By Richard Langtry
Every so often, you are provided with a nugget of truth that changes the way in which you see things. I had this moment in 2012 and it altered the way that I have approached client support and engagement to this day.
I began working with clients and prospects in a business to business service industry in 2002. At that time, I viewed the role of “Account Management” in a singular capacity primarily focused on reactive “fire-fighting”. In my view and the view of my peers at that time, the primary objective was to ensure client escalations and issues were addressed swiftly and that the accounts were being “managed”.
As I progressed in my career through sophisticated organizations and more complex client relationships, I became well versed in what clients actually need from their support team. It was evident that the account management role had the potential to be far more impactful as it moves from a one-dimensional tactical position to a more complex value added strategic contributor.
I began to see that when performed at a high level, this role offered organizations the opportunity to become value added consultants which became a differentiator to their clients and strengthened existing relationships. Team members who were focused on providing best practices and solutions that aided their clients in achieving larger goals and objectives provided the most value.
This transition from a reactionary, transactional focus to a more pro-active consultative approach positioned the account teams to add far greater value in the relationships and changed the way that the team was perceived both internally and externally. Understanding this approach and the recognition of what the role should be, was impactful in the development of my views on client engagement and leadership.
This article is intended to define the key areas of focus for a high performing client team that consistently delivers value to clients and the organization.
Execution and Performance
A Senior Vice President of a Fortune 500 Company once said, “You don’t get a seat at the strategy table unless you execute and perform”. I have always remembered that statement and often reference it with my team today as a reminder of the importance of fundamentals and execution.
All service based organizations need to meet the service level agreements of the relationship. Whether in manufacturing, logistics or repair, at the core of any business relationship lies base level execution. Client teams are expected to understand the expectations, analyze the key performance indicators on a consistent basis and collaborate with internal operational teams who can facilitate and lead improvement on behalf of that client.
Here are the key aspects of strong performance management program:
- Alignment on Key Performance Indicators
- Timely Analysis, Review and Action Development: Daily, Weekly and Monthly Cadence
- Consistent Transparency and Reporting
- Root Cause Analysis and Corrective Actions
- Trending and Follow Up
The cadence by which teams are reviewing and reporting performance needs to be consistent. In some industries it is down to the minute or hour, but for most relationships daily, weekly and monthly reviews will suffice.
If you are only reviewing and reporting performance during a quarterly business review, it is too late.
Best Practices and Solutions
Clients often ask me, “What are your other clients doing to address this problem?” or “What do you recommend we do?” In the hierarchy of client relationships, we always want to be moving to a place in which we are consulting and educating our clients on best practices and providing solutions that will help improve quality, reduce risk and improve cost ratios. The first step in that process is defining client objectives and priorities, from there you can begin to develop your solution.
Oftentimes the opportunities to provide best practices and solutions exist, we just need to know where to look. Here are a few methods that have been proven successful in this category:
- Peer to Peer Engagement
- What are your peers doing with their clients?
- What like clients do they have in which creative and innovative solutions have been applied?
- Analytics and Assessment
- Allowing data to determine areas of opportunity and risk
- Subject Matter Expert Involvement
- Engaging your operational or technology team members and collaborating on a solution
- Leveraging your network of relationships from across the industry
- Innovation Awareness
- What new and exciting technologies, systems or process have been developed to support more effective service delivery?
Proof of Value
High performing client facing team members understand that they need to consistently define the value that their organization is bringing to the relationship. In a highly competitive and constantly evolving market, clients need partners that can deliver consistent performance and become a differentiator in the market.
Competition is fierce and as access to information allows for a more educated client, it is more critical than ever to effectively message the “proof of value” to your clients. This will support the overall stability of the partnership and protect the relationship from competitors who are simply selling based on price. In my experience, clients are willing to pay for a higher level of quality and value, but it needs to be clearly articulated and mutually agreed upon.
Exhibiting how you and your team have supported clients in:
- Improving Overall Service to Their Clients
- Providing Enhanced Capability and Scale
- Mitigating Risk
- Cost Avoidance
- Enhanced Productivity
- Quality Gains
An outstanding vehicle for such delivery is the quarterly business review. Lower performing teams and individuals use these meetings as a retrospective data review. These individuals fail to see the value of shifting these meetings to a “proof of value” and accomplishment meeting, while defining the roadmap and plan for the next 30,60 and 90 days ahead.
Business Development and Growth
The final area in which high performing client support teams provide value to their organizations is through continued expansion of the relationship through business development and growth.
Defining opportunities, developing a strategy and plan to capture those opportunities while expanding on existing relationships is a key aspect of a strong client services team.
Although you cannot reach this phase until the other aspects have been established, (performance – solutions – proof of value) client support team members should be constantly be assessing:
- Areas of Opportunity
- New Products and Services That Can Support Client Objectives
- Channel Partner Relationships
- Client Market Dynamics
Client teams add value to their organizations and their clients by ensuring mutually agreed upon expectations are being met while maintaining a strategy and plan for expansion and growth.
Every so often, you are provided with a nugget of truth that changes the way in which you see things. I had this moment in 2012…