Understanding Customer Engagement: What Does it Mean for You?

When we talk about Kapta, we talk about a tool and a process designed to build customer engagement.

So what do we mean by “customer engagement?” It’s a term that pops up all over the place these days, and it means different things to different people. So let’s take a closer look at how we define, demonstrate, and achieve customer engagement, and how doing so compares to other roles, such as Customer Success or sales.

Defining Customer Engagement

A brief internet search will show you that people define customer engagement all sorts of ways. This is understandable. Customer engagement is hard to define in absolutes, since it deals with the emotional connection between your customer and your company or brand, and looks slightly different in different industries. (For example, a retail brand is not going to define or measure customer engagement the same way a creative services consulting firm might.)

However, if you sift through many definitions out there, you’ll find 3 common, crucial elements:

  1. Customer engagement is rooted in ongoing, 2-way communication between a customer and your company
  2. Customer engagement creates a dynamic relationship that leads to lasting loyalty;
  3. Customer engagement can be measured against stated goals

At Kapta, when we distill and simplify those key elements, we say: Customer engagement is an ongoing, strategic relationship in which both parties succeed.

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of that statement—it actually contains quite a bit of information. You can’t have an ongoing relationship without consistent, 2-way communication, in which your customers talk to you as much or more than you talk at them. Your relationship can’t be strategic if you’re more focused on selling what you offer than listening to what they need. And you can’t share success if you’re not dedicated to helping your customers achieve their business goals, and growing alongside them.

At the end of the day, something as nuanced and important as customer engagement is better demonstrated than defined. So let’s step away from theory for a minute, and give you a sense of what customer engagement looks like in practice.

Demonstrating Customer Engagement

One way we help our own customers understand the strength of their customer engagement is by asking a short list of questions, each designed as an indicator of customer engagement.

  • Do your customers reach out to you? Engaged customers will initiate conversations with you, reaching out whenever they face an issue or opportunity, rather than waiting for you to call. If you find you are always the one initiating contact, you may need to work on customer engagement.
  • Do you understand your customer’s big picture business goals? Understanding what your customer is ultimately trying to achieve means you’ve asked the right questions, and earned enough trust to get the right answers. And that means you’re more than just a vendor—you’re a comprehensive strategic partner. If you don’t have a clear idea of what your customer is trying to accomplish—not only as it relates to your products and services, but also beyond—you need to work on customer engagement.
  • Is your customer engaging with vendors who offer similar or complementary products and services? Even if they aren’t actively looking to replace you in your specific capacity, this is a bad sign. It indicates at the very least they aren’t aware of everything you could be doing for them. You’re missing opportunities for organic growth, leaving money on the table, and leaving yourself open to competitive threats.
  • Do your growth goals reflect what’s possible for key accounts? This is an interesting one. In a customer engagement model, your own growth goals should reflect what’s reasonable in the context of your customers, rather than imposing your company’s own goals onto customers who may or may not be able to support them. When you’re truly engaged with your customer, you have a detailed sense of how much room they have to grow with your suite of products and services, and you can ground your growth goals accordingly.
  • Are you experiencing high customer churn? This is a no-brainer. If you’re losing customers left and right, they aren’t engaged with you. Of course, by the time this is happening, it’s pretty late in the game.

In summary, the questions we ask are designed to give you a sense of the strength of your customer engagement. If your client is reaching out to you regularly; if they call you when they’re facing an issue or opportunity; if they share with you the bigger context for what they’re doing; if you are confident in their satisfaction and your future with them, and if you’ve built your own sales goals accordingly, then you are doing customer engagement right.

Achieving Customer Engagement

So how do you get there? At Kapta, we believe customer engagement is the end product of a customer-first culture and process, executed by a dedicated team of account or client service professionals.

Let’s pick that apart for just a second. First, you need a company-wide culture and a set of internal processes that puts customers first. This has to happen at the company level, because it has to be reflected in every function at your organization. It affects who you hire, how you train, how you measure performance, what products and services you offer, how you plan for growth, and more. The companies with the highest level of customer engagement are those that prioritize their customers, full stop.

Second, you need a team of professionals dedicated to building and strengthening client relationships. Traditionally, this has been called account management, key account management, or client services. There are different titles here, and different potential department names, one thing is key: This is distinct from the sales team, or at least a distinct group within the sales team. Because yes, client services professionals drive revenue, but their focus isn’t generating new leads or chasing quotas—it’s partnering with high-value customers to foster lasting, loyal relationships that can’t help but drive revenue over the long term.

