Value co-creation with your client is the ultimate goal and is a part of the job description for a key account manager. You can’t rely on your product to speak for itself as there are likely anywhere from dozens to hundreds of competing service providers out there all vying for your client’s business. When features alone can’t sell a product, your relationship with the customer is the main differentiator.
While bringing value through a product is a must, to keep your clients happy and signed up for the long-haul along with the ability to sell them premium services, building co-value and a win-win relationship is the first step.
To do this, you need to talk to your clients and have a co-value conversation with them to establish this trust, reliance, and win-win benefit. Some key account managers might feel lost in this stage, but we’re here to help. As you prepare for your first co-value conversation with an existing or potential key account, here are some things to consider.
Learn Their Story
Before you can start providing value for your customers, you need to know not only more about their company but more about the environment they operate. Every industry has unique factors that can change the way your customers work and how they sell their products or services.
For example, companies that work in the advertising and marketing world face growing competition where new companies pop up left and right promising better rates or faster results. How can your customer keep up with that? With changing technologies too, the industry is in flex also. Does your customer know this? You hope they do, but understanding these types of factors and providing insight is an excellent way to start the co-value conversation off on the right foot.
Taking the time and making the effort to separate yourself from other vendors and researching the perils of what’s going on in your customer’s industry can build co-value like nothing else. It shows that you care about what their company is up against and it also shows that you understand how they’ll use your product to overcome these obstacles. Approach the discussion from their point of view, and you’ll begin to understand what they require and what your solution is.
Ask The Question
It sounds simple enough, right? To get to the bottom of what your accounts truly value and the aspects that they are looking for in a successful account manager, you need to actually talk to them. You can try your best to surmise what they might value or appreciate based on non-verbal cues, but in the KAM world, we can’t make judgment calls based on our intuition or thoughts; we need directions, strategies, and actions.
So, how often are you talking to your key account contacts? If your answer is less than a weekly basis at the bare minimum, then you are leaving your accounts out to sea without any co-value that they can depend on. We often recommend that account managers speak to their most important clients on a weekly basis at the minimum but often times, quick chats or emails during the week are common.
Frequent communication is just the vehicle for building co-value. To make some real progress, you need to better understand their situation through highly-target, specific questions that show you are not only doing your homework, but you care about the challenges and opportunities that face their business.
Here are a few basic questions you should ask your clients before delving deeper:
1) Where do they struggle now?
What is the most significant operational challenge that your account struggles with? It could be an internal challenge such as remaining competitive in their industry. It could be providing high-quality customer service to their customers. Or it could be as simple as lacking an efficient way to track project costs.
Whatever their case may be, start by identifying the biggest struggles of their company as a whole, so you have a broader view of not only their organization but their competitors, customers, and industry as a whole. This insight will allow you to form a frame for where their company stands now along with a jumping off point.
Additionally, they should be able to provide you with quick answers right off the top of their head. Since we’re focused on the current situation, their struggle might very well be an emergency. Be ready with solutions and suggest how your products or services could make the current situation easier for them.
2) Where will they struggle soon?
Along with where they struggle in the current market situation, you also want to see where they will struggle in the near future. Have they thought that far ahead? You would hope so, and if you have done your industry analysis correctly, you already have seen into your KAM crystal ball and have identified areas that they could improve.
Look for struggles that they foresee in the next six months or so but nothing way too out on the horizon. The competitive field can change drastically in only a matter of months so if you are proposing solutions that they might need in five years, by the time that comes they could be in an entirely different situation. Get down to the things that keep them up at night and provide them with tools they can use to conquer these obstacles before they ever become a problem.
Examples of a struggle on the horizon could be the start of a slow season in their business, a new product launch, a merger, or something else that can change the way they conduct their day-to-day operations. Find new ways to ease these worries, and you’re already well ahead of the pack in building co-value with your clients.
3) What about individual struggles?
Finally, on the topic of struggles, where does your contact struggle? What keeps them up at night? Why are they talking to you and not another member of their company? While your plans for an account should be at the macro level, you can’t forget about the human on the other end of the line. After all, because we’re focusing on relationships here, you should care about their individual struggles.
