Client Account Management

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1. Client accounts

Most business-to-business organisations now find that large proportions of their income originate from a small number of long-term customers or clients.

  • There are huge benefits in terms of having a prior knowledge of the client’s requirements and simplifying ordering and billing processes.
  • It is much less costly to continue to service existing customers than to seek out new ones.
  • Many of these relationships are the result of a long and protracted tendering process, which is, by nature of the hurdles the supplier has to cross, expensive to adhere to.
  • Once you have ‘invested’ in getting through the tendering process, the only way to get the actual paying business is by managing your relationship with the client to get as much work as you can realistically fulfil, at the rate you agreed.

2. Why plan and manage a client account?

There are several benefits – both for you and your client – to be derived from actively planning and managing a client account.

  • It gives you the opportunity to maximise the business you do with that particular client.
  • By actively managing the account, you may identify opportunities for up-selling or cross-selling other services that your organisation already offers.
  • By developing a wider relationship base within the client, you will have a greater awareness of their future plans. This will allow you the opportunity to develop revenue earning services and products that are then available to the client as soon as they need them.

3. Developing a client account plan

You can develop your plan on your own, but if you involve a team of people who have connections with the client, you then get a wider view; you gain ownership, and other people feel involved in making the plan work.

A typical client account plan will have the following:

  • Client account team
  • Your 12-month objective
  • The client’s general objective
  • An analysis of the relationships between you and the client
  • A SWOT analysis of your relationship with the client
  • Your specific and short-term objectives
  • A summary of your metrics.

4. Client account team

Here you list all the members of the team who have a relationship with or provide a service to this particular client. You should also ensure that there is a brief summary of what the person does on the client’s behalf. You need to consider some important questions:

  • Does everybody on this team have the same understanding of what their role is and others’ roles are?
  • Is there an excessive overlap of roles?
  • Are there any gaps that are no one’s role/responsibility?
  • Who can ‘overrule’ whom in the event of a request/dispute/argument?
  • Who can authorise extra spend, discount, goodwill gestures, discipline, overtime and so on?

5. 12-month objective

Now comes the time to set out your stall formally and in writing: what are you trying to achieve with this client over the next 12 months? Your 12-month objective should be pithy, short and memorable. It should also be

  • Relevant to this client/contract – there is no ‘one size fits all’
  • Used to challenge, prioritise and support subsidiary objectives and action plans
  • Disseminated – the whole team must know it and buy in to it
  • Regularly reviewed to ensure continued relevance.

6. The client’s general objective

Here you should set out the general objective of the client. If you don’t know what their general objective is, this suggests that you need to get somewhat closer to them in order to find out.

  • There is probably little point in going for their ‘mission statement’, as it will probably have little relevance to your specific relationship.
  • Knowing their objective with regard to you will certainly help you to empathise with their problems and perhaps to offer a value-added service.

7. Analysing the relationships with the client

Next, you need to analyse the relationships that exist between your people and the client’s people. You need to position them on a wall chart according to

  • Whether they are friends/allies or protestors/enemies
  • Their level of influence.

Once you have got the wall chart filled with Post-its you can remove the duplicates and, prior to carrying out a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), discuss what to do about

  • The ones that appear in both Allies and Enemies.
  • The ‘Players of Unknown Influence and Allegiance’
  • The obvious gaps in the client’s organisation chart; you know, the one where you realise that you don’t know anyone in their purchasing department because you have had the account since the year dot – you can bet that your competitors know their purchasing department!
  • The fact that your Account Manager and one of their influencers have a ‘chemical hatred’!

8. Specific and short-term objectives

Specific objectives will be the actual things you need to achieve in order to get to the 12-month objective; inevitably there will be a number of subsidiary goals and these can therefore be allocated to individuals.

  • A specific objective may grow from your 12-month objective.
  • It may be linked to your client’s objective.
  • It may be derived from the Relationship Matrix, and entail converting someone into an ally, for example.
  • It may emerge from your SWOT analysis.
  • Having listed your short-term objectives, you can then categorise them in terms of timing, priority and ‘quick wins’ and establish priorities.
  • Once you have established that these are SMART and prioritised, you can allocate them to appropriate people.

9. A summary of the metrics

Active management of a client account starts with the identification of your business objective in relation to this client; by clearly identifying the objective, you generate your subsidiary and individual targets and action plans. This feeds into your general business planning and your performance management processes, as well as providing you with benchmarks for budgeting, prioritising and staff development.

  • Achievements on short-term objectives can form part of performance management processes; they may impact on budgeting and ROI reports; they may be used to justify expenditure, and they help to track long-term progress.
  • Incorporating the outcomes of your client account plan into your performance management process gives you a range of obvious and less obvious opportunities.
  • Reviews should include regular, calendar-driven reviews, as well as updates due to any significant changes at the client and within your own organisation.
  • If you change the plan, you must actually update it, in writing, at each development and you need to tell all the relevant people.
  • If you have achieved a goal or objective, you need to congratulate the responsible party, celebrate it and communicate it to the powers that be.
  • If you can see a new threat, you need to deal with it or escalate it.
  • If you see a new opportunity, you need to exploit it.