Global Key Account Planning: 5 Critical Steps

Carl Erickson

When evaluating clients, an organization or firm may have several different approaches to identifying and stratifying accounts. Which clients should be considered key or priority accounts? Compared to non-key accounts, key accounts require their own planning and management process. Over the years, Beacon has developed a five-step set of guidelines to help organizations gain valuable insight into their key accounts to enhance their relationships and revenues.

What Is a Key Account?

Before developing a planning process around key account management, an organization must identify which of its clients are considered key accounts. In many cases, key accounts will be the largest accounts for an organization but that is not always the case.  It is important to also look at several other factors.

Three fundamental considerations are:

  • Profitability: This is a fairly obvious metric to assess how important a client is. However, it is worth noting that even clients that historically have not been the most profitable may be key to an organization’s success if one or more of the other characteristics are present.
  • Volume: Larger clients can help organizations to mitigate risk and smooth out income fluctuations, so they may be key accounts even if they are not the most profitable accounts.
  • Relationships: Clients who offer strong relationships and are willing to partner can help to produce and prove a unique work product that may offer a strategic advantage to the organization.  Having a base of these types of clients can be a key ingredient to maintaining long-term innovation.

By evaluating clients within this framework, organizations can develop a thorough understanding of which clients should be considered key accounts. From there, the challenge becomes assessing these clients to understand ongoing opportunities along with risks that must be mitigated to strengthen the relationships over time.

Key Account Analysis Steps

In our experience with assisting firms and organizations in the complex advisory services and software fields, we have seen the key account planning process take on five distinct steps as part of a complete analysis.

  1. Develop a Key Account Overview – This initial step in an ongoing process, but should include thoroughly assessing the key account’s business sector, primary competitors, internal and external challenges, and overall health. It would include identifying specifics regarding the sector, company and job title and your own credentials on having addressed these items.
  2. Review the Relationships – During this step, the organization assesses its current relationship with each key account job title, examining variables such as the size and status of ongoing initiatives, financial targets, and assumptions about how the relationship might continue to develop over time.  The use of objective metrics is important here as many attempts to examine relationships are subjective and therefore have much less strategic planning value.
  3. Define the Objectives and Strategy – This step is more forward-looking and examines likely opportunities that may be developed within an account and how those objectives can be pursued. It is also imperative to ensure that there are quarterly measureable items in place to gauge the success of the strategy implementation.
  4. Review Account Alignment – An organization must examine its specific performance on an account in light of the information uncovered in the first three steps of the analysis.  What is short term success? How is it being measured? Does it lead to strategic goal accomplishment?   Beacon often observes clients taking the initiative to “develop more relationships” because they think that is a good thing to do.  While there is some truth to this, who those relationships are being developed with, why, they are important, and how movement is measured are all critical.  In fact, this can be one of the most important factors in determining whether to continue investing in an account when measured correctly.
  5. Leadership/communication commitment – The best global account teams have the leadership commitment to spend their time on pre-determined efforts that will build revenues and relationships over time.  The leadership team recognizes that relationship and revenue growth take time and therefore they have measurements that are non-revenue based on an interim basis and revenue based on a longer basis.

Of course, well-led teams also have the communications mechanisms in place on a local and global basis that helps ensure faster and easier replication of best practices within their largest and best clients. Whether for a new or existing large priority account, Beacon has found these points to be imperative to dramatic improvements in revenues and relationships where repeatable revenues make sense.