Strategic account management is a business practice involving activities like providing customers with the best support and services, thus increasing their consumption of products and services offered by the business. It is an activity that starts with the first contact with prospective customers and continues even after the sales have been made successfully. The post-sales activities focus on nurturing client relationships. The practice aims at maximizing retention, cross-selling, and upselling within the customer base. Businesses achieve these objectives by finding out their clients’ goals and providing all the necessary support to them for achieving their goals satisfactorily. This is certainly not an easy task. Challenges are inevitable in growing customer accounts.
The key account management process is a multi-step process that begins with analyzing the profitability and continues throughout the sales cycle. It is important to discuss here that account management is all about managing ‘key accounts,’ i.e., the accounts with a high probability of profitability for your business. Not all customers are made equal. So, this strategy focuses more attention on ‘high value’ customer accounts. Whenever we say accounts or customer accounts here, you should know we are talking about the high-value key account.
Now, if you are planning to adopt account management as a practice for managing and nurturing your key customer relationships, you must stay prepared for some inevitable challenges. Every business organization, regardless of its size, faces one or the other challenges in account management. Understanding these challenges is imperative so that you are prepared to deal with them as and when required.
Let us have a look at the seven big challenges faced by businesses while creating and managing strategic accounts. Though you may face other challenges as well, these top 7 challenges are the frequently occurring and most damaging challenges. So, you should stay prepared to tackle these challenges.
Identification of Ideal Customer Sets for Expansions
Identifying ideal customer sets for expansion is important but not a very easy task. Businesses must pick high-value customer profiles and create their ideal customer profile based on the selected key accounts. A mistake at this stage can be very damaging as lots of effort and resources will be wasted on accounts that do not need so much attention.
Strategic account management can only succeed when there is an accurate and comprehensive Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). The account team often confuses the ideal customer profile with a buyer’s persona. Both of these are important, but they are not the same. Building an ICP is a tedious task and has room for many mistakes.
A mistake in identifying an ideal customer set for expansion can derail your entire account management strategy. You must therefore exercise extreme caution at this time. All your future efforts will be based on the accounts and profiles you pick and create at this stage.
The following tips can help you tackle the challenge of identification of ideal customer sets for expansion.
- Do not treat your ideal customer profile as your wish list. Rather than portraying the business with which you would like to work, you should base your ICP on your current best account. Look at the list of customers you already have and pick those that bring high value to your business.
- Do not wait to gather humongous data before building your ICP. It is not a one-time process, so you can start from where you are and then do the revision as and when required.
- Do not leave your ICP untouched for long. If you create an ICP, make sure to use it and also to update it regularly.
- Do not take a narrow approach while defining the attributes of your ideal customer profile. The profile needs to outline general attitudes, needs, and desires of the type of accounts that are high value and of your interest. Remember, the attributes need to be of accounts and not individual people.
Non-alignment or misalignment of internal stakeholders
The next big obstacle that stands in the path of good account management is the non-alignment or misalignment of internal stakeholders. On most occasions, it is only the marketing team that is involved in creating an ideal customer profile and the strategic management of accounts. Though account management is the work of the marketing team, sales team and others who interact with customers can provide valuable insights to outline the proper ideal customer profile. So, whenever you create an ideal customer profile, do not forget to bring every internal stakeholder to the table. Everyone that comes in direct contact with customers can give their valuable input about customer profiles and customer goals.
Key account management is teamwork that requires multiple internal stakeholders to work together to achieve one direct goal of satisfying high-value customers, thus accelerating the business’s growth. Bringing people from different departments together is not easy, but this challenge must be overcome for the successful management of accounts.
Before you begin working for the external stakeholder (customers), you must work on aligning internal stakeholders who would walk hand-in-hand to achieve the one big organizational goal of growth and profitability.
Consistency in high-quality engagement
The importance of consistency in the digital world can never be overstated. Every business needs to maintain consistent interaction with its existing customers. Most businesses start customer engagement with high zeal, but often struggle to maintain consistency. Maintaining consistent and high-quality engagement with existing customers is undoubtedly difficult, but one cannot successfully manage their accounts unless consistency becomes the priority.
Any experienced manager or marketer would tell you that holding on to old high-value customers is more important than attracting new ones. So, if you are not consistently engaging with your existing accounts with high-quality content and interactions, you are doing a disservice to your business.
Though it is challenging to have high-quality account engagement consistently, you must overcome this challenge. Your valued customers need to feel valued consistently. An inconsistency in maintaining high-value interaction makes your key accounts feel that they are not valued as customers. This interaction becomes even more important when the sales have already been made. This makes the customers feel that you don’t value them only for selling your product or service.
