1. Spend more time thinking or executing on those higher-value activities with the client
This is where the give-to-get technique comes in. Think through your client needs. What aspects of your expertise are they missing? Where do they need to think about a new way of doing something? Where would they benefit from a new service you offer? What things should they be thinking about in six months that they aren’t thinking about now? With the give-to-get approach, you’re not trying to get married on the first date. Instead, you’re figuring out the next fun date you can go on. This has a much higher chance of acceptance and takes most of the pressure off you and your team. Once you’ve answered these questions, think about this: What two-hour working session could an expert from your company lead for the client – without extra charge – that would accomplish the following three things?
- It’s relatively easy for you to prepare for and conduct the session.
- The client would find it valuable and would be excited about it.
- It would expose the client to the need for further exploration of the concept, thus leading to the next step.
If you do that, you’ll add value and create goodwill. And if the give-to-get idea is strong enough, you’ll elevate your relationships by getting higher-level clients involved with the meeting. For most of our clients’ industries, the give-to-get will lead to what we call a paid selling effort, i.e., a pilot or “test” rollout. The give-to-get concept should be designed to lead to the paid selling effort. And if the pilot goes well, the client will typically want to hire you for the entire additional solution, i.e., whatever your “Big Project” is.
Examples of Great Give-to-Gets:
Great give-to-gets vary by industry and service offering, but here are a few we’ve seen work very effectively:
Monthly new-idea meetings. Setting up monthly meetings geared toward the needs of the client and the ideas you want to expose them to, and including experts from your company, can set up what one of our clients calls “an annuity of goodwill.”
Training on a hot topic. Picking an area of expertise that your client wants to learn about that also creates exposure to new needs you can fulfill can be an awesome give-to-get. Billing the meeting as “training” can let you invite a larger number of people and elevate your relationships to higher levels.
No-cost analysis. Offering a detailed, technical analysis of a new process, service or strategic approach is a great way to help the client better understand what can and can’t be done with a new approach. Those who hold data have power and helping your client understand a complex financial scenario (with your data) can be very beneficial and can get the attention of those above your day-to-day contacts.
Networking. Introducing your client to people they’d like to meet can be a great give-to-get. It’s especially effective when you can introduce a client that is considering one of your service offerings to another client that is a raving fan of that service. Then, the prospective client will learn from the other client’s experiences, and they are likely to jointly talk about their success with the offering. Everyone wins in different ways.
Strategy setting. One of our large healthcare clients is rolling out a no charge strategy-setting process to their benefits department clients. This is especially helpful to the clients because they would typically have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for this process if they hired a major consulting firm. It’s helpful to the healthcare company because they can have a direct relationship with the decision makers and bypass the typical benefits-consultant community. By facilitating the strategy, the healthcare company will learn the needs and direction of their main buyer in a much deeper and more intimate way. This puts them in the driver’s seat to create demand.
Benchmarking. Another great give-to-get is benchmarking. We’ve had several clients collect data across their client base and play that data back to the clients that participated in the process. This activity positions SAMs as expert advisors. Helping the client understand the data can lead to all kinds of interesting discussions and demand-creation.”
SAMA Resource: Bunnell, Mo, A Different Approach to Winning Add-On Business and Retaining Accounts: Helping. Velocity®, Vol. 17, Issue 1, 2015. http://events.strategicaccounts.org/dlpdf/velwin15_feature4.pdf
2. Convey to the customer that there is a lot more opportunity for both of you than just buy-sell transactions.
Both sides have all sorts of different needs, priorities and stakeholders, each with different perspectives and expertise that need to be brought to the table. So the question becomes, how do we as the SAM and the SRM [Supplier Relationship Manager] come together to get the alignment in each of our organizations such that we’re working together more as strategic partners than as a vendor selling stuff to a customer who’s simply making a transactional purchase?
