This article is about account management and the corollary to the sales model process. If you haven’t converted a prospect into a paying client, I recommend reading that article first.
Once you successfully land a client with an initial solution, your focus shifts to maintaining and growing the relationship. Over time, you come up with new services, products, and features and continue to build upon the original deliverable. This is what software as a service (SaaS) frequently talks about, layering the cake by coming up with an initial solution and adding more and more functionality to build the account.
Like the 10-step sales process, account management is also a pipeline system that needs documenting and monitoring. I developed a method at Seeq where we break down this reporting process into five steps with additional substeps. Basically, as with SaaS, I start with a land-and-expand strategy but add the final step of becoming so important to the customer that they ultimately become a strategic partner.
You sold the customer your product or service, and now the work begins. The next step is to get them to use it and become comfortable with it because each product has a learning curve. Several hurdles may need to be overcome, such as delivery, installation, customization for individual customers, localization, training, validation, or proof cases. Whatever the situation may be, the product must be adapted to the case at hand. Until the client uses your product, you cannot move forward in growing the account.
Step 2: Generate ROI
Once they are using your product or service, you want to see the customer realize the value. It may be that they can deliver a product to their customers and receive value or increase their profits, safety, quality, or productivity. They need to create an ROI that is far greater than the cost of your product.
Step 3: ROI Recognized
As we know from the perception equation, just because value is being attained, the customer may not recognize or appreciate it. If this is the case, then it has no meaning to them. Sometimes, the customer takes it for granted, doesn’t see the ROI, or fails to appreciate how significant the benefit is. So, this step in the process is to ensure that the client realizes the significance of the ROI from buying your product.
Step 4: Customer Monetizes
After becoming invested in you, you now have the opportunity to monetize it. If the ROI is growing, the customer should be willing to increase the amount of resources they give you in return for the value you created. You had an initial landing package, but now, you want them more committed and to increase their investment in your company. To make this happen, you must continue to add more value. Once they increase their investment, you have the opportunity to become a strategic partner.
Step 5: Valued Strategic Partner
For ultimate long-term success, strive to make your customer a strategic partner. As they look to their future, they will think about how you can help them get there. The eventual goal is for them to consult with you and take your advice seriously and perhaps include you on their Board, advisory council, internal meetings, or discussions with their customers. Not only will they consult with you on future changes, but if they are a true strategic partner, they will provide you with input on how to adjust your product. Likewise, have them on your planning or advisory council, rely on them for making adjustments to your product plans, and count on them as part of your future from a financial aspect. When you have mutual collaboration about future plans and rely on each other, then you have attained a strategic partnership.
Within each of the five steps, there are many activities to complete before moving on. Similar to the multi-milestone sales process, we closely monitor the progression, which ensures transparency with our accounts. I created an account management spreadsheet that we use at Seeq to track the progress of every customer during our weekly sales call and at the monthly Board meeting.
Every account has a name, sales associate, and account end date. For each account, we assign an Account Type.
- Type 1: We already have a signed, multi-year strategic agreement.
- Type 2: We expect this account to be important to our future, and they have the potential to be a strategic partner. We are interested in growing this relationship.
- Type 3: These modest accounts have potential upside but are not important to our future at this point. We need to monitor these accounts for upward mobility.
- Type 4: This low-level account will not make a financial impact, but we still maintain and monitor its progress.
The Overall Score ranges from 0 to 10. Zero means no progress has been made, and 10 means that they have the potential to become a strategic partner. First, we generate a score for each of the five areas based on three to five sub-metrics. Then, we average those to create the Overall Score.
For example, when determining the score for Effectively Launched, we could look at:
- What percentage of expected users are using the product? Score: 7/10
- How many use the product several times a week? Score: 6/10
- How many people use the product at least five times a week? Score: 6/10
The Overall Score for Effectively Launched would be 6/10.
Regarding Generate ROI, we could document and deliver use cases to ensure a higher return than the cost of our product. We find out if they are generating an ROI far above our product’s cost.
For ROI Recognized, we try to get our customers to share information from their customer accounts because we can help by providing unique content to valuable clients. We can also send key people who created value with Seeq to industrial or strategic conferences, either alongside us or on their own. Their presentations relay their story, reinforcing the ROI and realized gains, but it helps us because they spread the word about our product.
When scoring Customer Monetization, we look at whether we have a contract with them worthy of the value we provide. We create a target for where we think their investment should be and see if they have funded that amount. The score is based on how far along they are toward that goal. If they are at 70%, then they receive a score of 7.
We look at the degree to which we are part of an account’s future when evaluating the level of Valued Strategic Partner. Seeq was founded in 2012, so we are still early in the life cycle and developing relationships. We need to continue to build deeper and longer-lasting relationships, and we use this tracking system to move us in that direction.
The three columns in the next section focus on the financials. We start with last year’s Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) and include the delta ARR number for how much we what we want to increase that number in the current year, which is the subscription number. The final column in this section tells us how we are tracking year to date (YTD) based on the target for this year, including new accounts.
The final column of the Account Management Progress Report represents our Progress. [This model is from early February, so the numbers are not accurate as of the posting of this article.]
Using this tracking mechanism, we assess the progress toward building a close relationship with an account and seeing it grow. It also identifies gaps, and we can devise a plan with action items to correct the situation and move forward. If we have a low score of below a four, then we look to the left in the spreadsheet and identify the problem and correct it.
With every solution, any company must be open to adapting their strategy based on the tracking information and the data. The only way to do this is to have clear metrics and a monitoring plan, weekly and monthly. No solution fits every situation, so devise a customized reporting mechanism that works for your circumstances.