Account Management is a sales framework to maximize customer lifetime value. The framework is relevant while selling to as well as serving customers. Its goal is to build long-term client relationships with an emphasis on customer retention.
Every solution provider should add value to their customer’s business. That is the only way to make the relationship a lasting symbiotic one.
Account Management is much more strategic, unlike transactional sales. It is also referred to as strategic account management, key account management, large account management, etc.
It is imperative to apply the right framework to achieve the best results. An effective account management framework can result in sustainable profitable growth for solution providers.
As per a Gartner survey, 88% of account managers agree that servicing accounts above and beyond customer expectations is the surest way to grow.
Here is an 18 step process for an effective Account Management framework in Sales –
Line-of-Business (LoB) Focus
Solution Mix or Sales Bags
Roles & Responsibilities of the Account Manager
Pipeline & Opportunity Management
Critical Success Factors & KPIs
- Resources & Tools
I. CUSTOMER SEGMENTATION
Customer Segmentation is vital to arrive at the right account management framework. Organizations segment their customers based on revenue potential, past revenue, no. of employees, no. of users of your solution, etc.
Based on any of the above factors, you can segment your customers under categories like -
Large Enterprise, Mid-market, SMB
Platinum, Gold, Silver
Strategic Accounts, Key Accounts, Commercial Accounts
Creating these segments will help you to come up with segment-specific go-to-market (GTM). Each of these segments has its own nuances. So it is always advisable for you to look at them individually and create a specific plan to succeed in each of them.
II. ENGAGEMENT MODEL
Basis your customer segments, you need to come up with an effective engagement model. This is necessary to achieve your desired results.
Direct model works best for 20% of customers contributing to 80% of your business. Organizations manage these customers without going through any intermediaries.
You give special status to these customers. That way they will get the right focus and attention it deserves from your teams.
Indirect model applies to scale your business with the help of intermediaries. These could be channel partners, distributors, resellers etc.
An indirect model helps you to optimize your cost-of-sales and cost-of-servicing your customers. You can grow your business by leveraging your partner's relationships and market coverage.
Here you need to invest in recruiting and training new channel partners. Larger companies sometimes prefer to have a dedicated team to drive indirect business.
III. DEAL TYPES
Your go-to-market strategy depends on deal categorization. You may categorize your deals on the basis of the average deal size you witness across your deals.
Account management skills and processes would also vary based on the type of deals.
Value deals are the large strategic deals you sign with your customers. These deals usually have long sales cycles. These involve many customer stakeholders involved in the buying cycle.
Volume deals are transactional lower-value deals. These deals are very important to keep your cash counter rolling. Usually, these deals have shorter sales cycles and involve few customer stakeholders.
IV. LINE-OF-BUSINESS (LoB) APPROACH
In most large organizations, individual line-of-businesses (LoBs) own their budgets. Every stakeholder across LoBs will have their own priorities and requirements. They will also have a specific approach to evaluate vendors and solutions.
It becomes imperative for account management teams to approach these LoBs individually. It requires your teams to engage with as many of them as possible. That will help them unearth many more opportunities relevant to your organization. It will also help you to get a good 360-degree view of your customer's goals.
Once you have this holistic view, it becomes easy for you to align your approach and solutions. You can then orchestrate your engagement across all conversations with the customer.
The end goal should be to identify many up-sell and cross-sell opportunities. This goes a long way in account penetration and increasing your revenue per customer.
V. ACQUISITION STRATEGY
Your account management framework would also depend on your customer acquisition strategy.
The two most adopted strategies are Hunting and Farming.
In the hunting strategy, the focus is on new customer acquisition. The team's primary goal is to add new customer logos on a regular basis to meet revenue objectives.
A good territory coverage plan for market penetration is vital for hunting strategy. This is usually achieved by segmenting your accounts based on territories or industries. It will help to follow it up with an effective territory plan.
