Q: I lead an important account for my company and need for 2020 to go well in order to grow their business. I have some time to prepare. What steps should I take? — Zoe, 39, account manager and consultant
A: Reflect on the past, then use your insights to prepare for the future.
Start by taking the long view. What has the arc of this account been? Think about how it was first launched — what was your firm’s winning message? If you weren’t on the account then, talk to colleagues who were involved and steep yourself in the historical record.
Reflect on events that have transpired since then. Accounts have their ups and downs. Find the lessons from successes and bumps in the road.
Notice who is involved on the client side and how that may have changed. Are you considered a strategic partner by them? You’ll be able to tell by the titles of people you work with. If it used to be the chief marketing officer and now you’re talking to people lower in the hierarchy, this creates risk for you.
Looking at past year, give yourself a grade for how well you have:
— Met specific requests they have made.
— Anticipated their needs and provided information proactively.
— Created a strategy for helping them succeed.
Don’t be discouraged if you have low grades on the latter two. That’s what you’ll prepare for in 2020.
Put your full attention on the client now. Study them like you would if you were writing a thesis about them. You need to know all about their industry, their competition and the threats they face, any regulatory issues, international dynamics, etc.
Look at work that futurists are doing. What changes should your client anticipate from, say, climate change, technology or demographic trends?
Then put on your CEO hat. What would keep you up at night? What help do you need?
This is where your new strategic partnership plan will come in.
Your first step is to show them that you understand them at a depth that they may not have realized, and that you’ve taken the time to anticipate where they need to go in order to prosper.
From there, critique the work that you do for them. Some of it likely supports them in valuable ways, but some may be out of date compared to their needs.
In that case, you can recommend some retooling to give them better value and expose them to other capabilities that your firm offers.
Learn from feedback they provide and seek to develop a deeper, more interactive relationship. Offer partnership without strings attached, following up with ideas and insights. Ideally they will come to rely on it and will begin to ask questions that move beyond the tactical.
Play the long game, focusing on building trust and engagement. Business growth will follow in due course.