A leading Australian professional services firm recently engaged a well-known training organisation to deliver an account management skills program for the firm’s partners and BD staff. The program content focused on things like:
- Identifying and getting access to economic buyers
- Questioning and listening techniques
- Uncovering client needs
- Crafting a compelling offer
- Pricing strategies and tactics
- Communicating value
- Getting third-party endorsement.
To my mind the trainers did a search on the word “sales” in their curriculum and replaced it with “account management”. This begs the question, are they the same thing?
In my view sales is a critical component of account management, but certainly not the same thing. By seeing them as interchangeable you run the risk of winning the battle but losing the war. It may mean tactical success but strategic failure. A singular focus on pursuing individual opportunities may put you at a distinct disadvantage in securing a much bigger share of the client’s spend over the long-term. It may compromise branding objectives, relationship pricing strategies and put the firm in an unwanted conflict of interest position.
In addition to pursuing specific projects, account management should include a clear game plan of how the firm-client relationship should develop over the medium- to long-term i.e. how new value can be created; how competitors will be fended off; how to grow into other business units and geographies; how new contacts and personal relationships should be nurtured; etc. etc. etc.
To my mind, Account Management = Sales + Ongoing Relationship Management.
The model that I use to help integrate sales and relationship management is presented below. The inner blue circle represents the process of winning and delivering individual projects, while the red circle represents ongoing relationship development activities. Clearly both these processes happen simultaneously. They inter-relate but are not necessarily conditional on each other. Intelligence gathered in the red circle should help add and win more blue. Not delivering reliably in the blue will certainly impact the red. Having a strong red may allow you to recover from occasional lapses in blue. Relationships managers are leaders of the red and facilitators of the blue. Income is derived in blue whilst red is pretty much 100% red (ink).
Coming back to the account management training program mentioned at the beginning of this post, my major issue with it is that it did not really address red processes and skills. The program lacked a strategic, long-term relational focus and concentrated on finding and winning specific opportunities. In reality it was a very good blue program! I think the competencies and behaviours are different between red and blue and BOTH are necessary.
So what would my account management training program look like? While it would vary from client to client it would most likely touch on the following topics:
- What do clients want – organisationally, individually, on specific projects and over time
- The behaviours and competencies of successful relationship managers
- Understanding self – what do you bring to the table, playing to strengths, addressing blind spots
- Trusting Relationships (TR) = (Understanding x Reliability x Value x Affinity)/Complacency
- Winning strategies and tactics in each of the five TR levers
- Co-creation – the next frontier
- What it takes to win individual projects – crafting compelling offers, pricing and communicating value
- Influencing and engaging internal stakeholders – the client community
- Being a better communicator: [i] Understanding communication styles – yours and others, [ii] Communication skills – questioning, active listening and feedback, and [iii] Persuasive messaging
- Tracking progress and on-going learning.
A call to action from this post is to reflect on your firm’s most recent business development/account management training program. Does it have the right balance of hard AND soft skills, does it cover strategies AND tactics, and lastly, does it help build competency in both selling AND relationship management?