Mistakes like inconsistent value tracking and showcasing
Another great challenge for seamless account management is value tracking and showcasing inconsistency. This challenge is like a double-bladed sword. Inconsistent value tracking and showcasing not only degrades the company’s position but also gives competitors an advantage.
Value tracking or KPI (Key Performance Indicators) measurement is important for tracking the result of the efforts your business puts into marketing and sales. Every investment of efforts and resources of a business needs to be tracked and measured regularly. This measurement shows you both your strengths and weaknesses.
When you do not showcase your strengths and successes, you give your competitors a chance to get an edge over you. Knowing your weakness is a good point to start improvement. Suppose you want (which you obviously want) your business to grow and move ahead of your competitor, in that case, you cannot afford to be inconsistent in your value tracking and showcasing activities.
Disadvantageous accounts to account reps ratio
Another factor that makes strategic account management challenging, is the disadvantageous accounts to account reps or customer success manager (CSM) ratio. Strategic account management requires consistent and high-quality engagement with each account. This means that customer success managers must continually pay attention to each account. So, when a business starts implementing account management strategies, the number of account reps may be sufficient for the present accounts. But, as the number of accounts grows, businesses must increase account reps.
Many businesses fail to strike a balance between the ratio of accounts and account reps when the number of accounts grows. This disadvantageous ratio eventually hits the business performance. When fewer representatives are overloaded with responsibilities for a larger number of accounts, they are sure to perform poorly. And, in this age of cut-throat competition, no business has got the room to perform poorly and survive. Competitors are always ready to overthrow and take the upper position. When the ratio of accounts to account rep is not good, a company cannot scale its service or business, thus hindering its own growth.
High operational cost due to the inability to implement best practices across the organization
Another challenge in account management is the high operational cost incurred by an organization due to its inability to implement best practices across the organization. A high operational cost automatically eats up a company’s profitability and growth prospects. When a business requires standard results, it must be able to standardize how part of the organization functions.
Every good manager is aware of the fact implementing best practices across the organization increases performance as well as productivity. By sharing best practices, the organization can fill the knowledge gaps and improve the efficiency of each member of the organization, while encouraging leadership skills among the employees. But when an organization fails to implement the best practices, they spend more and get lesser returns. When not given close attention, this high operational cost,can eat away at profitability as well as the growth ratio of the organization.
For good account management, every business organization needs to face the challenge of the high operational cost resulting from non-implementation or poor implementation of best practices across the organization. Account management should not be seen as the task of just the marketing team. Every department must play its part well for better management of customer accounts.
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Inconsistent advocacy management process with customers
Customer advocacy is one of the most effective word-of-mouth marketing techniques. Like any other marketing strategy, it also needs to be consistent to fetch the desired result. As discussed earlier, the importance of consistency in digital marketing can never be overstated. For a foolproof customer advocacy strategy, a plan of action focuses on customers’ needs and satisfaction at every touch point, from the first contact with the customer to the after-sales services. If an organization becomes reckless or fails to satisfy customers at any touchpoints it will lose a brand advocate. In today’s digital era, even one negative comment can go a long way in making a dent in an organization’s reputation.
An enthusiastic endorsement by a satisfied customer can affect the buying decisions of many prospective buyers. The buyers see feedback from another buyer as an unbiased opinion and are most likely to trust that opinion more than any of your advertising campaigns. So, it is not only important to satisfy your customers but to keep them satisfied throughout the sales channel.
When you want better-managed customer accounts, you cannot afford to be inconsistent in your efforts to turn your customers into your brand advocate. Remember, the advocacy done by these customers is different and much more effective than the regular word-of-mouth praises. Brand advocates are those who enthusiastically and passionately put their efforts into affecting others’ buying decisions. They do not simply tell you that your product or service is good but go the extra mile to push others into buying your product or service. So, being inconsistent in your efforts to shape these advocates can be hostile from your sales perspective.28
Account management is an especially important practice that requires continuous efforts on the part of any business organization. Well-managed accounts can put the business on the fast track to success and growth. It can give any business a competitive edge over its competitors. But, certainly, it is not a cakewalk. Good management of accounts needs consistent efforts not only from the marketing teams but the entire organization. Several challenges stand in the way, but none of these challenges are undefeatable. An enthusiastic management with better control of the teams can get over all the challenges and successfully manage the customer accounts.
Rohan has over 11 years of experience in client services, marketing and hospitality field. Previously, he was head of digital marketing for a hi-tech mobile application. Rohan is driven by new challenges and the possibility of making an impact on individuals and businesses.
Published November 02, 2022, Updated November 02, 2022