Saturday

Eight Key Steps to Building B2B Major Account Client Alliances

By Thomas J. Baskind
Managing Partner
Lexien Management Consultants

Audiences who saw the fabled Broadway musical, Chorus Line, marveled at the intricate timing and seamless interaction of the dancers as they mastered the choreographer’s precision steps after many false starts in rehearsal.

At the final curtain, the stage is crowded with dancers whose images are multiplied by mirrors strategically placed about the stage.

That’s a tough scene to match.

In many ways one can view the Chorus Line as a metaphor (sans mirrors) for orchestrating enduring major account relationships, which at their optimum, are enduring alliances.

This is a dance, not of two partners, but of many partnerships developed between business entities. A figurative chorus line of relationships that require timing, integrated movement, anticipation, and occasional improvisation played before a senior management audience expecting considerable return for the cost of the production.

With proper direction and judicious investment of resources, a major accounts initiative can become a resounding revenue hit.

How do you recognize a major account hit in the making?

When your product or service is perceived as an integral part of the customer’s business process, i.e. when “you” and “they” become “us.” Bill Voltmer, vice president of global sales for Factiva, the online information aggregator, looks for an integrated relationship between the account team and the client. Bill believes that “when all is said and done, it is the discipline of the account team to have a live account plan which is documented” that drives and sustains the major account relationship.

When account plans are supported by a measurable, systematic approach which functions as an identifiable common language within and between supplier and client organizations. One method to build the shared planning process is the “Alliance Relationship Model”*, a proprietary process which tracks four developmental account relationship stages, focuses with the client on its business drivers as well as intangible influences and offers a quantifiable measure of the account team’s effectiveness. The model interprets Miller Heiman’s “Successful Large Account Management” guideposts for navigating the major account landscape. It also helps the account team examine the specifics of relationship development as it relates to the customer’s specific, critical needs.

When the relationship supports a mutually beneficial long term competitive advantage in the form of accelerated growth rates, operating economies and increased market share. Here, the client relationship emerges as a strategic partnership, an actual alliance. This is a far cry from the predictable transactional steps of a commodity sales process. Clear client communication, focused interaction and a strategic mindset are essential to achieving a distinct competitive advantage for both partners.

What are the eight precision steps expected from your lead account performers to set and maintain the tempo of a major account relationship?

Your account team leaders should be expected to deliver

  1. Client acknowledgment and acceptance of elevated account relationship
  2. Definition of the mutual benefits or shared value dimension
  3. Agreement on client’s short term and strategic business objectives
  4. Identification and commitment of supplier resources in support of those objectives
  5. Joint client/supplier planning
  6. Supplier and client C-level buy-in and participation
  7. Routine evaluation and re-alignment
  8. Account management continuity

How to measure account team success?

Short of a standing ovation, Phil Hecht, global vice president of sales and strategy development for AT&T’s Signature Client Group, believes that “differentiated value” is at the core of a successful major account alliance relationship and the key to gaining a competitive edge. In his view, the value equation includes not only the long term positive impact of a product or service deliverable to the client, but also the value of best practices that the major account team brings to its own company as well.

Equally as important, according to Hecht, are the internal resources available to major account teams. “Owners of major account organizations need a tremendous support structure to feed its sales talent with business intelligence to understand industry dynamics. Given the significant potential rewards equally significant risks, major account leaders need to be particularly vocal about the resources required to anticipate and respond to client opportunities.”

The Payoff

Financial payoffs to both client and supplier alliance partners can be substantial. Such performances not only reap the loudest applause, they also become long playing hits as they

  • Increase wallet share across the client enterprise
  • Contribute to production economies
  • Accelerate product or service innovation
  • Elevate sales and account management performance standards
  • Establish vertical market CRM leadership
  • Gain a measurable competitive advantage


Now that's really a touch act to follow.

Copyright 2008 Thomas Baskind

*Alliance Relationship Model is a quantifiable major account performance model developed by the author. Thomas J. Baskind welcomes inquiries at tbaskind@lexien.com and (914) 682-2069. Lexien Management is an affiliate of D.E.I. Management Group.


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