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Account Management: It’s About Keeping Customers!
Blog / Sales Management / Mar 25, 2021 / Posted by Nikolaus Kimla / 1390 

Account Management: It’s About Keeping Customers!

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Sales most definitely have two sides, and this is also true of account management.

In his 2014 book Zero to One, Peter Thiel wrote, “In the 1990s, the focus was on the product, and not on sales. If your product requires advertising or salespeople to sell it, it’s not good enough. Technology is primarily about product development, not distribution. Bubble-area* advertising was obviously wasteful. So the only sustainable growth is real viral growth.”

That was in the 90s, however. Following the dot-com bubble burst, people learned that sales mattered just as much as the product. This is also true of account management. If we didn’t need sales or account management skills, people would simply buy products or services—which they obviously don’t. We have learned that these skills are just as important as the products or services themselves.

Perhaps more pertinent is a quote from Austrian management consultant and author Peter Drucker, who said, “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.” Yet to me, we’ve even come to a higher purpose today, which is to create repeat customers! This is a customer who not only purchases once, but multiple times, and assists us in expanding the account by selling to others within their organization.

Eliminating the Blind Spot

The more I’ve been diving into account management in the creation of this series of articles, the more I’m discovering how widespread a lack of account management is in B2B organizations. It’s not discussed much, not even in books. It actually seems like a blind spot. In more complex B2B sales, the focus is constantly put on the lead machine, on obtaining new customers. As you expand your existing customers, though, your lead flow is not as important because you’ve already got those leads.

I’m currently making a point of this at Pipeliner, as we finish the task of bringing our remaining customers fully into the cloud. I’ve been pointing out to our sales reps that these are hundreds of existing customers with whom we can immediately schedule meetings, in addition to scheduling meetings with new prospects. That doesn’t mean we’re opposed to gaining new customers—of course this is always important—but an equal amount of effort should also be placed on expanding these existing customers.

Creating Value and Expanding

Companies who are weak in account management—and it appears there are many of them in the B2B arena—should realize that selling within an existing customer’s organization is less costly and less risky than establishing a brand-new relationship with a prospect. They should plan for that existing account.

In order for this expansion of an account to occur, you must continuously create value for your product or service, for that client. In order to do that, you must research and keep yourself aware of your client’s issues. You then establish ways in which your product can continue to create value for the client.

An example from our own company is the fact that we have a wide variety of powerful benefits we can continue to offer our customers. We might discover that a sales manager spends 2 hours every week preparing a report for their management board and the C-level of their company.  Once the sales manager has spent these hours every week, they must come back the following week and do it all over again.

The value we could bring to this sales manager is our Automatizer feature, which would automate all the tasks this manager must perform for the creation of this report. Additionally, our powerful report scheduling features could be utilized to make sure that the report template is automatically created in the right format at the right time. That sales manager would then be not only far happier themselves, having saved considerable time better spent elsewhere, but they would also be receiving all kinds of pats on the back from their management.

Strengthening the Relationship

Interestingly, the role of bringing additional value to the customer, in B2B SaaS, is given over to yet another role, outside of sales: the customer success manager. I actually feel this is a totally wrong move.

Why do I think it’s incorrect? Because it removes the customer from a salesperson to someone who is simply a product presenter. The customer’s relationship has mainly been built with the salesperson. It should be the salesperson who brings additional value to the customer because this continues to strengthen the relationship. Relationships are not partial, split out between various roles—they are holistic. Relationships are also developed over time. They’re not developed with some time with this person, and then some time with another person.

Take a look at a buyer’s journey from their perspective. In today’s sales environment, the buyer is introduced to the sales line by the sales development representative, the SDR. The SDR turns that buyer into a lead, and they set an appointment with the sales rep.

When the buyer comes to the sales rep, they are already 2 people into the company. The salesperson, though, is the one who sells the product or service to the buyer. The initial pitch probably doesn’t make the sale, so it will take a few meetings. Finally, the deal closes, and both the sales rep and the buyer are happy.

The salesperson then hands the buyer over to the onboarding or service team. That makes the 3rd person or group that the buyer must deal with.