And finally, you need a purpose-driven process and tools to support customer engagement. CRM and sales tools cannot do this for you. Neither can customer success tools. And neither can an ad-hoc collection of various communication, presentation, project management, and billing tools. To understand which tools you need, let’s look at some key differences between customer engagement, customer success, and sales.

Customer Engagement vs Customer Success

Let’s start with some areas of overlap between customer engagement, as we define and use the term, and customer success. In both instances, customers need to feel successful with your products/services/company. They need to use your products and services to their full (or close to full) capacity, and they need to see real value from the time they invest in you.

Now, let’s talk about some of the differences:

  • Scale: Customer Success tends to apply to companies who are largely product focused, and who rely on a large number of low touch customers. Customer engagement is about developing strong relationships with a smaller number of high-value accounts.
  • Measurement: Customer Success is measured largely by recurring subscriptions, whereas Customer Engagement is more nuanced—in addition to renewing contracts and increasing SOW, customer engagement takes into consideration the overall strength of the relationship.
  • Tools: Customer Success is heavily data-driven, mining customer’s data to measure their use of any given product, particularly SaaS products. Customer Engagement, though it certainly involves strategic use of metrics and data, requires tools that provide a comprehensive view of customer relationships beyond what numbers alone can provide.

Customer Engagement vs Sales

Again, let’s start with similarities. Customer Engagement and Sales are both about driving revenue through the products and services your company offers. The main difference here is how, and where the team’s focus lies.

In sales, the goal is to generate new leads, driving revenue by increasing the customer base. The goal may also be to upsell or cross-sell a large number of existing customers. In contrast, Customer Engagement drives revenue through organic growth, gradually increasing the scope and longevity of existing, strategic, high-value clients. We’ve written in detail before about how sales differs from Key Account Management, and why you need purpose-built tools for each. We’ll simply recap here that CRM tools are excellent for generating new leads or managing a high volume of low-touch customers, but they don’t provide the framework and visibility you need to build an ongoing, highly strategic relationship with any given, high-value client.

Conclusion: Benefits of Customer Engagement

Hopefully by now the benefits of Customer Engagement are pretty clear. Customer Engagement creates lasting, loyal, strategic partnerships that not only help secure your existing revenue from a key account, but also provide a platform for growth. Engaged, satisfied customers are more likely to invest in premium products and services, and more likely to continue to work with you when things go wrong (as they sometimes will).

Customer Engagement also helps reduce the risk and cost of customer churn. Customers today are easier to lose than ever before, and companies who win will be the ones who make customer engagement a priority.

To learn more about how Kapta can help you build real customer engagement, schedule a demo today. And if you have thoughts on what customer engagement means to you, get in touch and let us know.

How Are You Communicating with Customers?

Good client relationships demand consistent, intentional communication. These take many forms: Calls, emails, in-person meetings. Half-hour status check-ins or annual, offsite strategy meetings. Despite the wide range of customer communication that takes place over the course of a partnership, there are still questions you can ask yourself almost every time to ensure your efforts are worth it—for you and your client. The key here is that it’s less about how much you communicate with your customers, and more about how much value you add when you do.

There’s no way to overstate the importance of customer communication—it strengthens the relationship, builds engagement, and ensures you’re up to date on their challenges and goals, so you can provide proactive, productive client service. However, the obvious benefits of clear client communication are balanced by the simple truth that time is precious, and nobody wants to be stuck in a pointless meeting or bombarded by unnecessary emails. The questions below help ensure efficient and effective communication, so you and your clients are both getting the most every encounter.

Question 1: Are you providing context?

We’ve all been there: Halfway through a meeting, we catch ourselves wondering, “Why are we here?” When that happens, the best case scenario is we disengage a little bit—look at our phones, check email, or otherwise start “multitasking,” which is to say, not focusing on the task at hand. The worst case scenario is that we are actively frustrated because someone is wasting our time.

Here’s how you prevent that kind of disengagement and/or frustration with clients: Start every meeting with a statement of purpose. Whether it’s a 30-minute call or a 3-day workshop, make it clear from the outset what you’re there to accomplish. Ideally, the agenda or objective goes out ahead of time, so people arrive at the meeting engaged and ready to work towards the goal.

Question #2: Are you overwhelming your client with information?

As the famous French philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” Brevity is challenging. It takes confidence and preparation. And it forces you to think carefully about what’s really important—not to you, but to your customer. (More on that later.)

Confidence is key in client communications. When you’re not 100% sure of the quality of your work, it’s tempting to try to make up for it in quantity. Rest assured, nobody wants this. Time is precious, and people know when you’re wasting theirs. Use your preparation to be confident in your presentation, and use your confidence to be brief. Rather than coming across as “thin,” you’ll come across as efficient. People appreciate this.

