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How to Identify Key Accounts: A Quick Guide to Getting it Right

Your biggest customers are not your best customers. To identify key accounts with true growth potential, look beyond revenue. Here are 15 factors to consider.

Key accounts are your most valuable customers, and organisations frequently rely on volume to identify them.

Why?

For many B2B companies, their largest customers represent 30 to 50% of total revenue and margin.

So I get it: losing them would be a significant blow.

But size only paints a picture of where your customer is today. Things change. What about the opportunities for tomorrow?

You’re sitting on a goldmine of existing customers that:

  • can deliver an above-average revenue growth;
  • want to invest in your partnership;
  • will co-create value in ways that neither of you could do alone.

 

Like Portrait Software, a small client of mine acquired by Pitney Bowes, a global technology company. Portrait Software became a key account, and within 18 months, that partnership led to winning the larger Pitney Bowes business.

Which is why key account management is so important. Because you’re not just searching for your biggest, but your best customers, who’ll generate long-term revenue growth and strategic partnerships.

So let’s find them.

How to Identify Key Accounts

Let’s keep this simple.

You’ll select your key accounts with 15 criteria which are grouped into three categories: Growth, Harmony and Value Creation. 

  • Assess your customers against each criterion.
  • Give a score of between 1 (very low) to 10 (very high).
  • Apply a weighting too if some criteria are more important than others.
  • Disregard irrelevant criteria or substitute your own.
  • Add up each customer’s total score.
  • Customers with the highest scores are your key accounts.

That’s it.

I told you it was a quick guide.

Beware: Not all customers can be key accounts.

How many make the grade will depend on your resources. Nurturing these partnerships is time consuming and hard work. So be ruthless when selecting key accounts if you want a return on investment (or hire more account managers.)

Growth

Score clients based on their commercial appeal and opportunities to expand revenue and improve margin.

  1. Revenue potential. How much do your clients spend? Look for those with consistent growth over the past three years. Are they spending elsewhere? Do you believe you can control the future share of wallet?
  2. Cost to serve. Can you service your clients more efficiently and cheaply now or in the future?
  3. Demand stability. Revenue doesn’t tell the whole story. Consider how your clients use your solutions and look for those with consistent adoption.
  4. Access to new markets. Are they expanding through acquisition? Or have a strong international presence? Or diversified across multiple verticals? Can they help you access new markets?

Harmony

Score clients based on how well they fit your solution, your culture and your business strategy.

  1. Products and services requirements. Is your solution a good fit and does it meet your clients’ needs compared to other suppliers? Are customer satisfaction scores high?
  2. Culture of innovation. How innovative is your customer? They can enhance your solutions by partnering with you on product development. Or they may be early adopters, beta testers and eager to participate in user studies.
  3. Benchmarking. Customers that use your solution efficiently and effectively are valuable to help optimise product and processes. They’re also useful for case studies and testimonials.
  4. Corporate reputation. Well-known customers create trust. The brand value of your clients can help develop networks within an industry. New customers may be more encouraged to partner with you if you serve others with strong reputations.
  5. Buying process. The closer you are to the purchasing process, the more effective you’ll be at influencing and managing the account. How centralised is your customers’ buying process?

Value creation

Score based on their partnership orientation. To what extent will your customers invest in the relationship and view you as a strategic supplier?

  1. Strategy. Can you help your client reach their goals or give them an advantage they couldn’t achieve alone? Can they do the same for you?
  2. Solidarity. Clients that work together to solve problems. They don’t use ultimatums or threaten the relationship, especially when they encounter difficult situations.
  3. Long-term orientation. Clients that understand it makes strategic and economic sense to create long-term partnerships.
  4. Planning behaviour. Does your customer engage in proactive, mutual goal setting, take action and review and adapt?
  5. Mutuality. Clients who believe in joint success and consider you a strategic supplier. Everybody should win.
  6. Information exchange. Clients who proactively share information useful to your partnership. They’re open and honest.

When you evaluate your customers against the growth, harmony and value creation factors, you get a very different view of who your most valuable are.

What do you see?

Are there new opportunities leaping out out you? Are you bursting with fresh ideas about what you can accomplish together with your customers?

It’s exciting stuff with unlimited potential and the reason why you should look beyond volume to identify key accounts to create long-term business growth.

TIP: Don’t do it alone. Invite other departments into the conversation — groups like sales, marketing, customer service and support that know your clients. You’ll get a comprehensive view of your customers, and it’ll help with the assessment.

Crowd-Sourced Key Account Definition

There are a lot of opinions on how to identify key accounts. So I asked LinkedIn for some key account selection advice and the collective opinion was to seek clients that

  • are engaged
  • value your solution
  • welcomes your advice
  • act on your recommendations
  • put price in perspective
  • will be a reference and a referral
  • collaborates
  • respects you
  • is focused on value
  • is profitable
  • have opportunities for growth

 

The post also gathered some incredibly insightful commentary on the selection of key accounts. It would be a shame to lose them to the algorithm forever, so they’re repeated here. I’m grateful to all the contributors for their wisdom.

Want to learn more about identifying key accounts?

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