Set up a cadence for account management
What we’ve seen some of the best and most mature SAMs do is figure out a way to set up a cadence for their account management, though contract negotiations might be happening on an annual basis. What they’re doing is performing regular joint business reviews that don’t just look at their own individual supplier performance – i.e., “How well are we doing delivering what we agreed on?” – but look in a multifaceted way at how they’re delivering on the strategic objectives they had for this relationship; how they’re delivering the expected value; and how they’re doing in creating the kind of relationship together that enables the transfer of that value back and forth in an efficient and an effective sort of way.
These mature SAM organizations are demonstrating tremendous value through regular business reviews, and when negotiation time comes, there are no questions about the value they’ve provided. It’s about, “How can we deliver more of it?” And then they use that momentum to drive a level of joint business planning with the account and to jointly find more opportunities for collaborative innovation. Organizing in this way, and creating this sort of cadence activity, makes driving customer-supplier collaboration a systematic process rather than simply ad hoc one-offs.
3. When a sourcing department is acting as a gatekeeper, address the root cause of a customer’s resistance.
Sometimes you run into a procurement organization – and it’s usually a less sophisticated, less enlightened one – that sees its role as that of a gatekeeper. You could try to work around that group, though doing so carries its own risks and, ultimately, that is not the best approach. And realistically, you may indeed have some customers that are just not ready, willing or able to engage in a strategic partnership – at least not right now.
But often, when a SAM perceives that a sourcing department is acting as a gatekeeper, the sourcing people feel they’re guarding against what their supplier is trying to do. They say, “They’re talking about all the value they’re going to deliver, but they’re not willing to be held accountable.” A lot of times, that resistance on the customer side is, at root, a lack of trust between parties. And if that’s the case, you need to address the root cause. If there is initial resistance, it may have more to do with how they’ve felt taken advantage of in the past.
Don’t give up or get defensive. If you are really confident in your value proposition, put your money where your mouth is. Explore with your customer what kinds of KPIs and commercial terms you might jointly define and implement to increase their confidence that you can and will deliver the value that you’re promising.
SAMA Resource: Hughes, Jonathan and Chapnick, David, You Say You Want Collaboration? A Discussion with Vantage Partners of Key Trends in Customer-Supplier Partnerships. Velocity®, Vol. 18, Issue 1, 2016. https://events.strategicaccounts.org/dlpdf/velwin16_feature%205.pdf
Outside of C-level engagement and account selection/deselection, it is probably fair to say that talent management has the biggest impact on the success or failure of a SAM initiative. In the words of SAMA’s President & CEO Bernard Quancard, “Talent is a war.” The difference between a superstar SAM and a run-of-the-mill one is like the difference between an NBA player and that guy who puts up 30 points a game in your Sunday night rec league.
So when it comes to finding those “1 percenter” SAMs — the best of the best – where should you be looking? SAMA research has shown, again and again, that the best SAMs do not necessarily come from the sales organization. A person with the magical combination of listening skills, financial acumen and leadership abilities could be a senior buyer, product manager, plan manager or technical expert. While this is all fine and good, you still have to go out there and actually FIND those people. Here are a few tips on the search for SAM talent in “unusual” places.
1. Boomerang employees
While re-hiring a former employee may have been frowned upon once, in this age of job hopping, companies have started to look more favorably bringing back past top performers. Why? For starters, they’re already familiar with (and presumably attuned to) the company culture. And secondly, their time in another company or even industry has inevitably left them with new experiences, new skills, new contacts and new a fresh point of view.
2. Employee referrals
This should probably be the first thing you do when you’re looking to hire a new SAM. It’s cheaper, and it’s faster and – most importantly by far – more often than not it leads to a better hire. Recruiting SAMs through existing employees also creates “stickiness” – both the referrer and the referral tend to stay at their companies longer than outside hires.
The social media platform allows you to proactively create a larger network than you ever could in real life. You can do a keyword search for key skills and attributes you’re looking for in SAMs, filter by current or past employers and also seek out referrals from among your LinkedIn network. The key is to work on building these relationships, whether virtual or face-to-face, proactively — not just when you have a need to fill. And when you come across someone with great skills and experience, start building the relationship – even if you don’t have a job to fill at the moment.
