you may be able to follow them there. Just make sure you don’t close new business at the expense of your existing account.
3. When a key contact complains or goes silent
Complaints are part of any productive business relationship. However, many customers won’t say anything — they just stop calling or quietly take their business elsewhere. How you handle both situations has critical implications for the relationship moving forward.
- Create a process to solicit open, honest, regular feedback from your key accounts.
- Coach your team to effectively assess complaints. Are the stated issues valid, or is the customer setting the stage for a supplier change?
- Test customer satisfaction surveys.
- Offer robust loyalty programs that reward your most valuable customers with concierge-level service. A little effort goes a long way.
- Conduct regular account reviews with your key contact.
- Schedule time for senior-level executives in your organization to periodically place personal calls to your strategic accounts.
4. When the account undergoes a major change event
You’ll never be able to predict every change in a strategic account, but your SAMs should be able to predict most major events by monitoring multiple sources of information, such as:
- Industry news and trends
- The customer’s press releases and public statements
- The customer’s website(s) and blog(s)
- Shareholder statements and reports
- Other sources for company news
- For each strategic account, set up a Google alert for the company and key personnel so that you’ll know immediately if they’re mentioned anywhere online.
- Consider multi-year contracts, quarterly retainers, or agreements that automatically renew. That way, your company is already in the year’s expense forecast.
- Make it more costly and painful for strategic accounts to change vendors than to stay with your business. Do you promote their content online? How often do you send them referrals? Look for ways to make yourself indispensable.
5. When your SAM is underperforming or leaves of their own accord
Sometimes, risk emerges on your side of the relationship, not your customer’s. For example, turnover is inevitable. The typical sales organization terminates 20% of its reps every year and loses another 20% of their own accord.
If you anticipate a staffing change on your team, try to make the change gradually by bringing in a replacement while the SAM is still there. This approach can work if the current SAM is:
- Underperforming and will be terminated if certain improvement goals aren’t met
- Searching for other opportunities
- Being groomed for a promotion or transfer
- Approaching retirement
- When coaching an underperforming SAM, take a collaborative approach: We aren’t getting the revenue we need, so let’s work together to identify and solve the problem. The best result is that you’ll save the account and rescue the SAM’s career; the worst is that you’ll know the key players if you need to transition the account.
- In the case of a replacement, bridge the gap between the outgoing and incoming SAM. A strong manager’s involvement can accelerate rapport and credibility as it smooths the transition.
- Don’t make the handoff until your new manager is 100% ready. Ensure your customers never waste their time educating the new SAM.
Of course, no matter how well prepared and responsive you are, you’re not going to be able to save every account. If the worst happens, use it as a teaching opportunity to reduce the risk of a repeat occurrence.
When you know what red flags to watch for and what to do when you see them, you’ll risk-proof your strategic accounts and the revenue they represent. That way, your team can focus on developing and growing the accounts instead of simply keeping them.