A Gartner survey of 618 B2B key customers, conducted from November through December 2020, revealed that while some key customers increased spending with B2B sales teams, only 18% indicated a spending increase of more than 10% since January 2020.
The analyst estimates that 41% of key customers (also known as key accounts) indicated that the economic implications of COVID-19 significantly impacted their spend with B2B sales teams.
“Chief sales officers (CSOs) have long struggled to ensure their key accounts perform according to expectations 53% of key customers purchased less than half of their supplier’s total offerings in 2020,” said Robert Blaisdell, senior director analyst in the Gartner Sales practice.
“After facing a prolonged period of market disruption and conservative customer decision making, CSOs are looking for realistic growth revival strategies for 2021 and placing increased importance on their most strategic relationships. As a result, nailing key account management in 2021 will be a top priority.”
CSO action items in 2021:
Renew focus on the key account value proposition
The key account value proposition provides a compelling way to communicate the unique benefits that key customers receive in return for investing the time and effort required to partner at a deeper, more strategic level.
However, CSOs should not assume customers implicitly know they are a key customer or understand the value proposition of being one. This assumption results in misaligned internal stakeholders and disjointed customer expectations.
Gartner research shows that 79% of key customers who had a clear understanding of the benefits available to them from the relationship provided their supplier with benefits in return – including increased access to senior executives and more visibility into business strategy.
Leading sales teams reinforce the key account value proposition by embedding it in account plans, internal review sessions and joint planning discussions with customers.
Pursue growth through collaborative partnerships
Most sales team struggle to evolve beyond simply selling to engage in “collaborative partnerships.” Once in a strategic partnership, only 40% of key customers report their supplier puts a clear focus on potential growth.
However, leading sales team that keep their short-term goals in context and engage in longer-term partnerships focused on customer growth reap significant benefits.
Sixty-nine per cent of key customers that collaborated with their supplier to determine shared goals found the supplier more effective in aligning its strategy with their objectives.
CSOs should look to transform joint planning/performance reviews into more forward-looking sessions with active customer participation centred on improving the customer’s business outcomes.
Guide customers through digital touchpoints
With the rapid shift to virtual and digital engagement due to COVID-19, virtual buying is not a short-term trend – as a result, key customer engagements and interactions will evolve, too.
Forty per cent of key customers said they would prefer most or all of their post-pandemic interactions with suppliers to remain virtual. However, only 48% agreed that their suppliers provided clear guidance on the best virtual touchpoints to use.
Gartner research reveals a new reality in which suppliers need to recognise the value and importance that complimentary virtual/digital touchpoints can bring to their most strategic customers.
CSOs should equip their organisations to cater to new touchpoint preferences and arm customers with the resources to exploit the new touchpoints more effectively.
Reinforce the growth-focused role of key account manager
Only 7% of key customers view their key account manager as a business-growth-focused advisor to their organisation. Instead, more than 40% say their key account manager is a tactical-focused coordinator of day-to-day activities.
To improve key account retention and growth, CSOs must ensure that their key account managers are consistently engaged in improving key customers’ business outcomes and providing proactive guidance to help customers identify and pursue their own goals.