In this third part of the four part series, we look at the jfa Major Account Management Model.
There are four parts to the model. Each part influences and is influenced by the other parts:
Key Information tells us what we need to know about the major account.
The Long Term Plan, allows us to gain a clear picture of where we are trying to go (Objectives) and how we plan to get there (Strategy).
The Short Term Plan, concerns the actions we must take over the coming weeks.
The Traffic Lights give us a quick, accurate picture of our current position and how we should move forward.
As the Chinese general Liu-Ji wrote over 600 years ago:
"Action always starts with calculation. Before fighting, first asses the relative wisdom of the leadership, the relative strength of the enemy, the size of the armies, the lie of the land, and the adequacy of provisions. If you send troops out only after making these calculations, you will never fail to win."
There are twin dangers about information in major account management: Too little information and too much information of the wrong sort or that is difficult to access.
We have found it most effective to break information down into three broad areas: Global, Corporate and Project.
Global information looks at the big picture, the world in which the major account operates.
Corporate information is about understanding the business you are dealing with. It is a broader, more commercial picture than the selling information. Many people who do not think in major account terms will feel this is not needed and ignorance in any of these areas creates a potential "banana-skin".
Culture:" The way we do things round here"
The third level of information is Project Information. This is the information we need in order to be able to sell a specific product, service etc. to the major account. It is the information which a good key account salesperson should be gathering all the time.
Decision Making Unit
These four levels of information will ensure that we understand both the big picture and the detail.
The Long Term Plan:
This divides into two parts. We need to have a clear set of objectives and we need to have a strong set of strategies.
For a long time the only objectives I used for major accounts were very specific business objectives. "We will increase turnover by X%". "We will introduce 2 new programmes and increase our profitability by Y%". I began to understand that these business objectives were not enough. Multi-level objectives has proved very powerful in winning and keeping business. There are four levels of objectives and together they create objectives that excite and motivate the team and which are also very practical.
First we set visionary objectives. We picture what the result could be if everything went well. We discipline ourselves not to be limited by history or today's issues. The outcome is a very strong vision of what the account could be like in 2 or 5 or 10 years.
Secondly we set relationship objectives. Everyone in the account team needs to know what we want the relationship to feel like. Imagine you could hear your customer talking about you in two years time. What would you want to hear them saying? It might be statements like "We trust them completely", "They always give us new ideas", and "Things do not go wrong often. But when they do they always make things right quickly." We have found that these relationship objectives help us do everything in the way we should and in the way the customer wants. In the past it was more difficult to be consistent and customer-centred.
So far, we have talked about quite "soft" objectives - how we want things to feel. The first two objectives are about emotion and imagination but we need some "hard" objectives as well. The third level is the level of business objectives. These objectives are specific - very clear. "By the end of this year we will have increased sales of product A by 25% on the last year's volumes and maintained our profit margins." They are also measurable (if we cannot measure them, how will we know how we are progressing?). They must be agreed within the account team and maybe even agreed with the customer! They must be realistic - other people will be depending on our forecasts. Finally they must have a time-scale. Those business objectives provide the strong disciplines that we need to know in order to understand whether or not we are succeeding.
The final level of objectives is the level of stage goals. We may say that we will achieve a result of X by the end of year 2 within the key account. If this is to happen we need to be planning where we should be at important dates.
If the objective is to be selling five products to the customer by the end of next year and we're selling two today we probably need to plan to have three in place by this October, four in place by next March and five by next September. The stage goals make sure we are on target and allow us to solve problems before they become impossible to solve.
We have found that using these multi-level objectives helps to motivate each major account team member but can also help us significantly increase the amount and quality of business being done with key accounts.
If objectives show us where we are trying to go, strategies show us how we can plan to get there. Strategy is part of the long term plan. It is not too detailed. It focuses on ways of working, not the detail of what will happen in this or that sales call.
When setting these strategies we have found it useful to ask three questions:
What strategies do we need for this major account?
What should each strategy say?
How do we communicate them so that each member of the team is committed to them and carries them out?
The Short Term Plan:
It is important to think long term in major account management but there is a danger that we spend all our time analysing and planning and never do anything! The short term plan keeps us active and effective.
The long term plan is concerned with why (objectives) and how (strategy). The short term plan focuses on who does what, when.
The timescale for the short term plan will vary from business to business but many organisations find that a rolling three month plan reviewed monthly is very effective. This means that late in April you plan events for May, June and July. Late in May you plan for June, July and August etc. The first month is usually in detail, the second two months are more in outline.
The short term plan should focus not only on matters that are very urgent but also on those actions which are important but are not urgent. These might include developing more contacts in the major account, introducing colleagues, gathering information etc.
The short term plan helps ensure that the important things get done efficiently and effectively.
The fourth and final element of the key account model is the traffic lights.
This is a simple but powerful way of analysing any customer situation.
What are the factors that are in your favour? E.g. Product is approved, strong personal relationship. These are the green lights.
What are the factors that are absolutely against you, that stop you achieving an objective? E.g. Kicked off preferred list, operations manager swears not to use you until xyz improves. These are the red lights.
What are the factors which could go either way? E.g. Change of Financial Director, they buy a new Company. These are the amber lights.
This simple approach has proved highly effective, even within our most sophisticated clients that needed an easy way of talking about the situation in their major accounts.
In the fourth and final part of this series, we define precisely what Major Account Management is all about and provide a summary of Parts 1-3
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