In most B2B companies today, account management or Key Account Management of some kind are common practices. Managing large business accounts is nothing new and has become a best practice in many industries. However, that presents a larger challenge for companies that want to really differentiate themselves. Taking steps towards Continuous Relationship Management (the “other CRM”) can be a good way to make your company stand out in an environment of increasing service expectations.
Who Should Be Practicing Continuous Relationship Management?
It’s not enough to hear about Continuous Relationship Management and pass on the information to your account management department. While this department will play a large part in implementing an effective Continuous Relationship Management strategy, it’s not up to them alone to get it done right. Continuous Relationship Management is a company-wide effort that has to be undertaken as a strategic move, not as the individual effort of one department.
Continuous Relationship Management is an ongoing process that will take years of good practices to successfully implement. Without a commitment from top executives and different department heads alike, your company is not likely to succeed. If the strategy is not understood and implemented at all levels, it will be far less effective than it should be. The nature of Continuous Relationship Management requires the whole company to be on board.
KAMs Are the Head, Not the Whole
Because it’s a company-wide effort, the account management department cannot be held solely responsible for carrying out the functions of Continuous Relationship Management. Each organization will operate differently, depending on customer base and industry, but many departments will still need to work together in similar ways to make Continuous Relationship Management a successful strategy company-wide.
At the head of the Continuous Relationship Management efforts will be the account management or key account management departments. This is different from how many organizational strategies would be organized because it is not the top executives who should be in charge of Continuous Relationship Management. Instead, key account management or account management departments should be the tip of the spear when it comes to direction, accountability, and strategic thinking. Key account managers should be working closely with top executives, but not under them in this case.
While it may not sound natural to have top executives working alongside or under key account managers, the fact is that KAMs are the best prepared to guide the strategic efforts of CRM. They know and understand the intricacies of different accounts and how to facilitate seamless cooperation with each key account. Letting the KAM head up the efforts at CRM is a good way to make sure things are done correctly and on the right timeline. They need to be at the head so that the customer account can remain the focus of the strategy instead of this goal becoming watered down by other goals and agendas along the way.
How Each Department Relates to Continuous Relationship Management
When beginning to think of Continuous Relationship Management as a company-wide initiative, how do you fit it into the different pieces of your company? Structures will always differ, but here are some examples of how some familiar departments can assist in Continuous Relationship Management:
Continuous Relationship Management is not a strategy of selling to large key accounts. But, it will involve up-selling and cross-selling at some points to build customer accounts. The sales department will be instrumental in forecasting and helping you prepare high-level sales pitches for your existing clients. These are not sales pitches to new clients, but to existing clients that want to expand their accounts with you.
KAMs can provide marketing departments with useful information about ideal clients for your company. Key account clients are usually considered as the ideal clients from all of your existing clients, which makes their customer profiles valuable for seeking out new clients. KAMs should be openly sharing their detailed data collections and customer profiles with the marketing department so that sales can start to target clients that resemble existing key accounts. This helps the company to bring in a better flow of ideal customers from the beginning of the process.
In both product and service companies, some customers may need priority access to what you’re offering. If you need to expedite anything or work differently with certain customers than others, it’s wise to have your operations department on good terms and in the know. Operations will be able to manage your requests directly, especially if they can be in touch with the customer themselves. This makes it easier to meet your customers’ requests and keep them coming back to you.
This is not a copy-paste formula for how CRM should work in your organization, but more of a demonstration to show how certain parts of a company can work together under the same strategy. Any other departments in your company can also fall into the same pattern by providing support to the KAM and actively playing a part in that strategy.
Support is needed in a variety of ways, sometimes unpredictably. If your whole company is well briefed on the CRM strategy and understands their part, it is easier for each part to support the strategy than if one department has to push for everything. Collaboration and coordination are some of the essential parts of making the company-wide CRM strategy work.
Promoting Coordination and Collaboration
If each part of your organization acts for its own benefit instead of working together as a whole, CRM cannot succeed. So, what does it look like for all departments to take responsibility for CRM? There must be coordination between departments and collaboration between your company and the customers in order to get the best results.
It’s one thing for the whole company to acknowledge the CRM strategy, but it’s another for the company to coordinate and bring success to that strategy. For this to happen, each part of the company must be communicating well and working together towards the same goals.
