In the Swiss economy, all signs at the moment point towards an upswing. Despite this, many providers are not successful in exploiting economic growth for themselves. On the contrary, it seems as if they lose even more. Where companies ten years ago were mostly able to take part in an economic upswing, the picture today is different: top performers benefit disproportionately, low performers fall far behind. But wherein lies the difference?
Companies fail to differentiate between customer groups
Today, successful providers grow through their strategically important key customers (key accounts) and through a large number of small customers (smart accounts). The real key to growth and success lies in segment-specific customer management. Many providers are aware of this on paper, and in addition to the regular sales team, a dedicated key account management unit is established. The problem is that companies do not handle these distinctions with sufficient consistency:
- Instead of convincing their customers through professional customer management, providers often grant price concessions to key customers to retain them. As a result, key account management too often degenerates into key discount management, and is seldom the foundation for profitable growth.
- In collaboration with small clients, providers are often unable to set the right priorities. In addition, the sales processes are often not sufficiently optimized to satisfy the various needs of the many different small clients and to ensure profitable management.
Five approaches to segment-specific customer management
To manage customers consistently on a segment-specific basis, providers need to ensure the following five points:
- Allocate customers clearly: A basic requirement for segment-specific management is the clear allocation of customers to key accounts and smart accounts. Companies often rely too heavily on figures (e.g. sales) based on the past and, as a result, do not sufficiently take into account the potential of collaboration for the future.
- Effective collaboration based on objectives: Since the priorities in the collaboration with key accounts and smart accounts differ greatly, this must be taken into consideration when servicing these accounts. Key accounts should be serviced in accordance with their individual needs. In the case of smart accounts, the objective should be a standardized and efficient management.
- Standardized versus customized solutions: Even if the principle of satisfying customer needs certainly applies for all providers, in the performance of services, providers must set priorities. The challenge lies in being responsive to the individual needs of their key accounts and, at the same time, in establishing a standardized service portfolio for smart accounts, without getting caught up in their special requests.
- Focus on a customer-oriented service relationship: In sales, the service relationship must be adapted to the number of customers managed, but also to the complexity of the management. Especially in key account management, less is more. Conversely, sales staff should not focus their time too much on individual smart accounts.
- Choose intelligent information systems: A CRM system is a valuable tool for small customer management. For key account management, however, such a system falls short since collaboration with key customers cannot be displayed expediently. What is required here is a professional key account plan that, ideally, should be integrated into the CRM system of the company.
Engaging in segment-specific customer management requires, above all, consistency and persistence. Many managers are not sufficiently aware of this challenge and pursue everything a little bit, without making any real differentiation. If companies set different priorities for the management of both customer groups, however, the potential for growth in the case of both groups is enormous.