It can also be tempting to show your customer how much work went into the presentation, as a way of saying “Look! We’re good at this, and we’re worth every penny!” Resist this temptation. Stick to bottom-line, actionable content that relates directly to the stated objective of the meeting. (Tip: If you’re working in slide format, don’t be afraid to use an Appendix. It’s a great way to capture information that’s not directly relevant to the task at hand, but could be useful down the line.)

Question 3: Are you spending more time talking about you than you are talking about them?

This is a tough question to ask, because the truth is, we’re all guilty of this to some degree. It’s a very human mistake, and one that companies make in their communications all the time, whether it’s nonpersonal (website, marketing) or personal (client communication).

Here’s why it’s understandable: You work hard, day in and day out, to do what you do. Your work matters to you, and it should—caring about your work is how you make your work good. But the cold hard truth is: It doesn’t matter to other people in the same way. Your customers don’t need to hear everything that went into your recommendation. They just need the recommendation. If they have questions about how you got there, they’ll ask.

When you’re preparing a client presentation, ask yourself: Is everything here directly related to their goals? Does it speak to their needs and concerns? Is it interesting to them? If the answer is no, delete or move to an appendix. Frame your communications around what your customers need, not what you need, and you’ll create a situation where they’re always happy to talk to you.

Question #4: Are you clarifying what their goals are?

Of course, it’s not just about how you talk to your customers—it’s also about how you listen. If you’ve done the work up front to make sure you’re keeping your communication efficient and customer-focused, you’ll create opportunities for your clients to share their feedback, input, and goals.

When they do share their goals, take note. And make sure you take the time to really understand what they’re trying to accomplish, so you can make a plan to help. This means asking probing questions that get to the heart of where the goal is coming from: Are they just repeating something they heard from higher up? Or have they really thought through the goal and how they might make it happen?

When you understand your customer’s goals, you have an opportunity to grow the relationship by helping them meet those goals. Take the goal back to your team and work through an Action Plan, breaking the goal into manageable objectives, actions, and tasks. The next time you meet with your customer, you’ll have a plan to present.

And of course, make sure every client communication ends with a summary of next steps. This gives people a clear sense of what you need from them to keep things moving, and opens the door for ongoing engagement and communication.

Keeping Track of Client Contact

The best way to keep a client relationship running smoothly is to ensure consistent, intentional, valuable communication. That means you don’t let your clients go too long without hearing from you, nor do you bombard them with repetitive, unnecessary contact.

When there are lots of you running an account, it can be hard to keep track of who’s reached out to whom, and how recently. Sure, you may be CC’d on emails, but what if you get 300 emails a day? Kapta carefully tracks client contact, and raising the flag when it’s been too long since someone heard from you or your team. Kapta also stores contact reports and key takeaways from client conversations, so your whole team has access to the latest feedback and input from clients—and you don’t reach out twice for information they’ve already sent.

Kapta also stores Voice of Customer information, as well as detailed Action Plans, so it’s easy to keep track of what’s important to your clients, and build your communication accordingly.

To more more about how Kapta helps you create effective, relevant, high-value client communication, click here.

CRM and Kapta: Making the Most of Both Platforms

Many of our customers use Salesforce and/or other CRM tools for generating new leads. As a result, we often hear the question: “Why Kapta? Why not just keep using my CRM?” We also see the corresponding Google search: “Kapta vs. CRM.”

But while it’s useful to compare CRM and Kapta platforms, we don’t actually in terms of “vs” here. We think in terms of “and.” Here’s why: Sales is one function in your organization; Key Account Management is another. They are complementary, but distinct. Therefore, they require complementary, but distinct tools.

In this blog post, we’ll explore:

  • How Key Account Management is distinct from sales
  • How Kapta is distinct from CRM
  • How to use both platforms in harmony

KAM and Sales: Different Roles

Speaking generally, sales is about driving growth by generating new leads and getting new customers. Key Account Management is about driving organic growth by building lasting engagement with existing customers. Both are about driving growth, and on some level, both are about “selling” your products or services to clients. However, the process and tone for each are very different.

In sales, your goal is to get the business. You’ll be asking yourself: Have they heard of you? Do they understand what you offer, why it’s valuable, and why they need you? Do they already work with a competitor? This pitch requires a specific set of messages, skills, and technology.

