The Importance of Strategic Account Planning
Your key customer accounts first and foremost must be protected and second, they need to be managed to grow to their full revenue potential. Failure to do so can result in financial ruin. Sales professionals including account managers need to have both short-term and long-term goals including a methodology for actively managing and growing strategic accounts. Without a strategic account development methodology including metrics to measure success, it can be difficult to assess if your account managers are simply passive “order takers” or as I like to refer to them, “relationship builders.”
In my experience “relationship builders” do nothing to help the customer or to move the relationship forward. Relationship builders are reactive in nature and simply try to find business but they can’t create business. Instead they focus on appeasing the customer and ensuring “they don’t step on people’s toes.” They don’t engage in the tough conversations because they don’t want to rock the boat. Perhaps this is one of the major reasons why IT staffing firms in general don’t engage in strategic account planning? This complacent behavior holds IT staffing firm’s hostage and eventually kills their business. Your key customers are far too important to your organization to be managed reactively.
What IT staffing firms need is a strategic account development methodology for effectively planning and growing key accounts. A strategic account development methodology provides both short-term and long-term planning for your key accounts. Like your opportunity funnel, good account plans provide milestones and expose your blind spots. They include measurable objectives that allow you to see if progress is being made. Equally important are indicators that help you identify and correct small problems before they become critical issues.
Some IT staffing firms have account managers who focus on farming and managing their strategic accounts while others have their sales people manage those accounts. Arguments can be made for both models, but what both fail to include is account planning. I’m talking about account planning that goes well beyond simply filling out an account profile template at the end of the year and never following through.
I understand that sales people don’t enjoy the planning process and the paperwork that comes with it. Account planning takes time and requires patience. I also understand that account planning doesn’t provide immediate gratification, yet requires an upfront investment in the form of time and energy with an unknown return. But when you fail to plan you tend to engage in reactive behavior and never give yourself the chance to become the incumbent vendor let alone the trusted adviser. With no planning you are not focused on your client’s critical business issues or goals. When you are not aligned and focused on helping your client achieve their goals and/or helping them solve their critical business issues you are seen as just another vendor, a commodity. And when you’re viewed as commodity the conversation always focuses on price. Do you see the pattern?
When you invest in strategic account planning you can align you service offerings around your client’s business goals, making them real business solutions. When you engage your clients in strategic account planning you can gain real insight and visibility into their business which enables you to become a part of the decision making process. This creates value for the customer, reduces pricing sensitivity when contract talks take place and makes it more difficult for a competitor to replace you.
When IT staffing firms engage in strategic account planning they;
- Have a road map for bringing the entire account relationship into view
- Identify high value relationships
- Uncover the overall account revenue opportunity
- Identify the best sales strategies for each opportunity
- Understand the customer’s perception of the business relationship
- Open opportunities you wouldn’t have known about without account planning
- Learn how to manage the business relationship to avoid pricing sensitivity
- Avoid being surprised by loss of a key client
- Systematically grow revenue and profitability