By Bernard Quancard,
SAMA President & CEO
The core of strategic account management is the strategic customer value process. Most of the time, the value packages a SAM proposes to a customer will involve the contribution of several business units and countries from across the enterprise, which is most often organized by product groups, business units (BUs) and geographies. Here we encounter one of the preeminent challenges of making SAM actually work, namely designing and delivering a value proposition that cuts across all silos of product groups, BUs and geographies. This is what we mean when we talk about internal alignment. (Similar issues can exist at the customer organization, but we’ll keep our focus on internal challenges here.)
SAMA research has shown, time and again, that there are four broad areas that explain the success or failure of a SAM initiative in overcoming the challenges of a siloed, or matrixed, organization. Incredibly, our research shows that as much as 40 percent of a company’s internal alignment success (or lack thereof) can be attributed to skills and competencies of its SAMs.
The other three critical factors responsible for internal alignment success are alignment processes and tools (20%), customer governance (20%) and human resources management systems, especially compensation systems (20%). We’ll start with alignment processes and tools, of which one stands out: the strategic account planning system and its resulting account plan execution.
Alignment processes and tools
For an example of successful account planning and execution, we can look at Johnson Controls, a global technology and industrial company that (among other things) provides products, services and solutions to optimize energy and operational efficiencies of buildings. With one of its strategic accounts, a national industry leader employing 199,000 people across nearly 300 sites, Johnson Controls realized its existing planning system failed to deliver a common vision or strategy to leverage the power of JCI’s entire company. The relationship was plagued by poor communication, a perception of poor delivery, inconsistent pricing across sites and overall poor relationship management. JCI found its solution in designing an effective account planning process, which served as a management tool to allow perfect execution across BUs and countries for the one global customer.
What was the solution to the poor alignment between JCI and its critically important customer? First, JCI established a SAM as a single point of contact with the customer and the key driver of an integrated account management strategy. It became his responsibility to develop an integrated account management plan to further strengthen the customer relationship, drive account growth and improve customer satisfaction. The SAM also became responsible for aligning the JCI account team with client A’s account team and for establishing a common vision and goals to meet the customer’s business objectives. So how did he tackle the job?
Step 1: assemble the team. Step 2: build the account plan. Step 3: organize joint planning sessions with client A.
As part of this planning session, JCI developed four key focus areas for both organizations: mutual value creation; alignment, namely fit between both companies in terms of goals, values and culture; relationships, meaning the degree to which both companies’ teams are able to work in a trust-based environment; and growth, meaning the increase in overall business value and volume, and results from collaboration, mutual innovation and joint planning.
Beyond the joint planning session, JCI organized a showcase visit for core personnel from the strategic account to visit JCI’s corporate offices for a series of discussions and visioning sessions on leveraging the full power of both organizations for future success. The key objectives of the showcase visit included improving the customer’s knowledge of JCI’s key offerings; aligning the two companies’ goals, values and culture; defining improvements in JCI’s support and relationship management; and improving the current buying process, including but not limited to the pricing model that had previously been inconsistent and ad hoc.
The business results were impressive and included improved customer satisfaction, profitable growth, pipeline growth, pipeline growth for new opportunities and improved operations efficiency and standardization. The new account planning system created disciplined alignment and disciplined execution, showcasing to the customer a significant and ongoing level of commitment to joint development processes, leveraging capabilities of both organizations to achieve remarkable outcomes.
Another incredibly powerful alignment system is customer governance, which allows companies to create a tailored “board of directors” to manage a specific strategic customer. This board of directors ideally is composed of the main stakeholders within the siloed organization, such as BU or country executives and corporate executives.
A very powerful business case comes from the Siemens customer governance organization.
For Seimens’ corporate strategic accounts, customers are segmented by industry sectors such as energy, food and beverage, healthcare, automotive and more. Each vertical has a designated market development board (MDB), and these boards have the following decision areas:
- Decide the nomination and cancellation of the corporate strategic accounts
- Approve the appointment of the corporate strategic account managers
- Approve the strategic account business plan
- Approve the project development teams assigned to major projects
- Approve the quarterly established MDB scorecard, budget and resource allocation
- Approve targets for the corporate strategic account managers and foster their training and coaching
When you look at the overall responsibility wielded by the MDBs, you understand that this is a powerful force for aligning the siloed organization and designing and delivering the customer value proposition.
The final puzzle piece of successful internal alignment is human resource management and compensation systems. For years SAMA has been conducting highly rigorous compensation studies for national, strategic and global account managers. Time and again, the coherence between metrics/measurement of the SAMs and the compensation systems in place have been singled out as paramount in ensuring the alignment of the entire account team to customer commitments.
Strategic account management is a medium-term journey, so if the compensation of the SAM is 100 percent short-term focused (i.e., based on quarterly quotas) then we have an incoherence between metrics and compensation. To give another example of misaligned compensation, imagine a SAM managing a global customer with critical team members spread across the globe. If the team members in different geographies are compensated based on their local results, there’s a incoherence with the idea of managing the customer globally. For this reason it is critical that corporate executives and the corporate HR organization design specific compensation systems for strategic account managers that will be coherent, in terms of metrics and measurement, and that will incentivize the behavior and activities they wish to get from the SAM and the account team.
To sum it up, management systems process and organizational design that favors alignment – such as strategic account planning, customer governance entities and thoughtfully conceived compensation systems – are all critical elements for fostering alignment across the enterprise. But the most powerful lever to create the necessary internal alignment needed for SAM remains the leadership competency and skills of the strategic account manager.