How Account Aligned is Your Firm?


How Account Aligned is Your Firm? [6]

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Strongly Disagree

Strongly Agree

1.

My firm defines strategic account relationships as its most valuable assets and defines resource allocations toward them as investments rather than costs.

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My firm has numerous financial, nonfinancial, and long-term goals for its strategic account management program—such as incremental revenue, developing account profiles, plans, retention, account share, satisfaction, loyalty, etc.

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My firm makes sure that every employee with any strategic account contact is account-focused, i.e., understands his/her marketing role and is ready/able to take responsibility for solving account problems.

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4.

To minimize inconsistent communication and unreliability, my firm captures and communicates all commitments made to strategic accounts and tracks its performance regarding those commitments.

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5.

My firm makes sure our account managers manage no more than 40–60 total personal relationships at strategic accounts.

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My firm's account managers have identified those strategic account contacts with whom they are incompatible and have designated another team member to manage those relationships.

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My firm's strategic account listening and feedback systems are sophisticated enough to give us adequate warning when an account contact is about to change.

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My firm recognizes how disruptive it is to change a strategic account contact, so we have developed recovery strategies to minimize the negative impact on the relationship when such a change happens.

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We measure our performance with strategic accounts based on standards that account contacts have defined.

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My firm's internal systems and processes are all focused on exceeding strategic account expectations rather than on the ease and efficiency of internal processing.

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During our recent size change (growth or downsizing), we carefully examined any negative strategic account impact before we removed/added people or changed any process.

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Because our size has been changing, we have established strategic account delivery standards that tell us when processes are starting to get overburdened, unresponsive, or underutilized.

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Our market listening and feedback system is sophisticated enough to identify and leverage any technological breakthrough in our industry.

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Our research and development sets the industry standard.

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Total Score

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Figure 3-3: How Account Aligned Is Your Firm?

Some observations on final scores. No matter who fills this checklist out—line workers, managers, VPs of sales, or CEOs—the vast majority of people rate their organization at 56 or below. That score signals major developmental opportunities. A 56 means an average rating of 4 for each question, a score we see as neutral. In the case of critical customers, this score means danger—your accounts have no particular reason to leave you; neither do they have any particular reason to stay.

Comparing scores by various internal groups can be particularly interesting. How does management's perception differ from that of the line? How does customer service's perceptions differ from those of sales? How does manufacturing's/operations' perception differ from that of sales? Looking at the scores from multiple perspectives provides opportunities for rich dialog and insights.

2. Review Your Strategies

Think about your corporate and strategic account management strategies. Then answer the following questions:

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  1. Could someone deep in the organization explain your corporate and strategic account management strategies?

  2. Do you have a written strategy for strategic accounts?

  3. Are the end points of the strategies clear?

  4. Will your average worker be able to use those strategies to make decisions and prioritize tasks?

  5. Do people know what your firm is not going to do?

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Figure 3-4: Strategy Questions

If you answer "no" to any of these questions, you have some major tasks ahead of you.

3. Drive the Voice of the Customer Deep Into the Organization

If you are aligning your organization around the customer, the voice of the customer needs to be loud and clear throughout the organization. There are a number of ways to do this.

Some companies—such as Nationwide Retirement Services (NRS), a strategic business unit of Nationwide Financial Services—have begun a "Voice of the Customer" Program. On a regular and proactive basis, NRS features customers through on-site visits, customer-focused newsletters, fun facts, anything that helps employees better understand what it is like to walk in the customer's shoes.

As Karen Eisenbach, a senior VP at NRS says, "We were so focused on doing our jobs that many employees forgot the reason we were working so hard. We needed an outside-in approach to get and keep everyone focused on the customer. Although you certainly can get that perspective from field personnel and customer satisfaction surveys, there is nothing as powerful as having the customer address your employees directly and making certain that—in a variety of ways—the customer is a living and breathing part of what you do everyday." [7] By bringing the customer's voice inside the building, NRS has been able to show employees that, while Nationwide cuts their checks, the customers pay their salary.

Gathering objective customer data in as many ways as possible to validate the findings is another powerful way to drive organizational change and alignment. Methods to collect such data include traditional market research, third-party account assessments, satisfaction surveys, and analyzing ongoing customer complaints and requests.

Market research is the most popular and certainly one of the most effective ways to get customer information. We will see below how Knauf Fiberglass creatively gathered customer data by using focus groups and surveys, classic marketing research tools.

Third-party account assessments are another powerful and objective way to gauge how the relationship is working and to identify opportunities for account planning. Such assessments should be conducted with carefully designed instruments and face-to-face interviews. It has always amazed us that executives who will not fill out a 10-minute satisfaction survey will give you 60 to 90 minutes for an interview. The primary purpose of these account assessments is to more objectively hear accounts' hopes, concerns, and expectations. The assessments emphasize the customers' strategy and business challenges and how the supplier can most easily help accounts achieve their business objectives.

In these interviews, skilled questioners also ask multiple account contacts to rate both their service-and relationship-quality expectations and how well the supplier is performing against these expectations. The interview data the questioners generate includes quantitative analysis of those ratings and, more critically, detailed customer stories that explain those ratings. Analyzing this data is one of the most robust ways of unearthing the drivers of account loyalty. The ultimate benefit of this approach is that not only do you get valuable information, but you reinforce the relationship by demonstrating through your investment how much you value customers and their opinions.

Perhaps the best executive case made for strategic account assessments comes from Bob Protzman, former vice president of marketing at Schneider National, the world's largest transportation company. When Protzman spoke at the Conference Board's 1998 Relationship Management Conference, he described some of the reasons that he hired a third party to interview the company's critical accounts systematically:

  • First, you will get dispassionate, objective observers who are well trained and seasoned interviewers. They know what questions to ask and, sometimes more important, how to ask them. And they're not inclined to start disagreeing with the customer by defending themselves when the customer begins to criticize us. That's very hard for your own people to refrain from doing. Remember, you need to define reality on the basis of the customer's perceptions—not your own.

  • Second, customers are much more likely to be up front and honest with an information broker than they are with you. We continually get information from these interviews that we have never heard before, and we're talking to these people all the time!

  • Third, the customer is really impressed when you call in third parties to get to the bottom of a relationship problem. Clearly, it nails one problem that is almost always at the heart of troubled relationships—the perception that you don't care.... One of those [customers] was one of the largest home center retailers, and this intervention by outside professionals was necessary to get a meaningful dialog going with them.

  • I still remember the Key Account Assessment report on the paper manufacturer.... Although the [numbers] on satisfaction weren't terrible, the qualitative feedback was a wake-up call regarding many of the soft issues. Advice and contextual information like this is vitally important, and there is no way we could have come up with most of this on our own." [8]

Protzman effectively provides the rationale for third-party strategic account assessments, but knowing strategic relationships' service-and relationship-quality expectations is not enough. The supplier will then ideally improve those areas where it is not performing to expectations—the process redesign mentioned earlier.

Below is the story of Knauf Fiberglass, a firm that creatively and systematically learned its major customers' expectations, and then used the data to align internal departments and make major performance improvements. The Knauf Fiber-glass story presents all three of our alignment elements: creating a vision, developing better communication approaches with customers and within the firm, and redesigning processes that serve both the internal and external customer.

[6] S4 Consulting, Inc.

[7]E-mail from Karen Eisenbach, November 15, 2002.

[8]Taken from a presentation by Bob Protzman at the 1998 Conference Board's Conference on Relationship Management.




The Seven Keys to Managing Strategic Accounts
The Seven Keys to Managing Strategic Accounts
ISBN: 0071417524
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 112

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