Client Account Management

by Rus Slater

A summary of the metrics

Active management of a client account starts with the identification of your business objective in relation to this client. By clearly identifying the objective, you generate your subsidiary and individual targets and action plans. This feeds into your general business planning and your performance management processes, as well as providing you with benchmarks for budgeting, prioritising and staff development.

Consequently, it is well worthwhile extracting the achievements from the specific and short-term objectives and incorporating the information into other parts of your management reporting. For example

  • Some of them will form part of the performance management processes for staff within your team, or indeed staff elsewhere in the organisation – imagine a sold ledger clerk explaining to their boss that they have a SMART objective to fulfil that relates to Customer Relationship Management with your organisation’s biggest client!
  • Some of them will impact on budgeting and ROI reports (for example, any form of training expenditure)
  • Some of them will justify expenditure (for example, entertainment budgets or R&D)
  • Tabulating them is one way of tracking your overall progress towards your 12-month objective, providing you with a simple and straightforward way to see what you have achieved and how much you still have to do.

This table of metrics can be mixed in terms of units and it can be qualitative as well as quantitative, as seen below.

CRITERIA

Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
Friends and allies (target) 2 8 12 15
Enemies and protestors -1 -3 -6 -8
Number of meetings per quarter 2 3 3 3
Number of new services used 0 1 3 4
Number new opportunities secured 1 3 4 4
Increase in income over last FY £15k £22k £25k £28k

Having a simple table of this type allows you to more easily see/justify your progress/activity on a quarterly basis.

Managing the client account to the plan

Creating the plan is the first part of the job. It probably takes about a week to get everyone together, thrash out the content, get it typed up and disseminated, and then confirm buy in.

Making the plan work is the other fifty-one weeks of salary that you earn!

As a part of performance management

In the section about creating the plan, we referred repeatedly to the allocation of responsibilities to individuals and the generation of SMART objectives. Once the plan is fully formed, you need to manage the achievements of those SMART objectives and monitor progress against plan. People need to be aware of the importance of these objectives, since the alternative is a series of informal meetings where folk merely shrug and say ‘Oh, I haven’t got round to that yet!’

Incorporating the outcomes of your client account plan into your performance management process gives you a range of obvious and less obvious opportunities.

  • Obvious:
  • Fee generation targets are allocated directly to the revenue earners
  • ‘Door opening/up-selling’ opportunities are allocated to relevant client-facing personnel.
  • Less obvious:
  • Process improvement targets are allocated to non-fee-earning staff
  • Relationship improvement targets are allocated to supporting staff – senior and less senior, as appropriate. In the case of the more senior, this may be a case of ‘asking’ rather than ‘allocating’ – you might want to ask your boss’s boss to take the Client MD to Henley for a day out, for example!
  • ‘Penetration/introduction’ targets are allocated to staff who are new to us or have had no client contact before
  • Market monitoring/competitor monitoring responsibilities are allocated to admin/junior staff or the appropriate department This can in itself generate further opportunities; monitoring is the first part, doing something with the outcome of the monitoring is the second... For instance, your graduate trainee is allocated responsibility for monitoring the trade press for information relevant to your client; they find an article outlining the plans of a competitor (to your client) to open a facility close to your client’s head office. Who is going to do what with this information?
  • You will have the information needed to drive your personal development plans, as you recognise the need to train your service engineers or delivery drivers in the relationship aspects of customer service.
Example

A large industrial company had 36,000 customers, of whom 8,000 accounted for 82 per cent of their income. They had 350 sales staff, which meant that the majority of their customers, even some quite valuable ones, didn’t have any contact with the sales team year on year. The company trained their 3,500 delivery drivers in relationship management and customer service. This contributed significantly to the turnaround in loss of market share (which had been dropping by between 1.5 and 3 per cent per annum for the past eight years) and to an increase in turnover of 4 per cent in 18 months (with an 11 per cent increase in profit).

Remember
A Client Account Plan is for life, not just for Christmas.

Reviewing the plan

The plan is ‘a living document’. This means that it shouldn’t be signed off and consigned to a filing cabinet and forgotten. It needs to be reviewed regularly and intelligently to assess its continued relevance and actual progress against it.

Some reviews will be calendar- or client-driven and some will be driven by your own organisation.

Calendar-driven review

You will probably review the progress against plan

  • Monthly
  • Quarterly and
  • Annually.

Client-driven review

You will want to review your plan whenever

Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers.

Ross Perot
  • There is a change of significant personnel at the client
  • There is a change of strategy or 12-month goal at the client
  • There is a change in strategy by any of the client’s major competitors
  • There is a merger or acquisition (especially if the client acquires one of your competitors or is acquired by one of their competitors to whom you are not a supplier...).
  • There is any change of supplier chain in relation to the client (such as a change of process, a different order authorisation system or payment process, or a new supplier on the block, outsourcing of the supply chain).

Internally-driven review

You will also want to review your plan whenever

  • There is a change of process internally
  • There is any change in your overall objective
  • You enter into any initiatives as an organisation (such as a new quality programme, a cost-saving/efficiency review or a recruitment freeze)
  • You have any change of significant personnel
  • You are involved in any merger or acquisition
  • You achieve any major short-term objective with the client
  • You discover any major development in the marketplace (yours or the client’s).

What constitutes a ‘review’?

You need to review intelligently as well as regularly – and intelligently means that you will need to really consider the status of all aspects of the plan and its component parts...

  • Let’s say that you had considered Tom Pearce as an Ally when you wrote your plan and had classed Dan Middleton as a Protester, while Jan Stewer was an Enemy. Jan has retired, so you review the plan; you know that Dan has been promoted to the role Jan has left, and you have been working on Dan and reckon you have converted him to a more positive view. Great! High-fives all round. But is Tom still an ally? Has someone kept in touch with him?
  • You become aware that the client has just been acquired by a much larger organisation at a very high price... what will this mean for your relationship? People could be made redundant; processes could change to match the new owner; new managers could be brought in from the parent; cost-cutting exercises could be invoked to help pay for the acquisition; the client could get more busy; key people may leave because they don’t want to be small-fish-in-a-big-pond (and this could help or hinder you), and perhaps you could use your relationship with this client to break into the parent...
Actions

During the business year

The reviews you undertake need to produce actions:

  • If you change the plan, you must actually update it, in writing, at each development and you need to tell all the relevant people
  • If you have achieved a goal or objective, you need to congratulate the responsible party, celebrate it and communicate it to the powers that be
  • If you can see a new threat, you need to deal with it or escalate it
  • If you see a new opportunity, you need to exploit it.