By David Stargel, VP and Senior Consultant, Sales Performance International
How much of your annual goal depends on growing revenue in strategic accounts? Almost all of our clients tell us that a relatively small number of large accounts generate a disproportionate amount of their revenue. Protecting and growing revenue in strategic accounts are critical success factors for nearly every sales leader.
So, how awful would it be if a strategic account “went silent” and you found out later that a competitor displaced you?
Strategic accounts are among your organization’s most valuable assets. Protecting them against competitors, and growing business by creating and winning new opportunities, depend heavily on the breadth and quality of relationships in those accounts. Strategic accounts will always be at risk if your sales team is not aligned with the right people—the ones with the influence or authority to launch or sustain business initiatives.
Effective account managers develop and elevate their relationship levels in accounts by:
- Assessing Organizational Power and Politics
It is common for account managers to get comfortable with a solitary relationship in an account, and often with a contact at an operational level. This is risky because buyers in accounts can leave and get replaced by others with different loyalties. To guard against this eventuality, your account managers must:
- Identify all of the key stakeholders in the account
- Assess each stakeholder’s power and influence
- Determine political standing with each
Your account managers must look beyond formal titles and reporting relationships and also examine each contact’s informal authority and power to get things done. Good account managers generally have an intuitive understanding of an organization’s political landscape, but it’s best to not leave this to intuition alone. By establishing objective criteria to evaluate stakeholders, account managers will have a more accurate understanding of the people with whom they must align.
- Gaining Access to New Stakeholders
Once an account manager identifies a stakeholder with whom they want to build a relationship, the easiest way to gain access is to suggest ways to solve a problem with significant organizational impact. Current contacts in an account are much more likely to introduce sellers to other stakeholders, if they believe that seller will bring value. By identifying the specific business issues or potential missed opportunities of different stakeholders, account managers can suggest potential solutions, leverage existing relationships, and gain access to new stakeholders more easily.
- Nurturing Existing Relationships
While approaching new stakeholders in an account, either directly or through an existing relationship, account managers must be sensitive to how that will be perceived – they must be careful to not risk alienating current contacts. Savvy account managers work to nurture existing contact relationships by collaborating actively with them, keeping them informed, and showing how they can bring value to other parts of the organization – and thereby reflect well on existing contacts’ reputations.
- Getting Credit for Value
Nothing elevates an account relationship more than getting credit for value delivered. This means not only regularly measuring and reporting the business impact of solutions, but also in bringing new insight and business savvy to every conversation in the account. Account manager conversations must show understanding of stakeholder challenges – they need to demonstrate situational fluency. Good account managers also do their research and calculate the cost of the status quo and the value of potential benefits. Each conversation in an account needs to be value-based.
In modern account management, the best defense is a good offense. By using these proactive methods to develop and elevate the level of relationships, account managers will be much better able to protect strategic accounts against competitive encroachment.
Download our Levels of Account Relationship guide. It will help you and your team to accurately assess the quality of relationships in accounts.
Dave Stargel is a Vice President and Senior Consultant with SPI. He is involved in SPI’s product development of key programs for strategic planning solutions, and works with key client accounts to drive sustainable revenue growth by aligning their sales talent with their strategic business goals.