Since your SAMs function like the CEO of the customer relationship, doesn’t it make sense to ask for your customer’s input when you hire a SAM? In rare cases, your customer might actually recommend someone from the account team, like a functional expert or another key cog. While that might be asking too much, your customer can certainly let you know what specific skills, attributes and working style they value in the person who’s going to serve as their most important liaison with your company.
5. “Meet now, hire later”
We touched on this in point #3, but whenever you run into someone with qualifications you value – at an industry conference, professional development event or the gym – give them a card and start building a relationship…even if you don’t have a job to offer them at the moment. It’ll come in handy when you are looking to bring someone in.
Remember: None of these tips has any value if your organization doesn’t have a very good idea of what you’re looking for in your SAMs. (SAMA can help with that!) But assuming you’ve got that part of the equation sewn up, it will behoove you to spend some of your time hunting for talent in more out-of-the-way places.
For more information on finding and selecting the right SAM talent. Check out our Pan-European conference session #17: Finding and Selecting the Right Talent for Strategic Accounts and register to attend today.
It is challenge enough for a supplier organization to successfully locate and select the best talent to manage strategic, key or global accounts. Hiring or promoting the wrong talent is expensive, can be detrimental to your office environment and is time-consuming. A good SAM placement, on the other hand, elevates your work environment and further promotes the key account management role to the rest of your organization. How do you get on the path to making the right selection? Here are some ideas:
1. Define the strategic account manager (SAM) role within your organization
SAMA’s research shows that, in many firms, the role and purpose of a SAM are misunderstood within the company. If people within your own organization don’t understand the role of the SAM, that’s a huge impediment in searching and attracting the right talent.
2. Legitimize, standardize and publicize the SAM role
Once the profession of the SAM is defined and standardized for your organization, HR will have an easier time distinguishing SAM from general sales and selecting the best talent available. A standardized job description will embolden HR to better use their capabilities and tools in developing or recruiting the best SAMs, including aligning performance and promotion policies and developing and managing a long-term career funnel program for SAMs and potential SAMs.
3. Categorize job profiles
Different types of SAMs have different levels of job scope, complexity and accountability. Aim for accuracy and consistency or, even more strategically, assign job profiles to specific customer segments.
4. Get more people involved in recruitment and selection
On average, three to four stakeholders are involved in the recruiting and selection of new SAMs. But this may not be enough to identify the best candidates, either internally or externally. Directly involving certain key stakeholders outside of the core group, from the start, could produce more sources for candidate referrals as well as more inputs into candidate screenings, evaluations and recommendations.
5. Formalize internal processes for sourcing and selecting SAM talent
Relying too heavily on informal evaluation methods raises the risk for inconsistent decision-making. Incorporating a formal SAM competency model and assessment can remove bias from the process and improve both the hiring process and the quality of the hire.
6. Consider screening for desired personality traits and softer skills
SAM competencies extend far beyond hard skills to include such skills as strategic thinking, interpersonal relationship skills and communication/influence skills — skills identified in our research as being the most difficult to teach or train. Prior to a complete evaluation, consider making SAM-specific personality traits/attributes the top qualifier when screening SAM candidates.
Without the right people serving in the SAM role, it won’t matter how good your products or service offerings are. And if you aren’t following these six steps, you’re making it that much harder to find the right people for the job.
For more information about selecting and nurturing the right SAM talent, make sure you attend SAMA’s Pan-European (3/9-10, Prague) or Annual Conference (5/23-25, Maryland) where we offer sessions specifically for the SAM Training & Development professional.
We’ve all been there. You’re at a conference or industry event, making connections like the seasoned pro you are, and someone just won’t take the hint and leave your side. Let’s face it: At one time or another in your life, it’s been YOU who’s the person unable to take the hint and move along. For the good of humanity, here’s quick list (adapted from Dorie Clark, writing at HBR.org) of signals someone is ready to stop talking to you.
If your interlocutor keeps glancing at her watch, she probably wants to wrap things up. If her responses become dramatically shorter, she’s probably ready to move on from you. And check out her feet: If they’re positioned away from you, she’s likely looking to bolt.
