During times when prospecting may not be as fruitful, uncovering new sales opportunities can feel harder than usual. But, sometimes your best sales deals are hiding right in front of you within your existing customer base. The key to unlocking them is through effective account management.
Through account management, you can nourish the existing customer relationships you have already. These are people that already trust you and find value in your company’s products and services. This provides a perfect opportunity to capitalize on those things and offer new and expanded solutions to your existing customers through cross-sales and upsells. You also have the opportunity to utilize your existing customer network to generate new sales opportunities through direct referrals.
As someone new to sales account management, you may be wondering what are the account management best practices you should be following. In this article, we’ll break down exactly what account management is and why it’s important to understand that first, as well as best practices you can follow to become effective in account management.
What Exactly Is Account Management?
To truly be effective at sales account management and understand the value that many of these best practices hold, it is important to understand exactly what account management is first.
It is often said that with successful sales account management, what is known as the Pareto Principle will come into effect. Meaning 80% of your revenue will come from 20% of your customers.
Account management is built on the foundation of nurturing and expanding your existing customer relationships into a beneficial partnership. Allowing the possibility to cultivate further sales opportunities within your existing customer base. This is accomplished by learning and evolving with your customers’ goals and helping them achieve those goals. Over time, businesses’ pain points evolve as well. So, with account management, you also proactively help to provide solutions to your customers’ needs as they change over time.
Maybe, for example, you discover that as one of your customer’s business has grown over the last several years they have outgrown the current level of software they are using from your company and need to jump up to the higher level product (an upsell). Or, as your customer’s pain points have evolved over the last few months, you discover that offering them solutions through additional products, which complement what they already have, would be the best answer for them (a cross-sell opportunity).
Put simply, account management is taking traditional “sales” to a higher, more all-encompassing level. In sales and everyday prospecting, you are often focusing on the short term. In contrast, with account management, you are prioritizing the future and helping your customers reach long-term goals.
Sales Account Management Best Practices To Be Successful
Source: The Brooks Group
By following some account management tips and best practices, you can solidify yourself as a successful sales account manager even if you are just recently beginning. All of the following best practices will help put you in the best position to nurture and grow your customer relationships and generate new sales opportunities.
Identify & Prioritize Key Accounts
One of the first things you should do when beginning sales account management is to identify and prioritize your key accounts that you should be focusing most of your time on. Then you can also differentiate the accounts that will not need and shouldn’t take up as much of your attention right now.
Create a clear set of criteria that you will follow when identifying your key customer accounts and start with a small group. Keep in mind that these will not necessarily be the customers currently spending the most money. Look for customer accounts that have a high potential for buying new and additional products or services in the future. As well as customers that will continue to be consistent and loyal over the long term.
As time goes on, make sure to continue to review your key customer accounts. This is not only to consistently measure account performance against your goals and track KPIs but also to verify that your current key accounts should still be considered “key” and still require additional time and energy. If a key account seems like it is no longer a good target for additional resources or is underperforming, you can shift focus elsewhere. Also, periodically reviewing which accounts you are spending time on will help you pinpoint customers who may be on the verge of significant growth and should soon become a key account.
Build & Nurture The Customer Relationship
As we’ve mentioned, successful account management is largely based on a solid long-term relationship with the customer. So, an absolute best practice is to focus on building and nurturing the customer relationship as much as you can.
This should also include the personal side of your business relationship with your customers. Customers will stay with people they trust. Not only does getting to know your customers create trust but it also shows empathy. So take the time to get to know your customers in naturally and authentically. Remember, you are talking to a person, not just a business. Take notes of things they may share with you on each call, like their favorite past times, things going on in their lives, favorite sports teams, etc.
Many sales CRMs have note taking capabilities built into the platform to help you keep this information organized by customer. A mobile-friendly CRM, like Map My Customer, makes keeping track of valuable customer information even easier on the go. There are also apps, like Evernote, built specifically for note taking to help ensure the customer information you want to keep track of doesn’t fall through the cracks.
Taking the time to keep track of this kind of information and use it naturally throughout your relationship will position yourself as a trusted advisor to your customers versus just another salesperson.
