Good account management is a process that sees the relationship build and grow each time the parties interact. So, rather like a snowball that you roll through the snow, the relationship between supplier and customer gets bigger and stronger as you accumulate more knowledge about the way the customer operates and what really matters to them. Executed well, this is good for both parties.
“You don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell” is not what I had in mind but if you approach account management in the wrong way then your opportunities may indeed melt away.
A good account manager (AM) should always:
- Know the rhythm of their customer’s business. Take a simple example, if your customer shuts down for two weeks at the beginning of August but still want to have a full months’ production, they will be working overtime in June and July so will need higher levels of stock in those months and less in August.
- Do formal structured account reviews. The focus of the review will be on project and contract performance, but they should also include a regular update on the customer’s medium term business plans to enable the AM to plan ahead and thus be a more effective partner.
Manage the relationship as well as the project.
- Understand how the customer likes to make decisions. Once the AM knows the decision making process they can tune their approach to match the customer’s needs which will oil the decision making process towards a positive outcome.
- Understand those who are involved in the decision making process so that you can provide information in a format that will be useful to each one. The FD may well want a spreadsheet, the marketing director some mock ups of what you will supply, whilst the manufacturing manager may want to see drawings, prototypes or models.
- Be proactive. Stay in touch with the customer’s business; by networking internally and also by staying abreast of what’s happening in their industry and what their competitors are doing. Rather than wait for the customer to ask “have you got …?” or “can you do …?, it is far more powerful to go to a customer early with something like “I have been thinking about the upcoming legislation change on … and the issues this could cause you with … and we have come up with … to help you”.
- Use the ‘friends’ you will create in the customer’s business to help you keep your finger on the pulse; knowing what is going on helps you to be proactive and it helps to avoid being caught out by a new fleet of foot competitor. Meanwhile, keeping in regular contact with those friends also means you will know what they are doing and if they decide to move to a new company, that gives you a friendly introduction to a potential new customer for you.
Time spent managing the relationship with an existing customer is never wasted but it is important to do this in a proactive way focusing on developing the relationship as well as the contract.
Although account management is oft considered a farming role; hunting skills will still be essential to protect your flock of customers from your competitor’s wolves!