Coordination starts first with your company before extending to any clients. You need to have a unified company face and a good system in place before you try to reach out to your customers. Without a solid system in place beforehand, you may have trouble getting your customers the value that you’re trying to bring. Offering them a higher level of value and not being able to deliver will be worse than not offering the value in the first place.
Work with the various departments in your organization to come up with a CRM strategy that will work well for you. Because every organization works differently, there is no one size fits all option for a strategy. Tailor your goals and methods to what will help you to provide a higher level of value to your customers without increasing your budget too much or straining your other resources.
Setting up the groundwork means creating contacts within your own company, teaching other departments about the importance of CRM, getting executive buy-in, and segmenting accounts that need more or less focus. Segmenting is an important part of the initial steps because you need to know which accounts to approach for collaboration and partnership. This is a company-wide effort so that each department is familiar with which customers need the most support and who is considered a priority client (or key account).
It’s a good idea to appoint someone from each department as a sort of CRM ambassador. These people will be in charge of making sure the department’s actions are lining up with the CRM strategy of the company. You can meet with these so-called ambassadors often to review the implementation and progress towards certain shared goals. This is also a good way to create points of contact that will help you get things done in a timely manner when needed.
Once you have gotten your company in order and segmented your customers appropriately, you should approach the most high-touch, priority customers. They need to know about your CRM strategy and that you plan to be more available to them. If you don’t let your customers in on this, they won’t be able to partner with you and you will remain just another vendor.
Share your strategy to provide more of what they need. This partnership must start by you building trust with your customers, because you may not have given them enough reason so far to trust that you will be able to provide a higher level of service. Meet with your customer contacts and discuss the partnership often.
It’s essential that you create a good network of contacts in your customer’s company, in order to get the right information at the right times. From your network, large or small as it is, you need to learn about your customer’s actual end goals. They may tell you about their problems when buying from you, but that doesn’t tell you what their actual goals are. In order to collaborate in a meaningful way, you have to know what their company is ultimately looking for from your services.
Learning about a customer’s real goals will put you in the position to start demonstrating the usefulness of a partnership. You can then work with your contacts to create joint goals for your partnership. This should be mutually beneficial, with a focus on how it will help your customer reach their goals. The end goal for your company is to grow the customer’s account with you by helping them to grow their own business. With their growth, they will be able to expand their existing account with you and increase your revenues as well.
You will need to work together with your customers on a close level for this to be able to happen. Collaboration is a necessary element for successful CRM strategies. If the customer is not willing to work with you and collaborate, your efforts will not create a partnership that grows the account. This external collaboration with customers is how CRM must work, as the open communication is necessary for the high-touch service you’ll be providing to them.
Customer collaboration makes it easy for you to know their needs and address them as soon as possible. If needs are not addressed on time, the partnership may not work well, which is why you’ll be responsible for the “continuous” part of Continuous Relationship Management. Continuous contact and ongoing communication with your customers creates a healthy and valuable partnership.
Encouraging Company-Wide Action
It can be difficult to get your entire company on board for a strategic implementation of Continuous Relationship Management or any other new strategy. But, because of how vital it is to have the whole company working towards this goal, you need to start it off right. Communication is the best first step for any new company-wide efforts. You will need to communicate first with top executives to talk about the need for the strategy and the importance of it. With their buy-in, you need to educate the rest of the company about the plan.
The more employees around the organization who know about the plan to implement Continuous Relationship Management and understand how it works, the easier it will be for you to make it work. This should become a staple of your company culture and basic knowledge for all employees. Not everyone needs to know the intricacies of how your Continuous Relationship Management strategy works, but they need to know about the strategy, who the key accounts are that get the highest priority, and why it’s important.
Showing the importance of each employee’s role in Continuous Relationship Management can make the transition smoother. It will be difficult for employees to get fully on board with ideas that they cannot see the fruits of, whereas it will be easier to encourage company-wide support if people are aware of how their actions play into the strategy broadly and specifically.
All of this effort seems a bit daunting for a KAM at the beginning of transitioning to CRM, but success in making CRM a company-wide effort to fulfill customer needs will be worth the effort. Continuous Relationship Management can help you take your company from being just another vendor to being in a strategic partnership with your most important customers. Start it off right by making Continuous Relationship Management a company-wide responsibility, not just resting on the shoulders of the KAM!