Every organization wants their customers to see them as strategically significant to their needs, especially when it comes to their most valuable customers. But, in order to actually provide this kind of critical value, businesses must approach their relationships with key accounts differently than they do their smaller, less influential customers.
One of the most important developments in sales in the past two decades, key account management offers a radically different approach and organizational process to a company’s strategically important customers and provides a number of measurable business benefits. All smart suppliers would do well with a key account program of some kind, but not everyone knows how to create one, especially if they come from a traditional sales background.
In the end, the line between key accounts and sales often ends up blurry, at best, account managers fail to become the strategic partners they aim to be, and key accounts continue to churn.
By understanding the differences between key accounts and sales, you can begin to change the way you approach your key business relationships and start focusing your efforts on what matters most to them.
The Obvious Difference: Key Accounts Want More
Traditional sales customers only care about the transaction. Once the sale goes through, their relationship with you is complete. This is not true, however, for key accounts.
Key customers want a business partner. They don’t just want a supplier; they want someone who understands their business well enough to add value to it and help it grow. Because of this, the traditional sales-buyer relationship simply will not work.
And key account customers don’t just expect a more personal, strategic approach, they expect more of everything. They want more service, more ideas, more understanding, and more results, for you and for themselves. Developing the insights to offer these benefits can take years, not months. It is a commitment and a promise to work for your customer, and this requires changes throughout your company, not just within your sales department.
Mutual Growth and Returns
Key account managers know how to give their key customers and themselves high growth rates and returns over the long-term, instead of just the highest price. This requires an intimate knowledge of your key customer’s needs and your own business’s capabilities, in regards to what you can do to help your clients succeed.
Key account managers should visit or call their key customers regularly so they can tailor their services to them and be sure they are on track to achieving their goals.
Increase Long-Term Loyalty to Keep Competition out
In many industries, the competition is fierce, and key account managers who don’t win the long-term loyalty of their customers risk losing them to someone who will. You cannot just rely on a good product or service to keep your customers coming back for more. This means that you must establish and grow long-term relationships with your key accounts, usually by adding more value to the relationship you have with them. You cannot rely on short-term solutions to get you through.
Identify and Plan Customer-Centric Strategies
Successful key account managers regularly plan business opportunities and strategies with their key customers. By developing a keen understanding of their key customers’ goals, account managers can then work to develop a customer-centric approach that is designed to help them achieve those goals. Acting as a partner in the success of a business’s operations places key account managers in an indispensable position. With a normal sales approach, key customers are unlikely to view their account manager as more than a pencil pusher looking to boost their sales numbers.
While they share much of the same language and concepts, key accounts differ significantly from sales relationships. Managing them can have a profound effect on your business performance, but it requires a different way of thinking, with these four points serving as guideposts.
Ready to dive deeper into account management strategy? Take our online course to watch in-depth instructional videos about account management strategy, and access downloadable exercises you can implement within your accounts.