Getting to the bottom of this might be challenging being that you aren’t a psychologist, and it can really take some time. Essentially, we want to better understand what they want out of their relationship with your company.
Sure, they’re using your products because their boss wants them to, but you need to communicate why they should fall in love with your products or services. They need to understand why you’re worth the cost every month and how you’re helping them in their own individual goals.
Likely, they’re looking for a way to make themselves look like the hero to their company and the person that gets the most results, but they’re struggling to make it happen. Or, they could struggle to connect with their clients and are facing a detrimental churn rate.
Whatever the case, you can’t provide them with the help and solutions they need if you first don’t know the struggle.
How can we win?
Once you’ve identified the specific company-wide and individual struggles of your key account it’s time to start putting points on the scoreboard for them. When you can help them win, they’ll have a hard time trading you for draft picks (i.e., a different vendor).
While you’re strategizing with your client, you need to dream big. What is the end game here? What would they consider the ultimate win? For many, it’s likely revenue growth, reduced churn, and increased market share. Other items are likely small victories along the way or icing on the cake.
As you’re better understanding how we can win, you’ll start identifying areas that you could provide not only guidance but also strategic help all while building their trust with every win along the way. Plug this information into your account plans on Kapta, and you’ll have a new roadmap and clear lists of actions to help them reach the ultimate goal.
Value for Their Customers
If your client is like most, they want the same thing that you do – to provide value for their customers. The entire business world revolves around the idea that we do better when our customers value our services and products. Providing value for your customers relates to the relationships and support, guidance, and expertise that you provide.
For your client, it’s likely the same thing but in a different industry or market place. Even so, your services should enable them to focus more on their customers and less on putting out fires or stressing about the great unknown. If you’ve done your homework and gotten to know them during the time they’ve been a client, you should already have the crystal ball and are shining the light that leads them out of uncertainty.
The Customer’s Customer
With all of this information in mind, it’s time to consider how the value chain moves forward from you providing co-value to your clients providing co-value for your customer’s customers.
Consider the questions from earlier:
- Where do they struggle now?
- Where will they struggle soon?
- What are their individual (or personal) struggles?
- How can we win?
How might their customers answer these questions? Thinking this far down the value chain serves a few purposes.
First, it helps you gain greater insight into the account so you can see where your solutions make the most difference. When you’re focusing on the bigger picture and focusing on revenue, profits, and other company-wide figures, it’s easy to lose sight of what the ultimate end goal is – providing value. Consider how these solutions are going to make your client more valuable to their customers, and the other wins will follow.
Second, it shows your client that you’re thinking post-sale – you’re not just looking for ways to sell them more stuff; that’s not what you’re here for. One of the most significant pain points of key accounts is that they feel like their vendor doesn’t care about anything more than the sale. Let the sales reps get the leads and land the small wins – we’re focused on growing this relationship and bringing greater bottom line driven results.
Finally, considering the struggles and aspirations of your customer’s customers just makes you look good. Showing this type of foresight and attention to detail is what separates key account managers from the rest of the pack and without it, you’re just another vendor or sales rep to your clients. Think all the way through and discuss your customer’s customer with the client.
While you should do your research beforehand and come into the discussion with a general knowledge base, your customer will likely reveal new details and information. Track their responses, put them in the account plan, and work towards solutions that affect their organization from the very top to the end user.
Providing co-value for your clients can make or break the relationship but you shouldn’t stress too much. It all starts by having the co-value conversation and getting down to the nitty-gritty details of their struggles today, in the near future, and their idea of success. Once you understand what they want to get out of the relationship, you can start providing the guidance and support needed to nourish and grow the account, making you their Trusted Advisor and Partner in their success.
How Kapta Can Help
Kapta is a key account management platform designed specifically with the relationship in mind. Rather than bogging you down with more spreadsheets and complicated tables, Kapta offers an intuitive user interface that KAMs can use to easily track and manage important data related to their most important client. Easily create and edit Account Plans with the built-in templates, improve engagement through VOC Insights, and even track the account’s Overall Health Score all in one platform. To see how Kapta can help your KAM program, request your free demo today.