In my experience a number of professional service firms put huge effort into establishing and launching their key account programs but then tend to move into ’set and forget’ mode. Post-launch, and with a big sigh of relief, they tick off the key account program action item and move on to the next big strategic initiative.
Typically in these firms, key account management is treated as “just another BD activity” and only makes it back onto the top agenda when there is a need to deal with a strategic issue or problem. These issues may include things like agreeing price structure and level for a significant tender, arbitrating in a major conflict of interest issue and/or the reappointment of a new relationship manager or client relationship partner (RM/CRP).
In my view this approach is flawed. Operating with this reactive mode and mindset is a recipe for mediocrity. Typically within a ‘set and forget’ mode, 2 or 3 (out of 10) RM/CRPs will excel in their role and the rest will not do much more than business as usual. While the pragmatist in me understands this reactive approach, there is much to be gained from on-going active top-down leadership and stewardship of your firm’s key account program.
Better practice in my view is setting up a clear framework and process for key account or key client governance. In firms that do this well, there in ongoing scrutiny at Board or Executive Leadership Team (ELT) level on things like:
- overall strategic impact and ROI of the key account program
- client selection and deselection
- RM/CRP performance assessment, feedback and (re)allocation
- traffic light analysis of the firm’s major strategic client relationships
- identifying and removing obstacles to internal collaboration around clients, particularly around measurement and incentives
- investing in enablers
- listening to and considering client feedback and intelligence
- providing guidance and injecting fresh ideas on key client strategy
- signing-off and tracking key client plans.
Many of the larger firms have a “Managing Partner – Clients” or “Director – Clients” role to play this function. In some others they have some sort of client governance council, which is, in effect, a cross-divisional sub-committee of the ELT. This team approach is preferred by some to ensure a non-siloed big picture perspective is maintained.
One simple and high-impact idea is for your firm’s Board or ELT, at each meeting, to receive a short presentation from 1 or 2 key client RM/CRPs that covers a snapshot of the strategic health of the firm-client relationship, and specific proposals to take the relationship to the next level. This standing agenda item approach keeps the key account program top-of-mind and keeps the RM/CRPs on their toes.
One of the tricks in key client governance is to find the sweet-spot between under- or over-investing. As I’ve argued in this blog post many under-invest, but on occasion I do come across firms that have completely over-engineered the management of their key account program and more time is spent measuring, analysing and reviewing than doing.
The upshot is, don’t just set and forget. Don’t be lulled into the feeling of “been there done that”. The real benefit of having a key client program is having more valuable and more secure relationship assets. This is a top-level strategic initiative that requires sustained energy, focus and, above all, inspired leadership.