Whether you classify customers as “strategic, major, key, target, or focus,” your probability of success in meeting your goals with an account will increase substantially when you assemble a team of supporting resources to supplement the work of the Account Manager.
The Account Manager and a supporting cast of sales, technical specialists, and other internal and external resources working together will result in the greatest return from your relationship with your important customers. The customer’s cross-functional decision teams will find value from this approach too, as the “right” resources are applied to addressing all business issues related to a purchase from all impacted groups.
It is not economically feasible to employ a team of people to all accounts. Only those accounts that you designate as “important” qualify for consideration for a team approach. Your most important customers include:
- Your largest customers
- Accounts with the largest opportunity potential
- Accounts that have both short term and long term need for your product/services
- Accounts that give you access or credibility in a given market
- Accounts that can serve as “lighthouse” customers for new products
You may define your most important accounts using these or other criteria that you choose. If they are important to your business, you need to ensure that you succeed with these accounts. To do so, you must assemble your winning team. However, simply having a team of people working on an account does not guarantee success.
What is the successful team model for account management?
The account team may be thought of as a layered set of “teammates,” each with defined and different responsibilities and varying levels of engagement.
Consider the image of a stone thrown into a lake and the resulting waves that radiate from the center, across the water…
- Core (“stone”) – This is the Account Manager who is the primary sales resource assigned to the account.
- Wave 1 – “The Core Team.” Systems Engineer(s) and/or remote location based Account Managers who may also be assigned sales resources on the account.
- Wave 2 – “The Extended Team” consisting of other resources in the company with special expertise (e.g. Product Specialists, Solution Architects, Product Managers, Customer Success Managers) who may be employed as-required, in the customer engagement. This may also include sales leaders such as the immediate sales manager, or VP of Sales.
- Wave 3 – “The Partner Team.” When partners are involved, their sales, service, and field support resources are also working on this account.
- Wave 4 – “The Corporate Team.” Other staff and resources from your company may be used on a periodic basis at the account. They will help execute specific aspects of the sales process. Examples include finance, legal, engineering, operations, and order entry.
The full “account team” functions better, whether some are engaged in on-going activities or only periodically, by having a defined role. This allows each member to execute specific responsibilities associated with the designated role they play on the team. They will be most effective in their role execution when they know about account strategies and activities before they are asked to act or to take a lead in a specific stage of engagement with the customer.
Collaboration regarding the Account Plan initially and over time is essential to streamline the in/outs of involvement for each team member. Only when team members are fully aware of the strategy, tactics, and status of each sales and relationship activity with the account, can there be synergy and effectiveness in implementing the plan. Maintaining a regular cadence of account communications with the entire account team is the responsibility of the Account Manager.
Who “owns” the customer relationship in this team model?
The Account Manager “owns” the (sales) results and impact of the team in achieving account goals. However, each member of the team has levels of ownership consistent with the wave in which they operate. Each teammate holds everyone else on the team accountable to execute on specific assigned account responsibilities with direction and guidance provided by the Account Manager.
Independent action by each team member is encouraged with their efforts bound by and synchronized with, the Account Plan. Their activity is overseen by the Account Manager who ensures focus on sales results to be achieved from each team member’s execution within the plan. These are the guiding principles of the team-based account success model.
Everyone has a role or position on the team. Identified teammates are on the “starting team” while others “come off the bench.” An agreed upon “game plan” is executed by everyone on the team. The objectives of the team effort are known and regular status (“score”) is reviewed, communicated, and visible to all. Implemented in this way, a team approach with an account will be extremely effective in developing and growing your business. How do you start this process? By developing a comprehensive Account Plan.
How do you keep the team on-track and meeting its objectives when changes occur with the account? By ensuring the Account Plan gets revised with inputs from all team members.
How do you communicate to your company and teammates about account status, changes, challenges, and needs? By using the Account Plan as a current single reference document regarding the account that is available to all.
Do you have an Account Plan? You’ll need one to optimize your success as an Account Team.
You may be interested in a related article: Seven Strategies for Maximizing Account Success.Tags: account management, account planning, key account management, sales leadership, sales management, strategic account plan