Key account management will fail for sure without a strongly committed group of C-level executives. Employees watch C-level executives to determine what the business priorities are. It is very humbling when you are a C-level executive to recognize that. What you say is one thing, but really it's what you do that counts. C-level execs need to lead the key account management process to get the whole organization committed. They are the people that can make major commitments to key accounts and it shows the commitment as a supplier to support those accounts.
Important clients want to meet and understand their key suppliers’ executive priorities, and their ability to follow up on clients' top priorities. That's why it's really important to get your C-level executives involved with the C-level executives at your key accounts. The key account management process will provide an important source of business intelligence for key supplier executives and the intelligence you gain as a supplier allows you to set good strategy. Key suppliers can work as partners with key accounts on new business opportunities.
How Do You Make This Work?
Business reviews need to be scheduled for all key accounts on a regular basis. Quarterly has proven to be the best frequency. Joint business plans must be developed for each key account and updated quarterly to reflect current business priorities and conditions. Structured business reviews with key accounts are an efficient use of top level executive time. Key accounts want to see how committed key supplier executives are to making them successful.
Recently, I had a situation where it was really important that the top level executives for my company participated in a key account meeting. We had a meeting set up with what was becoming a very important account and as it turned out, has become our most important account that is driving the success of our business forward. They have 9 product launches scheduled for the next year and we are doing 6 of those product launches for them. We have become their primary supplier. But, it really took a meeting between our CEO and their CEO at a scheduled dinner meeting to understand just how valuable and how important the relationship was for both CEO's. During this meeting, our key account manager was doing what they do best - selling the account, highlighting what we could do for them, how important they were to us, how we would support them and do everything necessary to make the account successful. At that point, the conversation went quiet. The account's CEO, reflecting on what was just discussed, turned to the account manager and said "With all do respect, we've had many other dinner meetings, with many other suppliers, making the same kinds of promises that you are right now. Quite frankly, it hasn't worked." The silence then grew to an uncomfortable silence at the table. It was actually the best thing that could have happened and became the turning point in our relationship because it became very evident to our CEO what we had to do to make the relationship a success and really drove the point home what would make us successful which was what other suppliers had failed to recognize and do for this account. So, out of that, our CEO initiated daily internal meetings where key internal operational and customer service people review individual projects and customer orders to ensure we're delivering on our commitments to this account - as well as all of our other accounts. It is no surprise that with this level of focus, the company is delivering on all our commitments, especially to our most important account. Without that meeting, that never would have happened. Now, the business is growing substantially and most importantly, is making everyone really happy and feeling good about what both sides are accomplishing together - we are invested in each other's success.
In another experience I had in the past, I was the Vice-President and General Manager of Exide Electronics Canada selling power systems to large banks and insurance companies. About a third of our business was with the government. As the Business Leader, I could commit the company to carry out plans on the clients' behalf. That's what enabled a turnaround from about 15% market share to 50% market share in four years, because I could lead the account relationship building process and the accounts really appreciated the follow up that resulted from it.
Brian Smith has coached large multi-nationals and small clients in growing their businesses through Strategic Account Management, Improving Sales Effectiveness, Strategic Thinking Work-Outs and Ongoing Coaching. Through his extensive career, Brian has also held several Finance and Strategic Management Positions at General Electric and led the turnaround of Exide Electronics as Vice President & General Manager. So we asked Brian Smith to provide a little more in-depth perspective on strategic account management practices. He has graciously agreed to write a series of articles for this blog. This is the latest post in a series of articles he has written for us.