In the United States our farmers now produce tenfold the output of their post-WWII grandparents. Advances in mechanization, high-yield varieties, fertilizers, irrigation, and pesticides created a “second agricultural revolution.”
In sales we also have farmers who have revolutionized their output. They’re Strategic Account Managers (SAMs) who lead Strategic Account Management programs. Like their agricultural brethren, SAMs’ contribution to corporate bottom lines has grown exponentially as a result of advances in their craft.
I recently immersed myself in all things SAM at the annual conference of the 8,000-strong Strategic Account Management Association. Distilled here from more than fifty practitioner-led presentations are eighteen insights to help you elevate your sustainable competitive advantage.
Focus on Value
- Buyer acumen continues to rise, as does digital self-service. The result? A “disappearing middle” in buyer-seller relationships. Conversations must shift from product education and support to value creation.
- Focus your customer conversations on co-creating value. A great example is innovation. Develop new products together and link your value to their profit goals.
- Constantly measure and communicate your value within the account, because a value framework can transform pricing discussions from cost to value.
- Build a Total Cost of Ownership model to support the value measurement process. It will bring the “priceberg” to life. The price of your product or service is likely only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to buying criteria.
- Tailor your value proposition to reflect your specific accomplishments and aspirations in each strategic account--right down to specific opportunities within that account.
- To enable value creation, align your marketing, sales ops, and R&D organizations to engage with the strategic account.
- The value a SAM brings to an account has three components: you (the SAM), your company, and your solution. Maximize each.
- A truly revolutionary way to co-create value is to help a customer conceive and execute a disruptive transformation of their supply chain. Get in front of such initiatives by proposing them, as opposed to being brought in after the decision is made.
Select SAMs Carefully
- Strategic Account Managers must be skilled at establishing and orchestrating a cadence of high-value activities for the benefit of the account relationship. Unstructured lone wolves need not apply.
- Good SAMs recognize they can’t afford to narrowly focus on one or two people within the account. They sell “high, wide, and deep.”
- Select SAMs who are best-in-class relationship managers, who exhibit emotional intelligence and political entrepreneurship--not only within customer organizations but also within their own company as well.
- To maximize their credibility, SAMs must be thought leaders. They should possess the ability to develop compelling stories from data. An adjunct to this skill is the ability to support the story with data visualization.
- SAMs of all generations should also learn to be effective at social media engagement. Their stature as thought leaders depends on it.
- As you can see, SAMs require a broad range of skills to be fully effective. To accomplish this, they must be open to pursuing ongoing professional development, and must be funded to obtain it.
Support SAM as a Strategic Imperative
- Senior leadership MUST be supportive of developing SAM capability, or the effort will fail. Position it internally as the execution of your growth strategy, not as an "initiative."
- Best-in-class SAM capability is not simply an overlay to existing business processes; it involves restructuring and aligning business processes across buyer-seller boundaries. The annual account planning process is a good place to start.
- SAM capability must be supported by technology so it can be scaled. Capturing value creation metrics in a CRM dashboard is one example of this.
- SAM status carries with it a heavy resource commitment. Choosing the right accounts, and the right number of accounts at the right stage, is critical to long-term SAM program success. Companies on multiyear SAM journeys talk about the wisdom of starting with five or fewer SAM accounts. Once a SAM program is mature, the census of SAM accounts is typically less than twenty.
Special thanks to the more than two dozen industry leaders who shared their SAM experience at this year’s conference.
My biggest takeaway from SAMA is that the days of indiscriminately placing small bets across the customer landscape are over, especially in the most competitive industries. By definition, SAM programs force clear decisions about which existing customers will be the source of revenue growth.
The bets are larger and fewer, but a well-executed SAM strategy will minimize the risks.
As the conference wound down it became clear you don’t need to be a GE, Medtronic, Merck, or Zurich to harvest the bounty of a strong SAM program, and you certainly don’t need to reinvent the wheel. These innovators have paved the way with insights around focusing on value, selecting SAMs carefully, and supporting SAM as a strategic imperative.
Is there anything holding you back from taking advantage of this?
Please share your thoughts below; I look forward to engaging with you.
Everett Hill works with CEOs and CSOs to grow B2B sales. With his help they achieve new levels of sales performance by connecting their competitive strategy to tactical execution and customer experience. Prior to founding Catalytic Advisors, he was a sales leader and General Manager with significant P&L responsibility in manufacturing and distribution companies. He holds an engineering degree from Princeton University and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.
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