And then…the buyer, lastly, is handed over to the customer success manager, which makes person #4 that the buyer must now deal with!

Building Trust

Let’s draw an analogy to a different type of business. Let’s say you have built up a bit of money, and you need someone to invest your money for you. You go to a private banker, who you will now trust to take care of your funds.

How do you think it would go if that banker, who has earned your trust, handed you over to someone else? And then that person handed your over to yet another person? What would happen to that trust you had in the original person you dealt with? It is gone!

My point is this: how can trust build up between your organization and the customers if the customer is constantly shuffled to someone else? In real life, we know that trust is built over time. Why do our children trust us? Because we nurture them for years, caring for them and demonstrating our love for them. (Of course, when we don’t do this as parents, our children don’t trust us, which is a whole other story. But if we do our job well, they do.)

The same is true of a customer. That trust can only be developed over time. Beyond being developed. overtime, that trust must also be tested over time. Such testing doesn’t come in the good times—it comes through the bad times. When you bring the buyer successfully through the bad times, they trust you.

But that test can never happen if the buyer is constantly being handed over to someone else. Just when the buyer might be beginning to trust someone, they get pushed off on someone else.

Yet another issue is what happens to the communication between the company and customer. Don’t you hate it when you call a company, and they’re constantly transferring you to another department? And you end up having to tell the same story to the 4th person that you told the 1st person? Your buyer doesn’t like it, either.

This is the current B2B SaaS model, with its multiple roles. The net result in this environment is simply a frustrated customer. There is no account management being done—its only focus is on new accounts.

Interestingly, this attitude extends to the VC industry—when evaluating a company, they’re only looking at the cost of acquisition for a new customer, which is the standard SaaS metric. They don’t even take into account the cost of expanding existing customers—they don’t even have that as part of the model. Companies therefore never conceptually develop real account management and planning.

Pipeliner Account Management

And this is why almost no B2B CRM system has account management inherently—some have it as a paid addition. Pipeliner, on the other hand, is greatly enhancing its existing account management features and will be developing even more throughout this year.

To begin with, Pipeliner is updating one of its unique features to a level unheard of in CRM. Our Org Chart is a visual display, tailored by the salesperson, manager, or other users, that shows the hierarchy for a customer company. It allows the salesperson to stay on track as to who is important to gain the approval of, in that company, for any deal currently and going forward. The person or people creating the chart place details of customer company personnel, and arrange them to display company hierarchy. As you learn about the customer, new people can be added to it so that the chart always remains current.

To this feature, we have now added much more functionality. To start with, we have added color-coding so that you visually show the strength of a relationship: weak, neutral, moderate, or strong.

You can also now display the nature of that person’s role as it relates to your relationship with them—that person is either a champion for your product or service, a detractor, or a decision-maker. You can also visually show how each person on the chart influences other people on the chart.

We have added the information displayed for each person added to the Org Chart. You can see their LinkedIn information. You can access the feeds for that customer, so you can see what kind of email or other communication has occurred with them, and can access specifics of that communication.

As with all of our new features, you can dive down from this screen to see the specifics of other information, such as opportunities.

In looking at this new Pipeliner Org Chart, which we could term a “political map”, we see who is important in a customer company, and who influences whom. We see where the account could be expanded, and where people could if the account was well managed, help sell your product or service into other departments, branches, or the company headquarters.

Just as account management is a vital part of sales, it must therefore be a vital part of CRM.

———————————————-

*Bubble-area—refers to the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s, during which the Nasdaq Composite stock market index grew by 400%.

About Author

A 30-year veteran of the computer industry, Nikolaus has founded and run several software companies. He and his company uptime iTechnology are the developers of World-Check, a risk intelligence platform eventually sold to Thomson Reuters for $520 million. He is currently the founder and CEO of Pipelinersales, Inc., developer and publisher of Pipeliner CRM, the first CRM application aimed squarely at actually empowering salespeople. Also a prolific writer, Nikolaus has authored over 100 ebooks, articles, and white papers addressing the subjects of sales management, leadership and sales itself.

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