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Account Management as a Marketing Investment: A Lesson From the Airlines

by Mike McLaughlin  |  
January 10, 2006

From the time you book an airline flight until that plane lands, your pecking order in the airline's customer hierarchy determines your travel experience. To the airlines, all customers are not equal—they are segmented and managed according to profitability, loyalty, and frequency of travel.

Like the airlines, professional service and solution providers have embraced the concept of account relationship management, yet many struggle with execution. Account management is based on the premise that a subset of your clients will purchase most of your offerings, and so you should manage and market to them differently—and directly. All clients are important to your business, but some are more so than others.

More Eggs in Fewer Baskets

A relationship strategy that differentiates your clients can reduce your cost of sales, simplify your approach to complex relationships, help you deliver products and services to clients more efficiently, and increase the profitability of your business.

At the core of a productive relationship strategy is a shift in mindset. Solution providers are often too willing to chase every new opportunity, when instead they should focus on the clients they've got and the referrals that can flow from them.

Just as with an investment portfolio, though, you should spread your marketing resources among selected clients. Don't focus on a single client, and don't apply your marketing resources equally across all of your clients.

Is It Right for You?

The first step is to decide whether an account relationship program is right for you. For larger firms with long client lists, the decision is a no-brainer. Those firms should use a program to focus resources and people on targeted industries and clients.

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Michael W. McLaughlin is the coauthor, with Jay Conrad Levinson, of Guerrilla Marketing for Consultants. Michael is a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP and the editor of Management Consulting News ( and the Guerrilla Consultant. For more information, visit

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