You've probably heard all about how important it is to build relationships with your customers. How it's critical that you put your customers first.
But how exactly do you make that work in your company's benefit? And what should you do to make customers a sustainable resource for your progress?
This is where you level up and implement a strategic account management program.
What Is Strategic Account Management (SAM)?
Also known as key account management, this process aids on an organizational level. The idea is to build strategic relationships between an organization and its customers that will provide value to both sides.
Through SAM, you can build a trust that uplifts and benefits everyone involved.
Strategic account managers look for opportunities to identify problems, provide solutions, and leverage partnerships in an effort to align their company and clients with their goals.
This enables teams to:
- Generate customer loyalty
- Drive revenue
- Stimulate growth
- Create new service solutions
The Strategic Account Management Association (SAMA)
If you're trying to develop a strong SAM program for your own organization, then you'll likely want to turn to the Strategic Account Management Association.
Founded to help companies become essential to their customers, SAMA provides training, resources, and tools that will enable businesses on their journey to becoming invaluable.
SAMA has developed proven best practices for implementing a strategic account management program into your company, leveraging customer-focused frameworks to get your train rolling down the tracks.
Strategic Account Management Best Practices
In order for your SAM program to be effective, you'll need to put in certain practices. Positive relationships and satisfying results aren't going to just manifest on their own. You need processes in place to generate your wins.
Here are some best practices for you to follow:
Appoint Strategic Account Managers.
The first (and most important) step is to assign strategic account managers that operate separate from your sales team.
The idea is that even though they will work closely together, you don't want managers to have to split their attention and priorities in too many directions. Give them one set of responsibilities that they can fully own.
It's easier to do when you can recognize that a sales manager and a SAM manager have different goals and approaches to customer relationships.
Strategic account managers will work a lot closer to customers, building rapport and thinking strategically about how to provide uplift for both the company and the customer.
Be Selective in Choosing Key Accounts.
Your key accounts are the customers who can actually push your company toward its goals. And while you should value all of your customers, not all of them fit the bill here.
Create a selective list of criteria to help you identify which partners align with your company. A few ideas to include are:
- Cultural fit
- Potential to grow
- Potential for revenue
- Product or service fit
- The state of your existing relationship
Criteria should focus mainly on your company's high-level objectives.
Streamline Handoff From Sales.
You've probably encountered the friction that occurs when sales hands customers off to account managers. Obstacles pop up, like miscommunication of goals or strategies.
When this happens, customers can lose trust in you being able to provide actual value to them.
To avoid this, develop a standardized transition process for each and every customer. Make sure there is clarity on client expectations, the account managers' expectations, established goals, and plans for your future together.
Develop Customer Portfolios.
To really leverage your customer relationships, your strategic account managers will need to know them like the back of their hands. That's where customer profiles come into play.
Carefully research your key accounts, from their market and industry all the way to their competitors.
The better you understand their challenges, pain points, and goals, the easier it will be to add value.
Create a Strategic Plan.
Hone in on your customers' needs and start brainstorming creative solutions for them. If you can identify opportunities to really help them along, you'll be able to establish real trust between the two of you.
From there, you can draft a proposal for each account and fill them in on how you plan on tackling their issues.
Be sure to demonstrate an understanding of short-term and long-term goals so they can have benchmarks to base expectations off of.
Invest in Open Communication.
Maintaining consistent communication is the key to any level of customer interaction. Practice ongoing communication in the form of regular meetings and follow ups.
It's important to keep customers in the loop. They'll be able to provide feedback, ask questions, and even update you on their internal changes.
On the other side, they'll appreciate being updated, instilling trust and confidence in your business. No one likes being kept in the dark, after all.
How to Develop a Strategic Account Management Plan
Having an actual plan in place is critical to your efforts in building sustainable customer relationships. Strategic account management isn't a casual check-in strategy. It's a refined, thorough approach to building strong, lasting relations.
If you're ready to start building your own SAM program, these steps will help you get on your way:
1. Build Your Account Portfolio.
Calling back to your customer profiles, this is the first step toward building something with your most valuable customers.
Create an overview of each account and don't skimp on the details. The better you understand them, the more aligned you'll be with their needs and yours.
2. Foster Trust.
You'll want to start strengthening your relationship with each client as soon as you select them as a key account. Trust is invaluable in any relationship, and business ones are no exception.
Show them that they can rely on you to prioritize their best interests and take action in their favor.
Not only will you build trust, but you will also enable them to confide in you on specific areas that they need assistance.
3. Identify Opportunities to Take Action.
Speaking of areas to improve, your strategic account managers should be on the hunt for wants, needs, and windows of opportunity to meet them.
Once there's a clear understanding of what the client's goals are, you should determine which issues you can effectively provide solutions for. Dive into your portfolio to study their market and who their competition is.
If you can come up with creative ways to accomplish their goals, you'll be able to highlight just how much value you bring to the table.
4. Define Your Objectives.
Be clear in your objectives. Create an action plan or proposal that outlines exactly how you plan on getting things done.
In order to maintain whatever trust you've established, you'll need to provide benchmarks that can be measured and reach goals that can be tracked.
Plus, having a fleshed out strategy will help keep your SAM team on the right track. They'll be more effective and productive overall if they have a plan to follow.
5. Initiate Your Strategies.
Action plan: developed. Objectives: set. Customers: assured.
You're ready to get things rolling.
Start working toward accomplishing those short-term goals and pursue whatever big win you and your key account defined as your long-term goal.
6. Commit to Your Customers, But Be Open to New Leads.
None of the above steps means anything if you don't view your customer relationships as important or valuable. Make a true commitment to providing value and finding ways to get value in return.
At the same time, don't close yourself off to new opportunities either. Always be on the lookout for other customers who can provide you with the means to grow as a business.
Strategic account management is extremely important in today's market. Customers now have thousands of business options at their fingertips and have no issue jumping ship to whatever they feel might be a better opportunity for them.
It's more important now than ever to set yourself up as invaluable and to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
With the help of some strategic account managers, SAMA resources, and a great plan, you'll be able to define your business as their best option.