Never Stop Learning
To piggyback off of nurturing a long-term relationship with your customers, you should never stop learning about your customer’s business. Good account managers know not only their customers’ businesses but their customers’ industry like the back of their hand.
Valuable things to learn about each customer’s business:
- Their business goals
- Current initiatives
- Organizational chart
- Industry news and trends
- New competitors in your customer’s market
It is important to stay on top of these things and continually look to learn more about your customer accounts. By doing this you will be able to uncover new opportunities to provide value to your customer. You will position yourself as a valued asset that can provide solutions to their business.
Maintain Regular Communication
A big part of maintaining a cohesive business relationship with your customer accounts (or any relationship for that matter) is communication. This means staying on top of regular communication with them.
A good way to do this is to create and implement a pre-planned cadence of outreach. This is a predetermined strategy for how often you communicate with your customers. This could equate to weekly phone calls and/or monthly visits. Your cadence may vary from account to account depending on the particular customer, their level of needs, their industry, etc. Utilize a CRM to help you create and maintain effective cadences without anything falling through the cracks.
No matter what the actual cadence is, to be successful in account management you have to be proactive in your communication and strive to offer a “white glove” level of service. This not only makes your customers feel truly valued but you will also be able to quickly mitigate any issues that may come up before they become big problems.
Be Transparent In Your Communication
You also want to be transparent in the communication that you have with your customer accounts. This is especially true when it comes to timelines and pricing/budgets. Remember that you want to build trust with your customers. If they ever start to feel like you are hiding something from them or aren’t doing what you say you are going to do, that is an easy way to lose a customer.
So, be transparent and communicative in regards to any project timeframes or how quickly you’ll get information to them, etc. It’s better to underpromise and overdeliver rather than constantly being behind on your word. If for some reason there’s going to be a delay, proactively communicate that with your client immediately. Don’t put them in the position of having to keep asking you for the status. People understand that things happen, just be communicative and transparent.
When you are outlining the pricing of products and services and discussing your client’s budget, proactively ensure you have been completely transparent and they understand the costs. This not only helps to build trust but will also help avoid any problems in the future.
Be A Resource To Your Customer
Think of every time you communicate with your customer accounts an opportunity to provide value to them. Ideally, you want your customer to view you as an extension of their team versus just another salesperson. Remember, the customers are looking to you to provide an expertise or solution that they don’t have.
This is where taking the time to never stop learning about your customer’s business and industry comes in handy. You will be better equipped to impart knowledge and provide answers and solutions. Continue to educate your customers on the products or services they already have plus additional ways you can help them. Always do this in a way they can easily understand, without getting lost in industry or product jargon if it is over their head.
Look For Opportunity
To be truly effective in sales account management, you should always be looking to organically grow your sales numbers out of your existing customer accounts. While providing “white glove” service to your customers, be on the lookout for ways to provide more beneficial solutions. It is more profitable to capitalize on upsell and cross-sell opportunities that make sense within your existing customer base than investing time and resources into finding new prospects.
Remember, when you have established a beneficial partnership with your customers and they trust you, and you have followed the rest of the best practices above, you will be better armed to cultivate new opportunities more easily than you may think.
Put The Customer First
As we have touched on, one of the things that differentiate regular sales from account management is short term versus long term. With account management, you should always focus on putting your customer first before just trying to make a sale and meeting short term sales goals.
Remember that once you have established a relationship with your customer, they trust you to provide value to them. Be an advocate for your customer. Part of this means knowing when to upsell or cross-sell but also when to back off trying to “sell them” and focus on service. Never try and sell your customer something else just to make a sale when you know it’s not right for them in the long run.
Leveraging Added Value Through Effective Account Management
During times when prospecting for new leads to fill your pipeline is tough, shift your focus to your existing customer network. As you can see, the more you focus on building long-term relationships with your customers, you may be able to uncover profitable new sales opportunities within the base of people who already know you. Increasing revenue without having to spend a lot of time prospecting for new customers.
Even if you are new to sales account management, by following these best practices outlined above you can start off on the right foot. You will be able to create new opportunities to keep sales coming in during times of less fruitful outside prospecting. Oftentimes, when cultivating that relationship with your existing customers, you will be offering more customized solutions at the perfect time. Adding value to both your product and your company in your customer’s eyes.