In the farming strategy, the emphasis is on account penetration. It depends on an organization's ability to sell more into existing accounts. This is achieved by either selling more of what you have already sold ( up-selling) or by selling new solutions (cross-selling).
Your farming team needs to engage deep and wide across customer LoBs. This is the most effective way to unearth many opportunities.
Both strategies need different skills, approaches and practices. This is why; some organizations prefer to have separate teams to execute these strategies.
VI. COVERAGE PLAN
A good coverage plan is necessary to increase your market penetration. This should include penetration across territory segments and accounts. The goal should be to go wider and deeper.
As we had discussed, you need to have a plan for your direct and indirect teams.
Usually, the direct team's goal is to go deeper into accounts. Their coverage plan looks at the number of engagements across stakeholders and line-of-businesses. There has to be a plan to create many up-sell and cross-sell opportunities.
One of the most important aspects of a coverage plan is to come up with the right team structure and their roles.
In the case of direct teams, a combination of Generalists and Specialists work best to maximize account penetration. In the case of a Generalist, he or she focuses on all the solutions. Whereas, in the case of a Specialist, the person focuses only on a set of solutions.
The indirect model through your partners helps you to go wider and improve market penetration. It is a good idea to categorize your partners based on their core-competencies; territory coverage and solution focus areas.
VII. SOLUTION MIX OR SALES-BAGS
Every account management team’s goal is to maximize customer wallet share. This is possible only when they are able to sell products or solutions from a bouquet of offerings.
This bouquet of solutions is often called the sales-bag. The variety and solution-mix will allow you to improve account penetration.
It is the responsibility of the team to leverage these solutions to address customer requirements. The team needs to align well with customer requirements and position the right solution from the sales-bag. You will then be able to effectively up-sell and cross-sell.
The solution mix is categorized under logical heads based on the solution theme, buyer persona, technology, etc.
It then gets assigned to relevant account management teams based on your team structure. It is a good idea to also assign technical experts to these sales-bags based on their skills and competencies. These experts can then advise customers on the right solution specific to their requirements.
VIII. ROLES & RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE ACCOUNT MANAGER
The most important role in any account management team is that of the Account Manager (AM) or Account Executive (AE).
This person handles the overall engagement and relationship with the client. This being a sales role, he or she carries the sales target for the set of accounts assigned to this person.
He or she needs to have a 360-degree view of the account. The AE has an in-depth understanding of the customer’s priorities and business requirements. With that, this person will be able to orchestrate all activities between the account and the solution provider.
Every client engagement involves many stakeholders from both sides. Every internal and external stakeholder will have their own priorities and motivations. It becomes important for the account manager to understand and balance this well. He or she should know how to best leverage them to achieve a win-win outcome for both organizations.
IX. ACCOUNT PLAN
“He who fails to plan is planning to fail” - Winston Churchill.
Putting together a comprehensive account plan is key to effective account management.
This should be a collaborative exercise between all the teams involved in serving the customer. Team members from sales, pre-sales, delivery, support, etc. should all chip in with their inputs while arriving at an account plan.
A comprehensive account plan should include some of these details -
Strategic priorities of the customer - short-term and medium-term
Account stakeholders and LoB alignment plan; with details on their specific priorities
Account coverage plan for direct and indirect teams
Steps to seek executive sponsorship
Revenue potential and opportunities
Solution penetration and white-space analysis for up-sell and cross-sell opportunities
New demand generation plan
Execution plan to drive velocity across deals
Assign proper roles and set goals to account management team members
- Risks involved
X. NEED DISCOVERY
Need discovery process of an account includes primary and secondary research. The objective of this aspect is to gain as much information and knowledge about the customer’s priorities and overall business strategy. Without completing this exercise, it will not be possible for you to align your offerings with customer’s objectives.
Primary need discovery would be on the basis of direct customer engagements across stakeholders. The sales AE and the presales or technical person are usually involved in this process.