In Key Account Management, your goal is to keep and grow the business. Your clients have already signed on with you, so they know who you are and why they should invest in your products or services. Now you need to build on the relationship, making yourself indispensable so that as time goes on, your customer not only renews their contract with you, but also increases their scope of work.

KAM and Sales: Different Customers

How do you know which accounts are key accounts? Key accounts are those with particular financial or strategic important to your organization.

The Pareto Principle states that 80% of outcomes are generated by 20% of inputs. Applied to your organization, this means that a significant portion of your revenue comes from a small subset of high-value clients. If that’s not true for you—if every customer is worth more or less the same dollar amount—then Key Account Management is not for you. Stick with sales, and keep working your CRM for more leads.

If you do have a small number of high-value accounts that stand out for not only their current revenue, but also their potential to grow, then you need to approach these accounts differently than you would your other accounts. It doesn’t mean you ignore anyone. You just recognize the importance of certain accounts and allocate internal resources accordingly.

One final note: As you’re identifying Key Accounts in your organization, keep in mind that revenue isn’t the only factor. Sometimes a client isn’t generating a ton of income in the moment, but maybe their mission/vision/offering is a perfect strategic fit for where your own organization wants to go. Or maybe you see some real potential and want to stay on board for the long-term. Either way, think big picture with Key Account Management—it’s about the long game!

KAM and Sales: Different Tech

Part of growing business through Key Account Management is cross- and upselling. So, yes: A Key Account Manager is in some respects a salesperson. However, as a Key Account Manager, you should know your customers inside and out: What they’re trying to accomplish, what stands in their way, what they struggle with, and how you can help. The sales tone shifts as a result: You are offering an effective solution to a problem your client is facing vs attempting to sell them something.

In order to earn that kind of trust, Key Account Managers need tools built purposefully to help them do their jobs. While most sales and marketing teams have purpose-built technology supporting and accelerating their efforts, even the most advanced Key Account Managers are often working with a hodge-podge of Excel sheets, emails, CRM data, project management tools, and powerpoint decks on the server somewhere.

KAM and Sales: Different Targets

Here’s a subtle but critical difference between KAM and sales: How you generate internal growth goals. In sales, you might examine the market, the competition, your target customer, your price point, your sales staff capacity—a host of factors that help you determine how much you can reasonably expect to grow in a given quarter or fiscal year.

In KAM, everything goes back to the customer. You start by understanding your customer’s growth goals, and projecting your organic growth goals accordingly. This relies on a couple of key truths: (1) Return customers are more likely than new customers to purchase premium products and services, and (2) If you help someone grow, you essentially help them have more money to spend on you.

So for example, say your customer wants to increase revenue by 30% in the next fiscal year. Your job as a Key Account Manager is to help them achieve that growth so you can reasonably expect them to increase their spending with you to some proportional degree. Your organic growth goal as a Key Account Manager is current revenue + the value of premium add-ons or additional work you think they’ll sign on for once they’re satisfied with your work and enjoying more cash flow as a direct result of your partnership with them.

There’s a second layer of Key Account Management and its role in your organization’s overall financial health. Namely, the cost of losing an important client. Losing a client not only costs your organization the direct revenue from the account, but also the indirect costs of replacing that revenue. The intense pressure not to lose accounts, plus the pressure to grow them incrementally year over year, is something that distinguishes the role of Key Account Managers.

Kapta and CRM: Purpose-Built Tech for Different Teams

CRM is specifically designed to support sales teams as they generate new leads and win new business—and it’s a really effective tool. However, most CRMs lack the focus to “zoom in” on a particular customer or account, effectively tracking strategic goals throughout the entire engagement. That’s where Kapta comes in.

Just as CRM is purpose-built for sales teams, Kapta is purpose-built for Key Account Managers. Kapta supports KAMs as they get to know their clients, develop tailored action plans to help them reach their goals, and measure their success—both with respect to their client’s goals and their own. Kapta tracks what matters most to Key Account Managers: The health, engagement, and activity on a small set of accounts—or even, in some instances, a single account.

Working Together: KAM and Sales, Kapta and CRM

For some organizations, KAM is everything. Advertising agencies, for example, often have a short list of extremely high-dollar clients. In that case, every single account is a key account, and account management function is a well-established, high-functioning role. CRM often isn’t even in the tech stack.

In other organizations, KAM and sales work together. Sales generates new leads, and KAM takes over when one of those leads grows into a Key Account (one with particular strategic or financial importance within the organization). If that’s the case, there is space for both CRM and Kapta; in fact, Kapta syncs seamlessly with CRM to import account history and contact info, as well as automatically share updates between both platforms. This avoids double-entry and creates even more partnership between the sales and Key Account Management teams, maximizing both the new and organic growth approaches in your organization.

