Key Accounts

How much money are you leaving on the table every year with existing customers that should be growing but aren’t? Do you know the revenue potential of your top 10 clients? If you don’t, you could be leaving millions of dollars on the table, because you don’t know it’s there or you have no plan to go get it. 

Looking for business in existing accounts is something many sales leaders assume their salespeople or account teams are doing. However, it is often not being done systematically or effectively. In fact, according to CSO Insights, only 33% of companies have a formal Key Account Management Plan. That means the other 67% are randomly and ineffectively managing and growing key accounts. 

Here are some guidelines that will help your team identify and grow your most important accounts. 

Selecting Key Accounts 

There are essentially 2 primary parameters for selecting key accounts. First is value and second is potential. There are some customers you simply can’t afford to lose because they represent a significant percentage of revenue. Losing them would have a noticeable impact on the bottom line. Any account that fits this description is a key account, and requires an account plan and a team assigned to it. 

The second category would be accounts that have a great deal of potential that you have not successfully captured. Chances are, you aren’t growing these accounts because you are not well positioned in them, and you aren’t paying adequate attention to improving the relationships. 

There are two more considerations– profit and fit. Some large accounts are not profitable. That is not good for you, and in the long run, it isn’t good for them. You certainly don’t want to grow or pursue accounts that aren’t profitable, unless you can change that. The only way to change that is through a concerted effort to build the relationship and improve satisfaction. 

Often the reason accounts aren’t profitable is because they aren’t a good fit. Either your solution doesn’t solve their problem, or they aren’t a good cultural fit with your company. When you are selecting key accounts, you want to select and focus on companies that are a good fit, especially if your goal is to grow them. 

Here is a step-by-step guide to analyze your existing customers and determine which are the key accounts that need an account team and an account plan. Start with no more than 10 accounts, or about 1 or 2 per account team. Key account plans are an investment of time and resources, so don’t commit to more than you can do. 

Account Plan 

Now, you have the basis to begin an account plan. This account plan is the road map your team will use to sure up the relationship with your key accounts in order to retain, grow or improve profitability. 

Account plans have 5 parts, utilize the download and follow along with the steps below. 

  1. WHO – Who you are selling to, including the company, divisions, and decision-makers. 
  2. WHAT – What you are currently selling and satisfaction levels.
  3. OPPORTUNITIES – What you could be selling.
  4. GOALS – Include revenue goalsrelationship goals, and customer support goals.
  5. ACTIVITIES – Things that will move your team toward the goals. 

Who – The “who” includes the company, the divisions and the individual decision-makers. If it is one company or one division, then that makes it a bit simpler. Create a list of each person that is involved in the decision, whether or not you have a relationship with them. Make a note, if you think there are others you have not identified. Identify those that you need to develop or improve your relationship with. 

What – What products are you currently selling, and what is the satisfaction level with those products? You may need to create a grid with the people across the top and the products down the side, to get a real sense of what the satisfaction level is. You will want to highlight anywhere there is dissatisfaction. 

Opportunities – Make a grid with the products you have available across the top and the divisions and departments down the side. Mark the box for each thing they have purchased from you or someone else. Everything else is white space, otherwise known as opportunities to explore. Based on the grid you just createdas well as information from the client, you can identify which are real opportunities for each of the key clients selected and create a list of clear opportunities with revenue amounts and close dates. 

Goals – Looking at the information you gathered, you can begin to build a list of goals. Create 4 different types of goals; revenue, relationship, customer success and stop investments. 

  • Revenue Goals – Add the opportunities you identified and get a total opportunity value for each of the next 3 years. 
  • Relationship Goals – These are goals around building relationships with individuals who influence the overall relationship. 
  • Customer Success Goals – These are goals around helping your customers achieve their goals. 
  • Stop Investments – A stop investment is a goal to stop investing resources into activities or relationships that don’t move the overall relationship forward. 

Activities – Salespeople spend a lot of time doing activities, expending resources and talking to customers, that don’t result in improved relationships or closed deals. Having a key account plan will help prioritize activities for your team, so they are focused on the activities that are moving toward the long-term goals for this client. 

Account Planning 

Now that you know what you need to include in an account plan, it’s time to create one. This is a generic process, but you can revise it to meet your current situation. 

Step 1: Have the account owner (sales rep or account manager) pull together as much information as they can about the selected key account and begin to fill in an account planning sheet. Request to download the sheet below. 

 

Request Your Account Planning Worksheet Now!

 

Step 2: Decide who needs to be on the team to make sure that you are covering all the bases. Should you include: 

  • The sales rep who sold it? 
  • The account rep who is managing it? 
  • The customer success person in charge of the account? 
  • The CEO or other Sr. Management? 

It’s up to you who is included, but I encourage you to make sure that all the people who touch the account get involved.  

Step 3: Set up a series of meetings. 

  • The initial account planning meeting 
    • Go through the who, what & opportunities, filling in as much as you can. 
    • Discuss what’s going on with your customer: 
      • Customer’s company or division goals 
      • Problems they’re having in their organization 
      • New products or products they’re eliminating 
      • Changes in leadership or staffing that affects your position 
      • Changes in their industry 
    • Make a list of missing information 
      • Assign someone to find that information for the next meeting 
  • The Goal Setting Meeting 
    • Review the who, what & opportunities. 
    • Review what’s going on with your customer. 
    • Establish 3-5 goals for this client: 
      • Revenue goal 
      • Customer success goal 
      • Relationship goal 
      • Stop investment 
    • Determine what activities you are currently doing that do not support the goals you have established. 
    • Assign activities to team members to move you toward your goals. 
  • The Check-in 
    • Discuss status of actions agreed upon at the last meeting 
    • Discuss any changes in data you have on the account 
    • Discuss any new information about the account 
    • Discuss any new problems the account is having 
    • See if there are new actions required 
  • Quarterly Check-ins

  • Discuss progress toward goals since the last meeting 
  • Discuss status of actions agreed upon at the last meeting 
  • Discuss any changes in data you have on the account 
  • Discuss any new problems the account is having  

  • See if there are new actions required 
  • See if opportunities need to be adjusted 
  • See if goals need to be adjusted

Once you have completed your first two rounds of account planning meetings for each of the key accounts, you will have a pretty good idea of how much revenue you can project from each of those accounts. 

Account planning is critical for two reasons. First, it solidifies your position with accounts or at the very least prepares you to lose an account you can’t solidify. Second, it helps you accurately predict how much revenue you can expect from your top-rated accounts. 


Does your team need help building a key account plan? We can help, schedule a 30-minute meeting with me and we’ll get you started! 

About the Author Liz Heiman

A strategic thinker, sales strategist, Japanist, and Rotarian, Liz is a coach, trainer, and prolific speaker on the topics of sales and sales leadership. Liz loves sales, and enjoys working with sales leaders to create strategies and processes that make sense AND bring in results.

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