This involves interviewing as many stakeholders as possible to get a comprehensive view of the customer’s needs and priorities. The discovery process should unearth insights into what is the customer wanting to achieve, what’s the desired outcome from an initiative, what's the budget allocated towards the projects, who is the sponsor, how does the decision making process flow, who are the end-users and influencers, who are the other vendors involved in the account, SWOT analysis of your offering and the competitor’s, customer’s view on the project timeline, what are the business drivers making them consider this initiative at this point in time, have they tried solving the issue before and what was their past experience with that approach, etc.
Secondary research would involve you to access and read all the information about the account in the public domain. This includes their annual reports, articles about the customer in news channels and social media, interviews of the company personnel published etc.
At the end of the exercise, you will be able to arrive at a comprehensive whitespace analysis. You can then effectively position your solution offering either as a painkiller or as a vitamin or both to help customers gain some competitive advantage.
XI. DECISION-MAKING PROCESS & EXECUTIVE SPONSORSHIP
Every account follows its own decision-making process. Many of them follow a formal process as well as an informal one. It is important to understand both these processes for increasing your win chances.
Any decision-making process involves both technical and commercial aspects of an engagement.
During the technical stage, the customer does a thorough evaluation of your offering. At the end of the exercise, their goal is to get a good understanding of the solution fitment, its benefits, pros and cons, risks involved, etc.
They would also like to have details of the teams involved in the project execution and delivery. To gain confidence, they would want you to share your past record and customer references as well.
You may also have to arrange solution demos, trials or proof-of-concepts for them to seek commercial approvals for the project.
The commercial stage normally starts after the technical discussions. Although, in some cases, it might be a parallel activity during the technical stage.
You would need to prepare a comprehensive techno-commercial proposal in this stage. After this, the customer gets into commercial negotiations with you.
During both stages, many stakeholders from the account get involved. You would need to understand each of their roles, degree of influence and motivations. Good alignment with all is extremely important to win their trust and confidence.
You will need to also try and find out who are the end-users and key influencers. Many times, these personas are behind the scenes but play a very vital role in the decision-making process.
Last but not the least, seeking executive sponsorship is crucial to most engagements. They own the budgets and sometimes also accountable for the success of the project.
XII. PIPELINE & OPPORTUNITY MANAGEMENT
As you engage deeper with your customers, you will unearth many opportunities. These opportunities become part of your funnel or pipeline.
Managing your pipeline well defines the velocity and rigor you want to drive in your business.
It is always advisable to categorize opportunities in your pipeline under different stages. Common stages in funnel management are -Lead, Qualified Opportunity, Evaluation, Negotiation and Closure.
Good visibility into the movement of these stages will give you an idea of your chances to win. Good governance around pipeline management lays the foundation for Forecasting. This is an important aspect of driving any predictable business.
Identifying many opportunities to maximize pipeline is key to the success of an account management team.
As part of this, putting in place a robust engine is crucial to this strategy. You may assign a separate team to drive demand generation with the core responsibility of creating Leads for your account teams. Usually, this comes under the scope of a marketing team. This team can create opportunities either through an inbound or outbound strategy.
Inbound activities include digital marketing, SEO strategy, content marketing inorganic campaigns, etc.
Whereas, outbound includes email marketing, outbound calls by inside sales team etc.
Leads from the activities get assigned to respective account managers. It then becomes the account manager's responsibility to qualify the lead. After this, he or she has to progress the opportunity towards closure.
XIII. SALES CADENCE
Sales cadence refers to a set of actions your account management team takes. It is a structured way to engage with customers with proper planning and schedule. It includes all the follow-up steps required to engage with the customer to win deals. These include customer meetings, follow-up calls, customer demos, presentations, social media interactions etc.
A well thought-out sales cadence process helps you to be in full control of your engagements. It will improve your chances to win and increase the probability of deal closures. It also helps you bring in some method to the madness with a set of sustainable and repeatable steps.