Conclusion: You Can Have Both

In general, there’s no need for sales to compete with KAM within an organization; both roles are important. Similarly, there’s no need for Kapta to “compete” with CRM—both tech platforms can serve an organization well.

Here’s a high-level summary of how each platform excels:

 

For more on optimizing Key Account Management through smart technology, click here. And to learn more about how Kapta supports KAM while integrating fully with your CRM, schedule a personal demo.

Our KAM Process: Deep Dive into MEASURE

Our KAM ProcessTM is a proven methodology for building customer engagement and transforming customer relationships. Here’s what it looks like:

  • Know more, so you can plan better
  • Act strategically and effectively to drive meaningful change
  • Measure that change across multiple endpoints

We’ve already taken a closer look at the Know and the Act phase. In short, they’re about understanding your client’s goals and expectations so you can build an action plan that helps them achieve those goals and exceed those expectations. So how do you know if you were successful? This is where the Measure piece comes in.

It’s important to note that while Measure comes last in our Know, Act, Measure process, it’s actually embedded throughout. In order to measure the success of your action plan, you need to have established specific goals and success metrics up front. You can’t just look up 6 months into a project and say, “Wait! Shoot! We need to be tracking!” Measurement is most effective when you establish good baseline data in the “Know” phase and specific numerical goals in the “Act” phase. Then, 6 months in, you’ll know exactly what you’re tracking against and why.

It’s also important, as always, to emphasize the cyclical nature of Our KAM Process. Satisfied, engaged clients are going to want to start additional work right away. The results you’ve measured from your latest initiative become part of what you know heading into your next initiative.

There are 3 ways the Kapta platform helps you Measure:

  1. Tracking specific KPIs: Predetermined financial and operational goals set in collaboration with your customer. These are customer-focused metrics.
  2. Gauging overall account health: Customer engagement and client satisfaction as you work on their business. These are relationship-focused metrics.
  3. Quantifying internal success: Contract renewals, increased SOWs, and revenue generated as a result of your KAM efforts. These are internally-focused metrics.

We’ll look at specific examples of metrics below, but first we’ll review the importance of tracking data, and why many organizations still don’t do it.

Why We Don’t Always Keep Score

If you feel like your organization falls short of methodically and consistently tracking success metrics, don’t worry—you’re not alone. Quantifying results can be challenging for many reasons, including:

  • It’s not a perfect process. Some things are easier to track than others. Revenue? Easy. Web traffic? Easy. Brand awareness? Doable, but more difficult. The more abstract or nuanced a metric, the more difficult it is to quantify.
  • It takes effort. In order to measure what you’ve done for your customers, you have to take the time upfront to gather baseline data. This can be hard to do when things are moving quickly, especially if it’s not standard practice for you or your customers. Building a consistent analytics practice requires a concerted, tech-enabled process.
  • It takes confidence. Numbers don’t lie. And sometimes, they tell you (and your client) that an initiative didn’t work. We’ll talk about why that’s okay in the next section.

Why Metrics Matter

Metrics are an invaluable resource to you and your customers. Because while numbers don’t always tell the whole story, they always tell an important story—and good or bad, they can help strengthen your relationship with a customer.

Let’s look at the good first. In a perfect world, your action plan is a smashing success, and you help your clients achieve increased product usage, sales growth, and revenue goals. The numbers will show that, and if you did a good job of highlighting metrics before and after your engagement with the client, you’ll be able to demonstrate the direct results of your efforts. Good metrics help you take reasonable credit for the work you’ve done. Whereas, if you didn’t pause to gather good data, you and your day-to-day contacts might think you did a good job, but you won’t have concrete evidence to support that claim. So how will you convince the CFO, who’s never worked with you and doesn’t know how awesome you are, that they should keep paying for your products or services? There’s nothing like a positive ROI to make your case.

Now, let’s look at the bad. (Which is really not so bad.) Say your efforts are not as fruitful as you’d like. You don’t get the sales or revenue your client hoped for. All is not lost! As long as you were aligned with your client going into the action plan, and both of you were making educated guesses about what might work, you’ve both learned something valuable in the process, namely: You need a new approach. As long as you internalize that knowledge and get to work brainstorming something new, a failed initiative can actually increase your value to a client in the context of a long-standing relationship. After all, a new vendor might come in and, without doing their research, suggest the exact thing you just tried—whereas you already know it won’t work, and you’re already working on a better idea.