When people are nervous, they ramble. And since studies show that people struggle to know how long they’ve been speaking, it’s important to practice. Learn what it feels like to talk for 30 seconds or a minute. Early in a networking conversation, before you know it’s going well, try never to speak for longer than a minute at a time.
Let them do most of the talking
Don’t just ask questions, but ask open-ended questions. Rather than ask, “How long have you worked at _____ ?” ask “How did you become passionate about [your line of work]?” Early on, strive for a 70/30 or 60/40 split for their speaking time versus yours.
Be more interesting
Easy, right? If you’re networking, you know you’re going to get variations of tried-and-true small talk questions like, “What have you been working on lately?” or “What’s new with you?” You can’t afford to wing these! If you give boring, canned answers to these “gimmes,” it isn’t going to make people want to go deeper. Practice giving answers that spark intrigue – or at least more in-depth questioning. Whatever y
If you’re nervous, it can cloud your energy. Use these tips to avoid being “that guy.”
Ready to put your network skills to use? Join us at a SAMA 2017 Conference in March or May.
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.
By Brad Linville, Walker
When people think of getting customer feedback, they’re almost always thinking of surveys. That’s a big part of information gathering, but it’s just one of six components that make up a successful customer insights initiative. On top of merely collecting feedback, it needs to be (1) tied to relevance and strategy, (2) it has to be well resourced, (3) the feedback needs to be communicated both internally and externally, (4) there has to be validation and confirmation of the feedback, (5) and then it has to drive action throughout the company.
Five common mistakes companies make with their customer-feedback initiatives:
Mistake #1. Not talking to the right people. Common reasons include inconsistent, fragmented systems and technologies. Sometimes different people are collecting feedback, but they’re using different systems, and the systems don’t talk to each other. Sometimes companies get only the information that’s easiest to get and don’t go deep or wide enough. It’s so critical to talk to THE RIGHT people at the account. Make sure you have a strong, high-quality list of who you want to talk to and how you’re going to access them. Try to go wide. And if you don’t get it right the first time, drill down and go broader and deeper.
Mistake #2. Not collecting the right information to obtain relevant insights. What are you asking? If you’re not getting relevant insights, maybe you need to refresh, talk to experts across functions to know if you’re surveying the right things. For relevant insights, you need to make sure the right information is being collected.
Mistake #3. Insights are never delivered. This isn’t just about “gathering” insights. It’s also about communication, planning and dissemination. You can’t just put together a great customer-listening technology; if you’re not leveraging it and no one inside your company knows about it, it won’t be effective. The key is to put the relevant information where people are already going (e.g., Salesforce, your existing CRM, etc.)
Mistake #4. Insights don’t make sense. If account teams are getting insights back that don’t resonate, that can abort the whole process. You have to ensure your design is robust enough that you’re hearing from the right people, because if the feedback doesn’t match what people are hearing on the ground and in person, it won’t be acted on. Customer feedback has to be both relevant and representative of authentic customer opinions.
Mistake #5. Insights don’t promote action. Method and collection are important, but action is the ultimate goal. At Walker, we have a hierarchy of engagement. First: Strategic account teams need to be aware that information exists. Second: They have to understand it. (You need to have a communication plan tailored for delivery to and consumption by account teams.) Third: The strategic account team must be able to validate and confirm the information. Is it believable? Does the feedback resonate? Only if these three factors are in place will account team members engage in action. So how do we recommend you drive action? Through consistent, global workshops; frameworks and quarterly business reviews (QBRs) focused on creating and maintaining value; and through consistent communication.
Case study #1: A telecom manufacturing firm
This company’s business model relies on a large amount of revenue coming from a small number of accounts, so the challenge is to talk DEEP to each account (including at the executive level) and utilize feedback in a very intimate way to leverage insights and create value.
The goal: to use feedback to be better prepared for QBRs and to engage in meaningful, data-driven conversations. Also to gain insights that can be turned into action.
