Whether we call them strategic accounts, global accounts, key accounts, or corporate accounts, these Very Important Customers are revered in our companies—usually because they give us a lot of money.
I see lots of organizations creating Strategic Account Programs, labeling sales people as Strategic Account Managers, devoting resources and all sorts of other things, all with the goal of increasing revenue from the accounts. Sure we wrap a lot of fancy language about improving our relationships, getting closer to our important customers, and so forth—but really our goal is for them to spend more money on us.
I’ve been on lots of sales calls, where the newly anointed strategic account manager goes to the customer, proudly announcing, “You are a very important customer to us, we’ve made you a part of our strategic accounts programs! They announce this as if it’s some kind of award or recognition. Usually, this pronouncement is met with a resounding “Ho Hum.”
The very best response I’ve ever seen was from an executive that said, “Fantastic, does that give us an additional 15% discount?” The response caused the strategic account manager to stumble. He quickly recovered though, saying: “No there are lots of other benefits, you have a dedicated account team, dedicated customer service reps, we have a special “800 number” just for people in your company, we want to invite you to special events for our strategic accounts, we want to….” The list of all the things they were doing to (I mean for) the customer went on.
At the end of all this description, the customer responded, “Hmmm, it seems like you are adding a lot of cost to supporting me. What if I asked you not to do any of these things, could you give me a better price with the money you save by not having me as a strategic account?”
Well you can guess where the conversation went.
I think this is where a lot of strategic, key, global or whatever you call it, account programs go astray. We take customers that are very important to us, decide to treat them as very special and bestow that recognition on them, thinking they have been waiting to be anointed. And too often, they simply don’t care.
To me there is a difference between a large account that gives us lots of money and a strategic account. Not all large accounts that give us lots of money should be strategic accounts. Likewise there may be smaller accounts (generally not small) that should be strategic accounts, but the never are because our criteria are based solely on revenue.
There’s so much more to being a strategic account than just revenue–thought that is very important. Somehow, it seems to me, we have to be important to each other. There has to be something the customer wants in having a much closer, strategic relationship. There has to be something more than money in why we want that relationship. After all, in our strategic account programs we are making significant investments–if only in time. We are also expecting our customers to make investments in building and deepening the relationship.
Somehow it seems that strategic account relationships need to be built on more than just revenue. We have to somehow be important to each other, we have to have some level of interdependence. There has to be some greater level of value creation for these relatsionships to be strategic.
Strategic account status is not just a recognition of accounts being important to us. For there to be real power in the strategic account relationship there is more.
Strategic account programs can be very powerful, but make sure they are really strategic in the eyes of the customer. There is nothing wrong with having large customers who give us a lot of money who are not strategic.