Even in a worst-case scenario, where you track metrics, the initiative fails, and the client discontinues the relationship, you’ve still learned something from measuring results. When your next client wants to try something you already know won’t work, you’ll have real numbers to back up your point of view.

The point of all of this isn’t to scare you. It’s just to say, there’s never any reason not to try to quantify your impact. When the numbers are good, you’ll be able to show your customers exactly why it’s worth it for them to invest in your products or services. When the numbers aren’t good, you’re still learning. And if you’ve maintained strong client relationships throughout, you’ll be learning together, honing your approach for whatever comes next.

Examples of Metrics

Hopefully we’ve convinced you by now that you should be tracking metrics for every project.

(Sidenote: Here’s a perfect example of something that’s hard to track. How would we know if we’d convinced you? We can’t go into your brain and quantify conviction. We can’t count head nods. But we can use web traffic analytics to see how long the average reader stays on this page, which would give us a reasonable sense of how far down they read. And we can embed links below inviting you to get in touch—tracking those links can show us whether the post was generally compelling. And finally, we can track how much our customers are using the Measure tools within Kapta, and see if there’s any spike after this post. No single element is a perfect measure of whether we’ve convinced you to measure analytics, but we’re starting to gather factors to use in our decision-making moving forward.)

(Sidenote, continued: Now, does that mean we’ll stop posting content if there aren’t enough click-throughs? No. Numbers aren’t everything. It’s important to us at Kapta to provide good content to our audience simply because we believe in the value of ongoing conversation and education around Key Account Management. What we mean is, you don’t have to live and die by data. It just becomes a tool you can use to inform your decisions.)

Where were we? Oh, yes. Here are some general examples of KPIs it’s good to think through, although like everything in KAM, you’re going to want to tailor these to your client:

  • Financial metrics: Is your customer on target to reach revenue or pipeline goals?
  • Operational metrics: Is product usage high? Are they engaging with every aspect of your offering? Is sales volume growing?
  • Activity-based metrics: Turn the lens on your own team. Are they engaging with the customer frequently? Are they completing tasks and actions in the plan?

Like any strong technology tool, Kapta makes it easier to track data. After all, gathering and comparing data is what computers do best. Kapta can help you see how you’re moving the needle on your customer’s goals, as well as how your team is growing the relationship. And we can help you generate instantaneous, highly specific reports to visualize success for your clients and your C-suite.

Conclusion

Too many companies offer their clients products and services without making a concerted effort to track the results of their work. In part, that’s because the ability to track data the way we can now is relatively new in the world, and some legacy organization haven’t yet implemented a robust analytics program into their process. Kapta can help make metrics a standard part of everything you do, which can help you demonstrate your value to clients, so they continue to invest in you over the long term.

To see Kapta’s analytics capabilities in action, schedule a personal demo, and ask about our Advanced Metrics Module.

Our KAM Process: Deep Dive into KNOW

Last week, we wrote a high-level summary of Our KAM ProcessTM, a proven methodology for building customer engagement and transforming customer relationships:

  • Know more, so you can plan better
  • Act strategically and effectively to drive meaningful change
  • Measure that change across multiple endpoints

The process is cyclical because engaged, satisfied, successful clients are going to want to keep working with you. Every time you start a new quarter, a new year, a new contract, scope, or initiative with a customer, you return to the beginning, asking what you know now, and how you can use what you’ve learned to act and measure even more effectively this time.

Now that we’ve outlined the process as a whole, we’re going to spend the next three weeks diving into each section in more detail. The spotlight this week is on getting to know your clients better than ever before, with practical emphasis on how and why we do it the way we do.

Understand the Overall Structure

We always start here, with the org chart. For one thing, it’s a straightforward first step: Just import your accounts and contacts from your existing CRM or other platforms. For another thing, it’s extremely helpful to visualize the overall reporting structure at your customer’s organization, even if you do the bulk of your work with a few key contacts. Here’s why:

Understanding reporting structure gives you a better sense of what your day-to-day contact is juggling in their job. In addition to meeting project goals, whom do they need to engage, convince, or impress to be successful in their organization? When you have the big picture in mind, you can be proactive about making sure you get buy-in from the right people at the right point in a project. You can build in time for stakeholder review and revisions as you create timelines, so they don’t blindside you late in the game. And you can help support your clients in a way that makes them not only successful in their endeavors, but also successful in the broader landscape of their job.

A good sense of overall structure and culture also helps strengthen the relationship between your organization as a whole and your client’s organization as a whole. This creates sustainable, long-term relationships at the organizational level that last, even when someone changes jobs or shifts roles. And it creates more opportunities for cross- and upselling, since your contact will be more willing to work with other people at your organization who offer unique perspective and services.

