When the Client Says “We love you guys, but…”

In this economy, deeper top account penetration may be one of the few ways firms will generate new solutions revenue. And with clients looking for every reason not to spend money, account penetration will rely heavily on strategic insight and deep relationships. If many of your top accounts are there largely due to a few individual deals and projects, you may want to rethink your approach. Consider this: I recently facilitated a workshop in which a top IT Solutions firm had invited the CTO of one of their largest clients to a “strategic partnering” session with the Solutions firm’s account team and top management. The CTO began with some of the most pleasant words any account exec wants to hear – “We love you guys...” The rest of the session, however, was dominated by what came next: “...but, if what we have seen from you is all you do, then it will be hard to consider you a strategic partner.” The solutions provider considered the client a top account based on a few major deals, but the client saw the provider as just that—a provider of good but standalone solutions rather than a trusted partner that understood its business imperatives and technical priorities. Moving beyond one or two big deals with limited relationships clearly requires a strategic approach. But where does an enterprising account exec begin? Account execs, understandably, focus first and foremost on revenue and revenue potential. Looking ahead, I’d like to suggest three equally important, non-revenue metrics that are essential in evaluating the state of play with top accounts.
  • Share of organization: Many sales folks love to say that 97% of the Fortune 500 companies buy their stuff—but if you have only have one relationship in that company (regardless of the financial deal size), is that truly a strategic client? Dig out that org chart and do some rating and ranking of your share of spend, interest, and relationships in each of the viable business units of your top clients. Then think about an acceptable benchmark that would make your client a strategic one by this measure.
  • Share of portfolio: Share of wallet is an exciting concept, but shouldn’t you be as interested in your clients “share of portfolio”—meaning their investment in the scope of your portfolio of offerings? Take one of those fancy portfolio-on-a-page slick sheets that your marketing team sends you and review which potentially applicable areas of your portfolio are actually in play with your top client...and which areas should be.
  • Share of thought: We often hear that account teams are not involved in thought leadership but that’s an unfortunate point of view. Whether the starched shirts upstairs realize it or not, the account exec should not only understand the scope of thought leadership produced by the firm, they should also know what has been presented to the client and what could be presented to drive more understanding of how your solutions apply to your clients problems.
Now, I know what you are thinking: Shouldn’t the eggheads in marketing be doing this? Of course they should, and these metrics ought to sit in a marketing dashboard that underlies marketing programs across the entire client base. The account executive, however, is ultimately the chief sales and marketing officer for his or her own top accounts, and if that account exec can’t quickly come up with some simple data for the three measurements above, then it’s time to do some homework. In future posts I will talk about the role the account exec can play in actually driving more share of organization, portfolio and thought. Let me know what you think, and what else you’d like us to discuss.

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