The plan: engage in a series of conversations at all levels of the customer company, with different goals for each type of conversation. The company focused on acquiring operational feedback from the engineers. Moving up the pyramid, they engaged with middle and senior managers on topics like functional alignment, relationship health, etc., to better understand the broad interactions across the whole of the supplier-customer relationship. And at the top of the pyramid, they engineered annual, in-person interviews between their top executives and their counterparts at the customer.
The result, at just one strategic account: After overcoming initial reluctance through commitment to the process (especially the executive-level process), they achieved buy-in from their customer. After seeing the actions generated by the feedback process, it ignited a new level of intimacy across the relationship, resulting in greater partnership (especially at the top). As a result, the two companies successfully weathered a major acquisition, and the supplier won a new program valued at more than $100 million and is expecting 200 percent revenue growth in the next 6 to 12 months.
Case study #2: A global packaging firm who is the dominant player in its industry
This firm’s challenge wasn’t that they needed to go deep but that they needed to go broad. So they wanted a process that was consistent, easy and efficient for their account teams to reproduce across the business.
To kick off the customer-listening program, they sent out to all account teams company-wide a launch package that talked about the purpose of the initiative and offered practical advice on contacting customers for feedback, sending reminders, thanking them after the fact, etc.
The challenge: Who are the right people to talk to? How do you make sure you’re getting both decision makers’ and users’ feedback? Ultimately, they identified their targets by both function type (decision maker vs. end user) and job title, to ensure a broad representation inside the customer.
How did they foster engagement inside their own organization?
- Executive buy-in. This was the critical success factor. Executives understood the value of the initiative and helped drive it through the entire organization.
- Group education and training
- Monitoring response rate through good technology
- Use of mobile apps for ease of use/monitoring
- Access to reports on- and off-line
How did they foster engagement with their customers?
- You have to explain that the ultimate product is not insights, it’s action.
- The SAM plays an active role — sending out the invitation, follow-up, etc. This lends credibility to the outreach.
- The invitation is personalized for the customer according to a template provided to the SAM as part of the launch package.
- There is automated timing of a thank you to make sure participants feel appreciated.
- Six weeks after the survey, the SAM is required to report back to the customer an action plan born from the feedback.
Actions to engage customers
- You need everyone to understand the benefit, i.e., “the why.” From the outset, you need to stress that you’re not just collecting information. The end result is action.
- The SAM is expected to play an explicit role here. It’s his or her personally sending out invitations to participate in the surveys.
- As part of the launch package, the SAM is given very specific examples (templates) of what communications should look like.
- There is an automated thank you for when a participant completes a survey. It may sound like a small thing, but it lets them know it’s appreciated.
- It’s critical to let the customer know what’s being done with the information collected. Within six weeks of completion of the survey, the SAM is expected to communicate a plan back to the customer.
Trends to embrace
- The “Amazon” effect. Since we’re all consumers, our B2C customer experiences inform our expectations in our work lives. This has three main pillars:
- Personalization. Customers have more information than they’ve ever had, and so they expect their strategic suppliers to know their needs and buying behaviors in advance, and to track them. That means leveraging customer relationship management (CRM) systems to track problems, preferences, general intimacies and more.
- Proactivity. Customers don’t want you to wait for a problem to arise to solve it; they want you to tell them about the problem before it happens. It’s the idea of support vs. alerts.
- Seamlessness. Traditionally, offline vs. online presence is disjointed; same goes for selling activities vs. service activities. Increasingly, customers expect a comparable experience regardless of whether it’s online or offline, service- or sales-related.
- Going beyond surveys. The traditional pulse check and executive-to-executive relationship check are great. But you increasingly will need to go beyond those to get a deeper, fuller perspective on the relationship. Social media, customer advisory boards, ethnographic research and more will become critical to better understanding your customers.
- Journey mapping. This is a qualitative technique we use to gain a better understanding of the end-to-end customer experience. It’s a great way to set the foundation for what matters most (the relationship “moments of truth”), identify strengths and pinpoint weaknesses and areas for improvement.