Get Personal

Now that you’ve established the overall structure, it’s time to dive deeper into the goals, motivations, and expectations of key individual clients. Kapta helps you do this with a template for building detailed client profiles. A key component of these are the Voice of Customer (VOC) tools, a series of questions designed to probe deeper into what your client is trying to accomplish, and how they expect you to help.

Start by customizing your questions. Because we’ve been doing Key Account Management for a long time, we’re able to provide a starting point for VOC questions. These are based on our experience and general best practices. However, they are just a starting point. As time goes on, it’s important to customize or expand on the original list of questions to continue the conversation you’re having with that client, and capture their specific needs.

Think about this on a personal level. You might start a new friendship asking the usual questions: “Where are you from? What do you do? Do you have siblings?” But as time goes on, your conversations get more unique, and your questions more relevant to that friend’s life. The same applies for customers. Make sure you’re using VOC tools to ask specific, relevant questions that relate to their industry, their company, their goals, and more.

In addition to customizing VOC tools, consider face or phone time to talk through questions with your client, rather than relying too heavily on emailed surveys. A well-placed email or text is sometimes the time-saver everyone needs, but it’s not the right way to tackle big questions.

Get Strategic

Now that you know what your client is trying to accomplish, it’s time to take a look at the internal and external factors that might support—or inhibit—their success. The best way to do this is the tried-and-true SWOT analysis.

A SWOT analysis consists of 4 components: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Strengths and weaknesses are internal; opportunities and threats are external. A SWOT analysis is often presented in a grid like this one.

 

Kapta SWOT

We find the best way to conduct a meaningful SWOT analysis is to conduct an in-person, interactive workshop with your client. Start by doing your research. You want to show up to the meeting already prepared with at least a few thought-starters in each category. This gets the conversation going so you can capture even more insights from people in the room. (Remember, as a rule, it’s always easier for your clients to react to something that already exists than to generate ideas out of thin air. Preparation helps prevent putting clients on the spot in an awkward way.)

In addition to thinking through the SWOT itself, think through who should be in the workshop. This can be a great chance to hear perspectives from across your customer’s organization, in order to build a truly comprehensive analysis. It’s also a chance to gain alignment among key players as you start to identify key priorities for action planning.

Once you’ve conducted your SWOT analysis workshop, capture the information in Kapta to keep it front and center for yourself and your team as you move forward with the next phase of Our KAM Process: Action planning.

Benefits of Customer Knowledge

In many ways, the benefits of customer knowledge should go without saying. But some are less obvious than others, and it’s useful to remember what customer knowledge can help you do—especially since, like any aspect of Key Account Management, it requires time, effort, and in-person meetings. With strong customer knowledge:

  1. You can be more proactive. When you know more about what your customer is trying to accomplish, you can be on the lookout for opportunities to make those things happen for them. For example, if you know they need approval from their boss to move forward with something, you can schedule an approval milestone into your timeline, and offer to facilitate the process. This not only makes your contact’s life easier, but also puts your company in front of their boss.
  2. You can upsell more effectively. When you understand your customer’s needs, upselling and cross-selling don’t even really feel like “selling.” Instead, they feel like offering welcome solutions to a challenge you know your client is facing. Bundling products and services improves your bottom line and makes it more attractive for your customer to work with you on multiple initiatives, thus strengthening the relationship between your organization and theirs.
  3. You make yourself harder to replace. The more you know about your customer, their company, their industry, and their challenges, the harder it would be to get a different vendor up to speed in the same way. Not that you want your customers to stick with you out of inertia alone, but it’s important to remember your knowledge is a competitive asset.
  4. You make it easier to move past mistakes. Everyone has bad days. In the course of a long-term relationship with a client, you will inevitably make mistakes, miss a deadline, or miscommunicate. If you have a strong personal relationship with your clients, they will often be willing to work through those errors. And when they have a bad day—miss a meeting, lose their temper, etc—you’ll be more likely to understand what’s stressing them out, and better able to move on quickly.
  5. You boost your satisfaction at work. The people you work with significantly influence your quality of life. When you spend all day, every day talking to your customers, it can add meaning and satisfaction to your job and your life to get to know them as people.

Conclusion

We believe very strongly that putting customers first can improve your company’s bottom line. And that starts with really knowing your customer: Who they are, what they want, how they work, what they’re good at, what frustrates them, and, above all, how you and your team can help them succeed.

For a deep dive into Kapta’s tools for generating and capturing customer knowledge, schedule a demo.

