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B2B Solution of the Week: How to Outsource B2B customer account management

Last updated on July 19th, 2016 at 07:29 am

B2B company-customer relationships have changed. The cloud coupled with more informed, empowered customers has pushed B2B companies toward subscription business models. Because “sell it and forget it” modes of business are long-gone, account management is more important than ever

However, most B2B companies are challenged to do it effectively given upfront investment and steep learning curves. Fortunately, outsourced providers expert at account management exist. By outsourcing that function, B2B companies can:

  • Engage customers on continuing product usage to sustain loyalty and enable salespersons to focus on new business
  • Take advantage of their partners’ people, best practices and technology and data to improve product and service onboarding and adoption
  • Reduce costs and improve efficiency in servicing customers
  • Rapidly identify upsell and cross-sell opportunities

Revenue Lifecycle Management

One company that has done research on outsourcing customer account activities, ServiceSource, a provider of technology solutions to grow revenue from customers, recently partnered on a survey of B2B executives about how they are managing their revenue lifecycles. According to this survey, 81 percent of their customers expect salespersons to engage with them on their purchases. This is important, because according to a white paper on customer engagement from this survey, B2B companies can no longer depend of one-off sales to drive their revenue.

“Profits roll out over the full revenue lifecycle and are determined by ongoing and long-term relationships typified by trust and deep understanding of customer needs,” according to the ServiceSource white paper. “Today, vendors do not have the luxury of leaving clients to their own devices in assessing how to extract full value from purchases. Instead, companies must make investments that allow them in assisting customers as they maneuver through the complexity of products and services they buy at every stage of the lifecycle.”

And knowing how dedicated salespersons are to generating new sales, the task of ongoing revenue lifecycle management (RLM) might be better outsourced.

Concentrating on core competencies

A prime consideration in any choice of a B2B company to outsource its customer account management is the idea of concentrating on core competencies. Of course, that means the B2B provider should focus on what it does best and outsource supporting but necessary functions to third parties that have more expertise in those areas. And with special attention paid to these outsourced tasks, third party specialists are less apt to let any pertinent details about account management slip.

“Manual account management requires a lot of time, effort and manpower,” says Sheila Lindner, president, Octacom, provider of document management solutions. “Outsourcing account management recaptures time and allows you to focus on the core work that will allow you to retain and delight clients. And as B2B companies scale, chances of something getting lost in the shuffle or a failure in the chain of custody rapidly increases. Outsourcing ensures the process is smooth and clients are cared for at all times.”

In addition, by allying with an account management firm B2B companies gain unfettered access to the best practices and solutions expertise for account management, according to Lindner. “From ensuring compliance to accessing world-class expert knowledge and software/cloud solutions, your clients will be in good hands,” she says.

Money, money, money!

Not only can third parties perform certain activities better than the contracting B2B concern but also in a more economically efficient manner in many cases. That is one of the immutable pillars of the outsourced account management value proposition. With money saved, it can be redirected toward or reinvested in activities closer to home such as staff development. And as a result, flatter management models can come into vogue.

“Outsourcing has become common in business; this trend is here to stay but what benefits does it provide?” asks Elena Lockett, assistant marketing representative, FM Outsource, specialist in delivering customer experiences and brand development. “Reduced costs make bottom-line sense, as being able to get a job done for a reduced price is something every business wishes.”

This means money not spent on training and employees, but B2B companies can still benefit from skilled staff, reducing need to have many levels of direct management, according to Lockett. Instead they can hand over responsibility of management to outsourced services, she says.

On the uptake: upselling and cross-selling

The biggest opportunity of outsourced account management remains deriving additional revenue from existing customers. The trick is knowing which customers are ready to buy more and when. A lot of this data already exists, but it lives in silos within the enterprise, housed in standalone on-premises CRM and ERP systems. A solution that can bridge the gap between these repositories would go a long way toward monetizing account management outsourcing.

One marketing technology provider has created an answer to this problem. Its martech platforms interface with client CRM and ERP implementations and can pull customer and prospect purchase history, profile information and attribute data, according to Tom Belle, president and CEO, Gage, a Minneapolis-based independent marketing agency.

“Using this data, these platforms dynamically generate marketing tactics designed to deliver the right message or offer to the right person at the right time,” Belle says. “The use of those data profiles enables us to create predictive models that more precisely address customer needs and opportunities.”

Outsourcing account management case study

Theoretically, technology and outsourcing are wonderful innovations in account management. But how do they work in real B2B situations?

A B2B content marketing company, Ghost Blog Writers, has used outsourced account management for approximately a year. With a virtualized workforce and management spread out across the world, a method for weaving all the different threads into a whole cloth was needed.

“Out of necessity the business grew with outsourced writers working remotely,” says Dayne Shuda, founder, Ghost Blog Writers. “For the first few years I had been the account manager. Last year I reached out to a virtual assistant who had worked with one of our clients. I wanted to learn more about outsourcing an account manager, and she was very helpful for my understanding. She also directed me to someone who could handle our account management duties.

Now and into the future

From a base in Wisconsin, Shuda works with a manager in Australia. They rely on cloud tools; mostly the Google Apps for Work suite.

“The manager has been a big help with creating procedures,” Shuda says. “I started documenting all the tasks I had been doing, but they have taken it from there to make improvements.”

They are still working to add more indicators, especially regarding customer churn; why it happens and how to make improvements. Outsourced account management lets Ghost Blog Writers have someone sit day-to-day with customers and get feedback to make improvements, letting the company concentrate on creating excellent content.

“It’s helped us to continually improve our website so we’re bringing on the right clients and that they share expectations we have for our service,” Shuda says. “We still have more to do on the measurement and opportunity side, but the first year has been going very well.”

Other companies are looking at outsourced account management but have yet to take the plunge. However, they are seriously considering it.

“I think this topic applies heavily to all B2B companies,” says Armand Sepulveda, CEO, Dycap Media Solutions, an artificial intelligence camera automation provider for live events. “We are a tech company that is expanding and will soon have to answer this question for ourselves.”

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Derek Handova
Derek Handova
Derek Handova is a veteran journalist writing on various B2B vertical beats. He started out as associate editor of Micro Publishing News, a pioneer in coverage of the desktop publishing space and more recently as a freelance writer for Digital Journal, Economy Lead (finance and IR beats) and Intelligent Utility (electrical transmission and distribution beats).