Having said that, good sales cadence should be well-aligned to your customer journey and their expectations.
You need to be sensitive to your customer’s needs here and space out the frequency of your touch-points without annoying the customer.
XIV. REVIEW PROCESS
Reviews are an essential part of an efficient account management framework. It is a collaborative framework followed by the team to review the progress made in an engagement at specific intervals.
For an effective review mechanism, you need to look at all aspects specific to the account as well as the opportunities pursued by your teams. You may want to separate your account reviews and opportunity reviews.
A good review process needs to include a thorough analysis of the following aspects -
Revenue plan vs achievement
Territory and account coverage plan vs achievement
Account mapping and depth of relationship across LoB
Current stage of opportunities and plans to execute them
Cross-sell and up-sell opportunities
Customer satisfaction score
- CRM hygiene
It is important to keep your sales reviews very objective and transparent. Open discussions should be encouraged; and every team member involved in the account should contribute in this discussion.
XV. RISK MANAGEMENT
A comprehensive account management framework should always consider all the risk factors involved. These risks could be either internal or external. Some of them will be in your control and some might be completely out of your control.
The most common risks to be considered are -
Financial viability of your project
Obsolescence of the core technology that is at the core of your solution
Risks associated with project management and delivery
Attrition in your account management team
Competitive offerings and competitor’s ability to penetrate the account
Leadership changes in the account
Customer’s business environment and their ability to fund the project
Change in customer’s priorities
Usage and adoption of your solution by end-users
- Geopolitical factors
XVI. CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTORS (CSF)
Critical success factors, also referred to as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), are an important aspect to measure the success of an account management framework.
As they say, you cannot improve aspects that cannot be measured. So goal setting becomes very important to measure and drive success.
Organizations arrive at specific KPIs based on their business model and priority areas. They get assigned to individuals based on the teams they belong to. For e.g. the KPIs for those driving Volume business would differ from those responsible for Value business. Similarly, the Hunting team’s KPIs would be different from that of the Farming team’s. It would also depend on the desired mix of Direct vs Indirect deals an organization wants to achieve.
The other factor to consider is the decision on KPI measurement frequency. Depending on the business you are in, you may want to fix goals broken down into monthly, quarterly, half-yearly and annually.
Below is a list of critical success factors that need to be measured periodically -
Pipeline or no. of opportunities generated
Pipeline conversion or Win rate
Average Deal Size
Customer Satisfaction Index
No. of new customer logos acquired
No. of solutions sold
XVII. COMPENSATION PLAN
Designing the right compensation plan for your account manager is important to drive performance. This requires you to critically examine the desired outcome and then come up with a plan that motivates the account manager to excel in his performance.
As we discussed before, the account manager carries many KPIs. Most of the weightage is towards revenue targets. To drive results, a typical compensation plan of an AE constitutes a fixed and a variable payout based on performance.
The variable component is usually paid-out against achieving or exceeding minimum performance thresholds set by the organization.
The guiding principle to arrive at a good compensation plan is to design it to be a win-win proposition. It should be fair for the AE to have a good chance to achieve close to 100% of his variable if he attains his KPIs. It should be easy to understand for all involved parties with periodic payouts.
XVIII. RESOURCES & TOOLS
Resources and tools are the ammunition you provide to the account management team to perform better. You cannot afford to ignore this aspect when you are in a very competitive environment. The right resources and tools can give your team the competitive advantage required for them to win their battles in the market.
Some of the most effective resources and tools that will determine your team’s success include -
Periodic Training on solutions, soft-skills, competition
Account Planning Framework
Account Management CRM for better account intelligence, execution and team productivity. A mobile-first strategy could be an effective option.
Selection and deployment of the right resources and tools will determine aspects like-
Team’s efficiency and productivity levels
Effectiveness of the team in meeting company goals
Adherence to processes
Equipping team with the required knowledge to perform better