All you need is … SAM
(Strategic Account Manager)
Too good to be true? It probably is.
Three different account managers visiting the same customer in one week, without knowing from each other what has been discussed? Implementing services or cross-BU initiatives, but lacking proper access to the appropriate C-level stakeholder? These are all very common themes in larger organizations. The solution? Hiring a SAM! But, is that all it takes?
Hiring a Strategic Account Manager (SAM) will not solve the issue of people not wanting to share sensitive customer information. It will not get people to spontaneously engage on a frequent basis to discuss their account approach. Make sure to hire SAM, once the organizational culture is ready for his/her arrival. This means, try to explore mutual (cross-BU) areas of interest. Where and how? Your customers probably have the answer 😉 Be aware that, in a single strategic account, the gains for individual BU’s can vary from high to low. This diversity impacts the willingness to cooperate.
Don’t forget the BU managers
A great big part of cultivation is the willingness of line managers to work together and, by that, stimulate their team members to get involved in activities outside of the business unit. These activities might not directly lead to higher quarterly financial outcomes. The BU manager that is willing to incentivize people for the work they do ‘beyond the quarter’ (and beyond their BU), plays a crucial role in the success of the (future) SAM. These managers should actively promote the long-term vision and be the change agents, not the SAM.
Hold your horses!
Please only engage in strategic conversations with C-level customers once you feel that internal management (or at least a great part of it) – believes that winning can only be achieved by doing things together. Also, the managers should have the necessary credibility to give strong replies to their bosses when the short-term results have not been met according to plan. Before promising customers a ‘rose garden’, ensure that managers realize that “…along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometimes…” (ref Lyrics)
SAM, KAM, CM, AM: what’s my name?
Clearly differentiate between the role of the account manager or contract manager – who closes deals – and the strategic account manager – who opens doors to close deals. Driven by the desire to proof their value to internal stakeholders, SAM often gets involved in operational activities. Like closing deals. The SAM role should be aimed at developing new business with new, strategic stakeholders and a new (combined or cross-BU) offering. In the account plan you then find Qualified Opportunities (AM) and Unqualified Opportunities (SAM).
Segment the true strategic accounts from the rest
I can write ten more blogs on what it takes to properly segment strategic accounts, but at least let me say this: consider the customer’s standpoint on and willingness to cooperate on a more strategic level, before deciding that the account should be labelled as ‘strategic’. Too often I see organizations focusing on ‘account size (€)’ and ‘future revenue potential (€)’ as the only means to define their most strategic customers. The problem here is, we often cannot know the full potential of revenue because we didn’t engage with strategic budget holders. The SAM needs time to explore value first, before being able to differentiate ‘strategic’ from ’traditional’.
Create a shared P&L for the account
As they say, Just do it. Foster the environment of double counting. By awarding everybody for the commercial success, you stimulate team collaboration.
SAM reports to the boss
It’s important that SAM reports to the one with the highest (commercial) accountability within the organization. When SAM explores new business opportunities, this might lead to certain investments or changes in the organizational structure. To avoid these opportunities becoming ‘candles in the wind’ (ref Lyrics), SAM should have the full support of the boss. Or… have the mandate to negotiate and physically sign the contract – proxy holder.
Build on your solutions portfolio
If the SAM successfully engages with several strategic stakeholders, he probably gets a lot of requirements, questions or needs that cannot be addressed by the current product portfolio. Create an internal structure that makes it possible for the SAM to ask for additional investments in building a winning solution portfolio. Try to have dedicated people on board that are able to translate customer needs into commercial solutions.
A license to sell
Once the SAM has become a trusted partner of C-suite level, he might arrange a group contract, often called a ‘license to sell’. Please note that, now that this contract is in place, true selling begins. Having a team that can leverage the group contract to its full potential, by engaging with all stakeholders that are necessary to get the most out of it, is crucial for success.
You never walk alone
The SAM is often rather alone. There are never hundred SAM’s around him. Please ensure that there are buddies that the SAM can use as sparring partner. To learn from, engage with, and share experiences. The role of the SAM has changed and will remain to change over time. It helps to provide certain stability (social cohesion), and by that, balance the heavily changing dynamics of the role.
About the author
Frijke is Managing Director and Consultant at Motion5. She has been supporting international companies in sustainable change processes for the last 10 years. She specializes in Health Care, working with health insurance companies, Pharma- and MedTech companies. Next to having this commercial experience, she holds her Master Degree in Organizational Psychology. Frijke is passionate to re-define the meaning of ‘sales’ by implementing a true Sales State of Mind in different organizations.