This week I wanted to take a step back and get real about the challenges of managing clients. Like me you'll have many stories to tell whether you're sales leader, manager or in key account management.
Today I want to share a story and a particular challenge I had early in my career managing a fairly large account.
It was in my third week I was introduced to an account in the logistics industry. I was told honestly by my manager that this account was profitable but many previous account managers had difficulty with particular contacts within the business. The fact he mentioned 'previous' should have raised alarm bells immediately but I went along with it anyway.
Preparing for the first call with my manager I researched the business, key challenges around the industry, their buying history etc...As much as I could to ensure I made the best impression possible.
We got on the call with the HR Manager and one of the senior directors in the business. The call started out in a pleasant way making introductions. We then moved on to the agenda. Although we had agreed the agenda the director had his own which he aptly told his own colleague that she should allow him to speak and that what we had sent him wasn't adequate. Woah! alarm bells were ringing louder. I looked at my manager as we took the conference call together and he shrugged his shoulders as if to say 'just deal with it'.
The director proceeded to rant for 20 min. I attempted to challenge through asking questions around some of the statements he had made and offer our own thoughts. He shot those down and went on to provide a solution for himself based on what we offered and told us to prepare a proposal around that. CALL ENDED.
I can't imagine anyone else having a call or dealing with someone like that. I did for an entire year and in hindsight there were obvious cues on the call I would notice immediately today. In that year managing this account I had some major breakthroughs and learning. I've carried that learning with me 8 years later.Here are three things you might consider if you ever come in contact with a difficult customer like this who refuses to listen.
Don't argue the point. Acknowledge it, repeat it, ask about the result, collaborate - what do I mean? here's an example.
- Acknowledge -"Thanks for that suggestion"
- Repeat it - "So what you'd like to do is X"
- Result - "what would you like the result to be from that decision based on your objectives?"
- Collaborate - "We've been working with you for a while and you'll recognise that we want to deliver results that matter to you and the business. How can we work together to ensure we're thoughtfully considering the right actions to take to meet your goals?" (if they go blank you can offer suggestions)
In this simple process you diffuse any potential want to sabotage the call from the other person. By acknowledging them, their suggestions and needs. You then allow them to see the result of what that suggestion brings. You then create an opportunity to collaborate which allows you and the person to challenge the idea in order to get the best result. Winning all around.
State the topic but let them shape the agenda and jointly own the result
If they own it you can ask questions to clarify it. One example is a call four months after the one I shared. This time I simply sent an email saying "needing your input to finalise actions of X goal" He immediately came back with suggestions (if you've ever experienced behavioral styles you're getting a picture of what type he might be). The result was on the call we could discuss his suggestions, no one was surprised by added items and it focused on results and not opinion.
Don't give up and don't be afraid to be honest
One of the first acts of real account management bravery I had was 10 months into managing this account. I was managing the account from the UK and my contact was in the US. I'd only met him once and I was flying over for second meeting. We had the opportunity to meet one to one for the first time. He asked me "What's your experience been of me over the last 10 months?" oh boy was I not ready for this question. It was now or never. I took a pause to consider my words and something positive but also said "I found working with you challenging at times because you can come across as someone who doesn't care about other people. I've personally experienced that through the way you listen". It was silent for at least 60 sec. Before he spoke and said "you've got some balls telling me that" he walked out we got into the meeting he signed the deal, he is marginally better at listening today and we've been in contact ever since.
If you're a key account manager, manager of key account teams or consultant take the next step to connect and get my Wednesday KAM growth insights newsletter. Click HERE or get connected at www.jermaineedwards/signmeup
Looking for Key Account Growth Coaching or key account business Transformation click on the links or simply get in touch HERE. look forward to helping you get more from your key customer relationships this year.