As companies focus on client retention, the account management function comes under scrutiny. Like a seasonal wardrobe, business owners seem to continually change their account management strategy. Who has the skills to be a successful account manager? What should they do? How much support do we have to provide an account?
How much support do we have to provide? Oh my gosh, these are your clients. You should want to show them love and support so you’ll retain and grow them.
Top 3 Account Management Best Practices
Regardless of your industry, there are 3 best practices you should have baked into your account management process. I intentionally say “baked,” because they should be an integral part of your process, just like chocolate chips in a cookie.
- Conduct periodic business reviews. These are regular meetings with the business owner or client leadership to share what you’ve been doing for them, what you’re planning to do next, their strategic priorities, and your recommendations for those strategic priorities. This is your opportunity to share metrics and gauge reactions. It’s quality time with the decision-makers, reinforcing they made a good decision by engaging you. It’s in these meetings that many new opportunities pop up.
- Maintain consistent communication with clients between periodic business reviews. You may choose to have regularly scheduled check-in conversations or call spontaneously. The point is to talk with them to stay connected and expand your relationship. Keep in mind that these are business leaders you’re contacting. Don’t call and say “Hi, I just wanted to check in.” There needs to be a reason: anything from a new happening in your office, new solutions or project updates to changes in their office or industry. Find a reason and make the call.
- Create and use an account profile. This is your map of the client’s organization including the relationship matrix, technology solution roadmap, strategic business vision and sales growth opportunities. As an account manager, use it to identify new people you want to meet, new solutions you should recommend, and who to introduce from your company. As a business, use it to train staff who will be working in the account. The account profile also allows you to define the level of sales support you should allocate.
Profile of a Good Account Manager
Whoever performs these activities must possess a combination of business acumen, sales skills and possibly technical expertise – or the ability to pull in technical skills from elsewhere in the organization.
The most important account management skills are:
- Business acumen, for speaking with executives, leaders and managers.
- Relationship, to maintain and strengthen decision-maker connections and expand leadership and management relationships within the account.
- Sales skills, to follow up regularly, and identify, progress and close new opportunities.
Someone who has other primary responsibilities, like a vCIO, doesn’t have time to maintain ongoing relationships and call people simply to check in. A vCIO can quickly uncover new opportunities but needs someone to pass them to if there is too much work required to sell and close them.
Likewise, a salesy account manager who lacks solution knowledge won’t easily recognize new projects. He may have business acumen that allows him to have strategic visioning discussions with executives, but he’ll need access to a technical resource who can assess and define the solution to recommend.
Now you’re wondering how well your team is set up for account management. Use our Account Management Grader and find out.
Trends in IT Account Management
The trend we’re seeing within IT managed service providers is to anoint one of their tier 3 technicians as the vCIO and expand their responsibilities to include account management. In many ways, this makes sense because the vCIO can speak intelligently about the status of a client’s network and security position while recognizing where there are gaps that need to be addressed.
However, the vCIO often has no formal account manager supporting them. That puts an expensive resource managing accounts on a day-to-day basis – or not.
Another trend we see is engineers processing add-on and project sales as they work with accounts. The owner then handles bigger opportunities engineers spot. No one person actually owns responsibility for an account, so nobody is paying attention to those clients consistently.
Without someone monitoring accounts as a salesperson does, with periodic check-ins between regularly scheduled business reviews, you’re creating an opportunity for your competition to step in.
Choose Reporting Structure Carefully
Think carefully about where you want account management to reside. If it lives in a technical organization, you’ll potentially risk account growth and relationships. If it sits in sales, there’s the possibility that the technology solution roadmap will be ignored because it’s too complex to understand.
The ideal solution is to report to sales with tight process alignment with the technology side of the house. Your most skilled, scarcest vCIO resource will be engaged through the process. Your relationship staff, who enjoy staying connected with clients and are paid on commissions, will happily accept the challenge to grow accounts and retain clients following the account management process. That’s a win-win for both you and your clients.
If you’d like assistance defining your account management process and its alignment within your company, contact us or give us a call at +1-303-741-6636 and let’s discuss your situation.