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Project Management—an Essential Part of Account Management
Blog / Sales Management / May 7, 2021 / Posted by Nikolaus Kimla / 1605 

Project Management—an Essential Part of Account Management

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We’ve thoroughly covered many factors of account planning, such as setting goals and targets. But at the end of the day, account planning naturally evolves into creating a project, which falls into the realm of project management.

A project is primarily made up of objectives. There are usually different people working on objectives, and each objective requires careful resource planning.

One place where project management really comes into account management is bringing a broadly stated goal into realistic terms. Let us say, for example, a company wants to expand to reach 3 new countries in the coming year. They can use account planning and project management to figure out just how realistic that goal is.

With any goal, there are many contingencies, risks and resources involved. The risk is that you’ll heavily invest in something that turns out to have no future. Or you’ll invest resources into a project that means those resources are missing somewhere else where they are vital. This all boils down to the fact that it’s easy to plan something, and much more difficult to execute. There are many “dreamers” out there with fantastic visions that never actually accomplish them.

Project Management Elements

Any company knows that it’s impossible to simply talk about what they’d like to do—it has to actually be accomplished. This is done through a plan, and from there a project is evolved. The next element required is a tool, and the plan and the tool go hand-in-hand; the skill is in the planning, and the tool is the technology used to help bring it about.

At Pipeliner, at this moment, we are creating such a project management tool that will be part of our CRM. This tool will be highly beneficial for our customers, as it won’t only apply to account management, but can be applied to project management in general.

Numerous parts of project management will be part of this tool. First of all, when creating a project, there are documents involved, used for marketing, like checklists, as content, and for many other purposes. These documents must be accessible for anyone looking into or involved in the project.

Another part is tasks and appointments. Tasks can be reoccurring—for example, you might want to revisit the team periodically to bring everyone up to date, and to ensure the project is running smoothly. Task management is already a highly developed part of Pipeliner CRM. Through Pipeliner’s visual displays, task and activity management are streamlined and make the most of a user’s precious time. Team members are always informed of what to do next and can update task statuses, comment and collaborate all in one place.

Another factor, as we spoke of earlier, is the setting of objectives. Each objective has an associated list of tasks that, when completed, equal the completion of that objective.

Resource planning is a vital part of project management. If, for example, you have 10 personnel, you wouldn’t want to give 6 of them up to a high-risk project that might last 2 – 3 months. For any given project, you need to understand the time it will take, and the cost in terms of resources.

With any project, there is a risk factor. You have to have a good grasp of what would happen if a project didn’t complete. You have set objectives on the project, and even risk losing a customer if the project isn’t brought to a successful end. In this respect, project management has an entrepreneurial approach, as an entrepreneur always calculates the risk of any opportunity. An entrepreneur also looks for ways to minimize that risk.

In order to track how well a project is progressing, you must have project monitoring and statistics. How are we doing? Did we hit the target? Is there anything overdue in the activity progress?

When all that is done—document management, task management, objectives, resource planning, minimizing risk, and project monitoring and statistics—you need to consider the question of accomplishing the project’s overall goal in the specified time.

Project Management Example

Let us say you have a very good customer, with whom you’ve had a long relationship. You thoroughly understand their product and service lines, from conversing with them and having been completely through their website. You have decided that an investment of time and money into expanding this client would be worthwhile. To do this you will need to produce, say, a prototype. Eventually, you will sell this prototype to them and be repaid for your expenditure of resources.

The resource planning goes into 2 areas: time and cost. Do you have the time to pull it off? And based on the cost structure, can your company afford to do it? And is it a truly necessary project?

Right at the outset, you must calculate the number of people you need. If I were to engage in a project for one of my best customers, I know I would need a technician because I have API tasks to accomplish. I would also require our global delivery manager for onboarding, one other salesperson, an assistant, and myself. This would be a total of 5 people.

Then there’s the time involved—it will probably require 8 meetings. For each meeting, there is preparation, and then a written report following each meeting. Each meeting would take approximately 1 1/2 hours, but with preparation and the report afterward would be 3 hours. If we have 5 people, in 8 meetings of 3 hours each, that would be a total of 120 hours.

120 hours is nearly a month. The cost of 1 person for that 120 hours would be in the neighborhood of $8 – 10,000. For more significant projects that would take longer, for example, 6 months, the cost per person could escalate to $100,000. The opportunity being obtained will need to be big enough to amortize this kind of cost.

The Leading Role

A major project such as we describe must have someone leading it who takes an entrepreneurial approach. An entrepreneurial approach includes a genuine belief in the project and its success, and a judgment call of the risk involved. You might go after the expansion of this account and it might not work out. As part of the planning, therefore, someone must be responsible for the decision to continue or call it off. You’re going to have costs already invested halfway through, and the decision may need to be made to not throw good money after bad.

The project management tool chosen should act as a guide for the project leader. It should contain a Gantt chart, which provides a visual overview of scheduled tasks through time. It displays resource and time management as well and shows which team members have which tasks.

Required Roles

What are the roles absolutely required for a project? I laid this out in the example for my own company above, but generally speaking, you would minimally need:

  • a project manager, or the driver
  • a technical expert
  • a salesperson, or someone who has a strong relationship with the customer
  • the innovator

Most people would say that the driver and the innovator are the same, but this isn’t the case. The driver—in the above case the project manager—is proactive, focusing on the growth and the project’s forward motion. The project manager will typically be operating multiple projects for multiple customers.

The innovator is the one who brings the concept and the bold ideas to the table. The innovator is thinking cross-platform and definitely has an entrepreneurial approach as they’re innovating something new with current company capabilities. They create inspiring and compelling ideas. This takes some work—diving into the company’s mindset and analyzing the immediate and longer-term benefits that the project would provide.

The innovator must also have a fundamental understanding of business and the company’s customers. Real innovation cannot be created without basic knowledge of company issues.

The Required Tool

Project planning requires a written project, similar to a business plan, presented to the company’s decision-makers. That group then makes a decision—or not—that the company should move forward with it, that there’s a green light, that the risk factor is smaller, and the upside is bigger.

The project management tool must reflect all of the different areas we’ve covered here, and produce this plan. Without this plan and its overview, complexity can result. If someone simply says they need 4 people from the company for 3 months, for a great project, that’s “going to be a game-changer.” I personally would look deeply into what this project actually is, or otherwise leave it be.

Without that solid planning in place, a project can start running, but then very shortly it comes to light that the person operating the project is not competent, and besides that, the risk turns out to be much greater than anyone thought.

To get project management running for account management, you really have to make your case. This is why we have built robust account management, including project management, into Pipeliner CRM.

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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