If you’re an account manager, you should always be asking yourself: Am I managing my accounts? Or are they managing me?
There’s a fine line between delivering on what your clients ask for (good) and doing their busy work for them, without adding strategic value (bad). You might wonder, if there’s good money in doing the busy work, why not be “just another vendor?” The answer is, vendors are the first to go. Trusted advisors and strategic partners stay on the payroll, even when times are tight.
So how do you reach “trusted advisor” status? Here are 5 questions to ask to see if you’re on the right track. In other words, whether you’re managing your clients—or they’re managing you.
- Tactical execution or strategic planning: When do your clients reach out?
- Single foothold or large footprint: How embedded are you in the organization?
- Status quo or strong growth: How are your accounts performing?
- Reactive or proactive: Do you have an account plan in place?
- “Yes” vs “Yes, and”: How much value do you add?
Now we’ll take a look at each of these in a bit more depth.
1) Tactical Execution or Strategic Planning: When do your clients reach out?
If your clients always come to you having already decided the path forward, with the expectation that you’ll simply help them execute that plan, that’s a bad sign. It means they think of you as bringing additional capacity, rather than capacity plus perspective, expertise, and insight. While it’s important to add capacity for your clients, it’s also important to remember that capacity alone is easy to replace, and often ultimately cheaper to bring in-house or move to another vendor who underbids you. If you’re capacity only, you’re always in a precarious position.
If, however, you’re considered a strategic advisor, you open up a few opportunities. The farther upstream you are in the strategic process, the more you have a chance to influence the path forward, and discover new opportunities to engage your customers. Whether you cement your relationships in a specific service offering, or expand your footprint within the organization, you’ll be better positioned to do so if you’re part of the conversations at the highest, most strategic levels.
2) Single Foothold or Large Footprint: How embedded are you in the organization?
A single strong relationship with a key stakeholder is a great way to get in the door with a customer, but it’s not enough to stay there. What happens when that person leaves the organization, or switches gears? To build strong relationships, you need to expand your footprint within your client’s organization, both vertically and horizontally.
The best way to start is by creating a dynamic org chart for your customers. This visualizes key relationships, both with leadership and across functions, so you can be more influential in the organization, and more proactive in your product and service offerings.
Finally, the key is to work your way to the C-suite. The principal here is the same as in question 1 above: The farther upstream you are, the more influence and growth potential you can unlock.
3) Status Quo or Strong Growth: How are your accounts performing?
This is a key performance indicator for any key account manager. Of course, the worst case scenario is to lose the account — but just holding on to accounts isn’t great, either. Especially if you’re scrambling to keep clients happy, and making yourself less profitable along the way.
The profitability of an account (in addition to straight scope/revenue) can be a valuable indicator of how well you’re managing your clients, vs them managing you. Client management includes client education: making sure they understand what’s possible, how to get there, and how to collaborate efficiently and seamlessly. (Hint: Sometimes this requires difficult conversations, vs just saying “yes” to everything they ask for. See Question 5 below for more.)
Of course, profitability is a factor of efficiency and revenue. Not proactively managing your accounts means you’re leaving money on the table. Maybe you’re too much a vendor and too little a strategic partner; maybe you’re not fully embedded in the client’s organization. If you’re not aware of additional business opportunities within the account—and how to seize them—you’re probably not managing your clients.
If you’re managing your accounts well, you are increasing your SOW year-over-year, while also increasing your internal efficiency. It all adds up to more profitable work.
4) Reactive or proactive: Do you have an account plan in place?
If you’re constantly scrambling to keep up with client requests, pivoting suddenly, changing timelines and deliverables, and generally putting out fires, you’re not managing your accounts. You’re reacting, but you’re not leading.
Account leadership extends to both internal teams and the client. But it only happens when you have a clear vision and a clear account plan to get there. That means creating an account plan that methodically translates big picture strategic objectives (which you’ll know if you’re embedded in the high-level, strategic work in your customer’s organizations) into discrete action items.
Your clients should be active partners in creating the account plan. But they shouldn’t be the only ones with a plan—or else you’ll be playing catch up.
5) “Yes” vs “Yes, And”: How much value do you add?
At their worst, key account managers are a glorified email forwarding service. They let the team know what the client has asked for, and if the team proposes a new idea, or pushes back on a timeline, the account person just stubbornly repeats what the client said.
This is not account management. This is simply relaying information. The skill and finesse of client management requires a “yes, and” approach, where you are willing to (a) propose alternate solutions and (b) push back when the work will suffer as a result of something the client asked for.
We’ve talked before about how to have difficult conversations with clients. It’s never fun. What’s fun is blowing the client away; having an incredible meeting where they can’t stop telling you how grateful they are for the work you’ve done and the value you’ve added. The truth is that sometimes the path to great work requires pushing back on the client’s initial request; if you are a strong account manager, you have to be willing to raise alternate solutions—and if you’re good at it, you’ll find your clients are receptive.
In order to see the most growth potential in your accounts, and engage in fulfilling, strategic, value-added work, you can’t be someone your customers manage — you have to manage them. To see how Kapta can help, schedule a personal demo today.