Our KAM Process: Your Roadmap for Building Customer Engagement

We’ve talked to a lot of companies about Key Account Management, and we often hear some version of the same objection: “This would be great for our organization. But where do we even begin?”

Change is hard, and it can feel daunting to establish, expand, or improve your Key Account Management function. We understand, which is why we offer more than an app—we also offer a roadmap. Our KAM ProcessTM is a proven methodology for transforming customer relationships through Key Account Management: Know more, so you can plan better. Act strategically and effectively to drive meaningful change. Measure that change across multiple endpoints.

When you implement this process, you’ll build engagement, reduce risk, standardize processes and drive growth.

Know More, Plan Better

The better you know your customers, the more strategic and effective you can be for them. That means going beyond names and titles to understand your their personal and professional goals, as well as their motivations and expectations. Here’s how we break this down in Kapta:

  1. Understand the dynamic. Start by identifying key customers. Who runs the day-to-day? Who makes key decisions? Who are the stakeholders? Kapta provides a dynamic org chart to show you the full structure at your customer’s organization: Who you know, who you don’t, and who you should.
  2. Understand the objective. This is where you start to understand what your customer is trying to achieve. What are their big picture business goals? What are their team and personal goals? How do they expect you to help? And most importantly: How can you go beyond those expectations so they engage you for even more work in the future? Kapta’s Voice of Customer tool helps you ask, answer, and save these questions so you have the information you need to make a great action plan.
  3. Enter the SWOT team. Get a clear sense of the factors that will contribute to your customer’s success, as well as anything that might hold them back. Kapta includes a SWOT analysis tool to guide a constructive conversation about strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats—and capture what you’ve learned to guide decision-making along the way.

Make Action Plans that Make a Difference

Now that you know what your customer is trying to accomplish, you can help them get there. This requires strategic thinking, creative problem solving, and an approach that puts customers first. Here’s how we approach account planning:

  1. Think strategic. Be specific. Account planning is basically the process of breaking down big, strategic goals into manageable action items for your team. Kapta’s action planning tool helps you move seamlessly through this process. When you plan this way, you ensure everything you do serves the bigger strategy, and you create clear purpose and expectations for your team.
  2. Stay organized. Now that you have a plan, you have to stick to it. Kapta helps you track budgets, timelines, and status updates for individual projects as well as for entire accounts. Our dashboards make it easy to see what’s working well, and what needs attention.
  3. Work together. It takes a team to move the needle. Not only your internal team, but also your client teams. Kapta makes it easy for multiple collaborators to contribute to a project, synching to tools like Slack to make things even more seamless.

Measure What Matters

It’s not enough to do the work—you have to show your work. Our real-time data tracking and dynamic reporting tools help visualize results for your clients and your C-suite. They also help you learn from your efforts, creating even more refined and effective action plans the next time around.

  1. Measure specific KPIs. Kapta tracks pre-determined metrics of success to ensure your action plan is proceeding as planned. And if it’s not, Kapta helps you course-correct quickly by raising the flag before it’s too late.
  2. Measure overall account health. It’s not just hard numbers that matter. It’s also less tangible, but equally critical things like client satisfaction, client engagement, and overall health. Kapta gives you “one score that matters:” an at-a-glance score to gauge the strength of any given account relationship.
  3. Measure internal success. Here’s the beauty of putting customers first: Their growth is your growth. Their success is your success. When you help your customers reach their goals, you make it easy for them to renew contracts with you, and maybe even increase their scope of work. Kapta helps you visualize the organic growth you drive through your efforts, and gives you an excellent benchmark for performance reviews, no matter which side of the table you’re sitting on.

Rinse. Repeat.

Our KAM Process is intentionally cyclical. When a client is truly engaged, they’re going to keep sending you work, and that means you need to use what you’ve learned to keep making the work better. What you’ve measured from one action plan becomes part of what you know for the next one, so you can act even more effectively. Keep working through the full KAM Process, and you’ll keep making yourself indispensable to your clients.

Get Started

We developed Our KAM Process to give our clients a clear path forward on their journey in Key Account Management, whether you’re establishing, expanding, or improving your internal process. In the spirit of clear paths, here’s what you can do now to learn more about Our KAM Process, or even start implementing it in your organization:

  • Learn how Kapta can support Key Account Management in your own organization.
  • Download our Big Book of KAM for a longer, more comprehensive read into this process as well as Key Account Management in general.
  • Stay tuned: In the coming weeks, we’ll be doing a deep dive into each part of this process: Know, Act, and Measure.