I recently participated in the Solutions Insights research on Key Account Marketing Programs. The research project made me think of my own experiences designing and implementing a Strategic Account Marketing Program for a Big 4 global consulting firm. Our research showed that we were not being considered for large sales opportunities--which we were qualified for--within our key accounts. Many times, we became aware of large projects after they had been awarded. This finding was particularly troubling since our success rate, when invited to compete, was extremely high. In baseball terms, we had a great batting average once we were allowed to swing the bat; we just needed to get into the batters box more often.
To address the issue, we created a Strategic Account Marketing Program that assigned a senior marketing resource to selected account teams. We believed the addition of a marketing resource would increase our visibility within key accounts. Based on my experiences, here are 4 recommendations to help make your Account Marketing Program a success:
1. Pilot a Proof-of-Concept
Before you begin, you must ensure that you have the support of the executive team. Strategic Account Marketing Programs can be complex with a lot of variables to control. Determine the most likely source of long-term funding up front to ensure the program has time to reach its full potential. Depending on the size of your organization, a 2 year funding commitment is not unreasonable. In our case, we had global funding for an initial 12-month, six-account global pilot. After that period, we needed buy-in from the line profit-and-loss leaders to provide longer-term management and funding. In hindsight, twelve months was too short a period to prove the impact of the program and secure a long-term funding source.
2. Create an Integrated Account Team
The sales and marketing organizations should work hand-in-hand to build a strategic plan that unifies your brand and strategizes your account as a “market of one”. All account messaging and activities should adhere to the strategic sales and marketing account plan. This may require controlling or restricting account access to the primary account team. This may also mean respectfully declining to respond to RFP’s deemed to be slightly off the market of the One Brand message. As importantly, select the key account leader wisely. Whether it be a Client Service Executive, an Account Relationship Manager, an Industry Partner, or a Country Manager-- seamless linkage with, and buy-in from, the global sales organization, and as in our case--the Lead Partner--was essential. Teaming and cooperation from all sales stakeholders is critical. Even with minimal cost to the sales department, it will be impossible to effectively embed a senior marketing resource into any key account team without agreement from the sales function. Early involvement of the sales team leadership will help to avoid cultural rejection of the transplanted marketing resource.
3. Assign Your Best Marketing Resources to the Program
Avoid accepting first available or under-performers from other marketing units to staff the newly created key marketer role. The success of the pilot, and the longer term program, is dependent upon the quality of the assigned marketing resources. A senior marketer with industry and relevant experience will quickly demonstrate their value. In our pilot, we enlisted senior marketers who could strategically position our firm verses our competitors. They were also able to discuss future industry trends. We labeled this capability “Big M” marketing skills. Previous face-to-face selling or delivery experience also increased their credibility with the account team.
4. Tailor Thought Leadership and Points-of-View Marketing Materials
Too often, sales organizations print generic marketing materials that can be given to all clients, regardless of business problems or industry. To be effective, materials must be tailored to the concerns of the client and their industry. Thought leadership documents and whitepapers, that specifically address critical client issues, will help you gain credibility faster and get you invited to compete more often. Your goal is to position your organization as the one which is best suited to help solve their specific business issues-- as a “market of one”. In order to save time and effort, attempt to re-purpose existing materials rather than creating totally new content. In addition, marketers must now control their messaging across all the various online channels. Your website, blog, and social media presence should all have consistent messaging that reinforces your brand and is tailored to the client’s industry and business issues.
Understanding your key account’s industry and business issues are paramount to the success of any Strategic Account Marketing Program. Aligning your marketing messages with the account’s strategic direction will make you eligible to compete more often. Allocating the right marketing resources to the sales team is often the key variable in the program’s success.