Have you ever heard the phrase ‘be so good they can’t ignore you’? The quote is from the legendary comedian Steve Martin but was popularised by the author Cal Newport.
I’ve read both Cal’s books ‘So good they can’t ignore you’ which looks at the importance of discovering your passion through mastering a skill that’s valuable and ‘Deep work’ which discusses the ability to focus without distraction for results on cognitively demanding task.
The connection between ‘being so good they can’t ignore you’ and ‘the ability to focus on that which matters most with distraction’ fits a great model for key account philosophy.
These elements are two powerful reasons for why we fail or succeed in growing our key customers sales and relationships. Are you seen as uniquely valuable and irreplaceable to your key customers? Are you and those in your organisation equipped, clear and able to deliver on those things that matter most at all times?
In today’s economy there is no safe customer and they owe you nothing.
How do you become or help your company become a high functioning and valued key account organisation?
After ten years in key account management, speaking with over 150 people including clients, research professors and working key account professionals, I’ve five observed five pillars. These are five pillars visible in most high function and performing key account practising organisations:
- · Planning and Customer alignment
- · Internal and External Relationships
- · Growth and Resource Opportunity
- · Strategy and Execution
- · Skills and Ability
These five pillars will give you a view of how to evaluate your effectiveness, make improvements, and enhance what you do or need to start doing.
To thrive and win personally and professionally with your customers you have to become so good and valuable that you can’t be ignored. You have to be intently focused on your customer. In the words of Jay Abraham, “You must learn to love your customers more than your product”.
PILLAR ONE: Planning and Customer Alignment
This may seem obvious but when I read the statistic from the Elsevier research group that ‘84% of customer account plans fail or do not achieve specific set goals year on year’ this area is in desperate need of attention.
You may recognise in your own business that the very plans you spent so much time working on don’t come to fruition. Why is this? Part of this is lack of clarity on what is most important to plan. We assume our customers actual needs, wants and results. We make little effort to share goals with others in our business.
HOW TO EVALUATE HOW YOU’RE DOING: Does your customer and all people who work with your customer know, appreciate, agree and understand the plans you have to deliver results together?
Start by answering these four questions: What would your customers business look, feel and be operating like if you helped them achieve their true goals? Who do you want your customers to become i.e. loyal, referrers and advocates etc…? What would need to be in place to direct this? How closely aligned is your business goal to the resources and results needed to achieve your customers?
Choose one phrase that reflects your goal with your customer and share this one message across your business with appropriate examples for each department: Example message: Our goal is for every customer to feel valued
PILLAR TWO: Internal and external relationships
If Superman needs friends to face enemies and save the innocent what makes us think we can manage our customer relationships by ourselves? Why should you invest in wider relationships? Other people slow you down and they can make your already challenging role more difficult. Isn’t it easier and simpler to do it all yourself?
As much as I would like to believe that to be true it simply isn’t possible. To experience true explosive key account growth you need to deepen customer perceived value of you and your business and actually deliver on that value consistently. To do that you need a good team and intentionally built internal and external relationships. These are relationships with peers, suppliers, governments (where needed), the press, your CEO and most importantly your customers. Think of these collaborations like this. “Collaboration is the ability to harness the skills of two or more people collectively to a common purpose to achieve better and greater results faster”.That’s what these relationships do for high functioning organisations.
HOW DO YOU EVALUATE HOW YOU’RE DOING? Does communication often breakdown in key areas of your business? Do you often get push back from peers who serve the same client? Do you always have to chase other people in a transactional way? Do you or your colleagues only send each other emails when something needs to get done? If it’s yes to most of these questions then there is work to do.
Write down all the people you speak with often about your customers, will need to speak to about your customers, don’t want to speak to but must, afraid to speak to but must, don’t speak to often enough and have to. Set a goal for each relationship. Follow up by setting a specific time in your diary to email or call them. Share that you want to get greater collaboration and ask their ideas of how you might do that together.
PILLAR THREE: Growth and Resource Opportunity
Here we evaluate your “Value Drivers”. These are any action, information, gesture, insight or relationship that can be added to a product or service that can significantly increase your value to your customers. They differentiate a product or service from competitor and make them more appealing to consumers. The acronym V.I.C.K will help you.
· Vision – What will the future needs of your clients be?
· Insight – What new perspective or observations can you bring to deepen your relationship and raise your strategic relevance?
· Challenge - How can you improve what you're doing currently in communication, delivery and demonstrated empathy?
· Knowledge – What do you know about your customers behaviour, challenges, desires, goals, competitors that could be used to drive greater sales opportunity?
HOW TO EVALUATE HOW YOU’RE DOING: Do you and have you evaluated all appropriate resources available, accessible and attainable to deliver the value and results promised to your customers?
Use the V.I.C.K model to evaluate the value you can build into your customer relationships.
PILLAR FOUR: Strategy and Execution
Getting things done in the end is what matters. Things need to get done with clear strategic, relational and tactical engagement to deliver the big goals for the business. In other words what are the daily, weekly and monthly implications of every goal set to win with your customer and win with your business?
HOW TO EVALUATE HOW YOU’RE DOING: Does everyone connected to serving your customer have clear, measureable goals and actions they can apply daily, weekly and monthly?
Read my article on the three E’s of key account success to better understand strategic, relational and tactical engagement. Go HERE
PILLAR FIVE: Skills and Ability
This a pillar I can spend a lot of time on. It’s all about skill evaluation and development of yourself and people in your organisation. In the end your ability to deliver on the other four pillars rests in your ability to lead, influence and collaborate. It’s important to note that when I speak about skill development I’m not only referring to communication and interpersonal skills. Key account managers need to have strong commercial awareness skills like the ability to read financial data. However, beginning with the skills of leading, influencing and collaborating for future results are important places to start.
HOW TO EVALUATE HOW YOU’RE DOING: Are all of those serving your customers committed to developing themselves, learning and demonstrating the skills needed to get consistent results with your customers? What skills are working for you now? What skills are letting you down? Once you know it get help to improve and enhance both.
These pillars are nuanced with new questions that encourage new thinking for predictable and repeatable sales with your key customers.
If you take action to improve on these five pillars you’ll become an organisation or key account manager ‘so good you won’t be ignored’ and you’ll know what to focus on and have the structures in place to eliminate distraction and work on what matters most.
If you’d like to talk about how to execute these five pillars, get in touch and I’ll share with you my key account health check evaluation for your business. You will see where the greatest opportunities for your success is.
Jermaine Edwards – Your Key Account Growth Guide
Turn your customer relationships into a profitable and strategic advantage
Connect with me on LinkedIn HERE