Key account management should be mission critical for professional services firms

It’s a business truth that all clients are not equal. Some are transactional; others relationship-based. Some are price sensitive; others value-driven. A key account strategy acknowledges this inequality by identifying those clients that are ‘critical’ to your organisation – owing to their revenue, strategic significance, allure or growth potential – and working to make your organisation ‘critical’ to theirs.

There’s a reason so many professional services firms have a key account program in place. They work. If yours isn’t, it’s probably because you’re making one or more of these mistakes.

1. You don’t have client relationship partners in place

Relationship partners are a cornerstone of any key account program. One person must be ultimately responsible for the health and growth of each of your firm’s most important clients. Identify those people. Promote those individuals and their role.

2. Relationship partners don’t know what is expected of them

How can you expect someone to perform an undefined role? How can you hold them accountable if there are no clear key performance indicators? To position your key account program for success, define the role of a relationship partner. What are the duties and responsibilities of the role? To whom does it report? How will performance be evaluated and rewarded? How does it fit within the organisation? What training and resources will be provided?

3. You haven’t selected the right clients for your key account program

What criteria does your firm apply when selecting which clients will be included in its key account program? Is revenue the sole consideration? It shouldn’t be. A good key account management program will consistently rank clients against multiple factors such as potential for growth, strength of relationships, cultural alignment and propensity to use your services. Importantly, both the criteria and the ranked clients should be revisited from time to time to verify they measures remain valid and the targets continue to be key account-worthy.

4. Your relationship partners don’t really know their clients

Growth potential is a fundamental consideration when selecting clients for a key account program. In order to recognise and realise those growth opportunities, your client relationship partners must maintain an in-depth understanding of their client’s business and industry. How is the company performing? What challenges and threats is the company facing? What opportunities might present themselves? How might you assist? Put your firm’s relationship partners to the test: ask them to summarise their client’s strategic priorities.

5. Your firm lacks discipline and accountability

How would you describe your firm’s governance processes? Does a board provide oversight? Does a managing partner group make consistent, data-driven decisions? Are meetings minuted? Are records kept? Do partners and staff conform with, support and respect the firm’s policies, procedures and programs? If your firm is not well managed, or if the partnership is dysfunctional, there’s little point in establishing a key account management program or even nominating client relationship partners. The framework will only be ignored. Furthermore, your clients will soon see through the pretence and go elsewhere.

6. You’re unwilling to commit to key account management

Don’t just pronounce you have a key client program – make it a priority. Key account management requires a long-term commitment. It would be naive to believe your program will pay off in the first quarter. It may, but in all likelihood, it will take longer.

Further demonstrate your commitment to protecting and growing your key accounts by supporting your client relationship partners, be that through fee relief or CRP-specific bonuses. Are their CRP responsibilities a core component of their role or something they must make time for?

7. You have the wrong relationship partners in place

In professional services firms, client relationship partners should be one of the most respected stakeholder groups. After all, these are the people who have been charged with protecting and growing your organisation’s relationship with its most important clients.

Occasionally, the identification of a client relationship partner will be obvious. More often, it will be tricky and potentially political. Moreover, the selection of a client relationship partner is not always within the control of the firm. Sometimes a client will gravitate toward the person they consider holds the relationship. Some clients will even dictate who that person is to be. This can be a source of tension in some firms. Politically powerful partners are often peculiarly paranoid. They will resist entrusting a key account to anyone outside their inner sanctum. Heaven forbid a non-equity partner should be proposed. Get over it. Appoint the person the client wants, the client favours. Appoint the person who knows the client, cares about the client, is focused on the client, and who is motivated to protect and grow the client.

8. By failing to plan, you’ve planned to fail

Once you have identified your key accounts and ‘blessed’ your client relationship partners, you’ll need to develop account plans. Each of these plans will be unique. And each should have short, medium and long-term goals, supported by specific and actionable initiatives.

9. You haven’t invested in business development

Account-based marketing can be resource-consuming. Still, if you choose your key accounts carefully, the payoff can be enormous. That’s the incentive to investing in business development expertise. If your firm is serious about its key account program it will regard business development is an investment, not a cost. With credentials in coaching, project management, planning, strategy, client feedback and pursuits, your BDMs will serve as an essential resource for the management of your key accounts.

10. You’re not monitoring, measuring and reporting on the progress of your key account program

Make it as easy as possible for your partners and staff to participate in your key account program. Remember, the ultimate goal is to increase the revenue and profitability of your key accounts; to subtly increase the perceived switching cost, and to build barriers to entry that cannot be readily penetrated by your competitors.

Design and generate financial reports that are meaningful and easy to digest. In addition to tracking total revenue and hopefully profitability, you also want to know which services or solutions your client is buying, and from which locations.

Schedule internal account reviews, both one-on-one with the relationship partner (these can also serve as coaching sessions) and with the client team.

Ensure you have a system in place for the measurement of client engagement and satisfaction. This should be a mix of qualitative and quantitative measures. Schedule relationship reviews and periodic health checks with the client. Address issues quickly and appropriately. Act on feedback.

Finally, encourage (mandate) transparency through the disciplined maintenance of your firm’s CRM system.



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