Client Account Management

by Rus Slater

Analysing the relationships with the client

Goodwill is the only asset that competition cannot undersell.

Marshall Field, businessman and philanthropist

Next, you need to analyse the relationships that exist between your people and the client’s people. Of course, if this is a new client, you will have a pretty sparse matrix and a lot of relationship building to do! But assuming that this is an existing client, you can begin the process by getting the team to populate the matrix below with all the folk they know at the client.

Relationship matrix

Consider each person against two scales: the vertical scale represents how they view you (with those who hate you at the bottom and those who love you at the top); the horizontal scale reflects the level of influence that person has within the client organisation (‘gophers’* on the left, as you look at the scale, and decision makers on the right).

*Gophers are people who are sent to ‘go fer this, go fer that’, which is a rather politically-incorrect way of saying that they are probably lower down the organisational hierarchy, with little overall influence.

You need to consider everyone you know at the client and then put their names into the relevant place in the Relationship Matrix above.

Tip

Beware reading too much into hierarchy and job titles: there are many organisations where the receptionist may not be the person with the biggest desk, but they get asked their opinion of all visitors!

A good way to do this is to get each member of the team to write the names of the people they know personally on Post-its and then stick them up on a wall chart of the matrix.

So, if the MD of the client business is a golfing chum of your Sales Director, she would go into Allies, because she has high influence and has a positive view of you. Whereas if the finance manager, who actually signs off payment of invoices, has had cause to complain about your credit controller’s rudeness and has highlighted several unjustified/inaccurate invoices over the past six months, his name will go in ‘Enemies’, because he has high influence and a pretty low opinion.

This is one area where taking a team approach will be really helpful, especially when it turns out that the golfing chum MD likes your Sales Director but hates your Operations Director!

Once you have got the wall chart filled with Post-its, you can remove the duplicates and discuss what to do about

  • The ones that appear in both Allies and Enemies
  • The players of unknown influence and allegiance
  • The obvious gaps in the client’s organisation chart – you know, the one where you realise that you don’t know anyone in their purchasing department because you have had the account since the year dot, but you can bet that your competitors know their purchasing department!
  • The fact that your Account Manager and one of their influencers have a ‘chemical hatred’!

Points to consider include

  • Who is missing?
  • Who is going to become an influencer?
  • Whose influence is on the wane?
  • How do you move people from No-man’s Land to Allies and who is to be responsible for that move?
  • Are any of your Enemies a competitor’s Friend?

Remember that personal relationships differ – different members of your team will have different relationships with the same person at the client.

Review this matrix regularly – quarterly and at ‘trigger points’, such as any team changes (client or us) or any crisis.

A SWOT analysis

SWOT Analysis is a strategic planning tool. Also see SWOT in the Management Tools & Models topic.

Why do you want to identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and the threats to your 12 month outcome?

Because once you know what they are, you can actively plan to build on the strengths, overcome the weaknesses, exploit the opportunities and protect against the threats.

To carry out a SWOT requires

  1. Specifying the 12-month objective
  2. Identifying the internal and external factors that are favourable to achieving that objective and those that are unfavourable.
Tip

Conducting a SWOT analysis before defining and agreeing upon an objective is almost always doomed to serious problems.

To do so reduces the acronym SWOT to Serious Waste Of Time!

See How to carry out a SWOT.