By Nicolas Zimmerman, Editor-in-Chief


Ecolab CEO Doug Baker delivered the opening keynote address at SAMA’s 2016 Annual Conference in Chicago, where he spoke about (among other things) how he built a culture that puts the company’s customer at the core of its business. Ecolab is a $14 billion global provider of water, hygiene and energy technologies and services to the food, energy, healthcare, industrial and hospitality markets.

Bernard Quancard: At what level do you position the corporate account manager position within the organization? What is the career path? Are these managers going to stay in the position forever, or would you move them back and forth?

Doug Baker: At Ecolab, our best salespeople aspire to become corporate accounts managers, because they are among the most important sales positions within the company. We seek strong salespeople for our field manager roles as well. A field management position can be a developmental experience for a high-potential employee who is moving up through the organization. In these instances, we are moving them from what I would call functional responsibility and into the commercial side of the business.

The corporate account manager position can be both a career and a development opportunity. We make sure that we are offering the right titles and compensation to allow associates to make corporate accounts a long-term career. We do not want to create a situation where the only way these associates can receive equity pay or earn a spot on the general management team is to leave corporate accounts. So, we have equity pay for our corporate account teams, and the leaders of our big corporate accounts in our largest divisions are on our general management team.

You have to have the compensation and prestige signals right within the company. I do not want to drive all my best salespeople into management roles when it may not best suit them.

BQ: Let’s talk about the data tsunami, you know all this data which is being collected, which is going to present so many opportunities for innovation, like new services. How do you see the training of corporate account people?

I believe there’s going to be a big learning curve for both our corporate account managers and our field associates. However, we’re not going to make corporate account people into data scientists. This data has to be fairly well integrated into what we’re providing, so it’s a closed loop for customers. We must turn data into valuable insight for our associates and our customers, not simply do data dumps. In the restaurant business, we serve more than half a million restaurants around the world. That’s a lot of sites, and it’s a lot of data. How do you make this data helpful? What our customers are telling us is, “Don’t just tell me that I have problems. Tell me how you’re going to help me reduce my risks.”

BQ: Where do you think you are going to get the best talent for corporate account managers? How do you see the talent pool? Where would they come from, the best?

Usually, they come from our field. We hire frontline salespeople. The path is a little different in different businesses, but frontline salespeople often become frontline sales managers and then move into corporate accounts. So they’ve often managed a group before their corporate account responsibility, and they already understand the industry. They’ve served the industry and understand what’s happening at a customer site, how the technology works and how the field interacts. That’s a big component of what they’re selling: knowledge of the customer and knowledge of our technology. And strategic customers are seeking corporate account managers whom they trust and respect, and who bring value to the party. It’s more than having wonderful sales skills; it’s having competency and knowledge, and understanding how the technology can help – and being persuasive. I believe the persuasion helps bring the knowledge to the forefront. It does not replace knowledge.

BQ: Do you request your C-levels to be sponsors for the most strategic customers?

I’d say almost every one. However, you have to be careful not to have a C-level sponsor become the corporate account leader for the team, because it doesn’t work. I was a C-level sponsor, and corporate accounts reported to me directly; I didn’t have it report up through sales. I had the field sales leader and corporate accounts leader both report to me. I knew exactly where we were with accounts, and even made calls to accounts. There were times I’d take them on as a project, because I could help raise the level we were calling on within the customer.

BQ: I think a C-level sponsor can really help in some instances to go higher in the customer organization. So having C-level sponsors for strategic accounts can be a very valuable thing, not all the time, but a couple of times a year.

Occasionally having a C-level leader join a sales call can be a good strategy. But you need to be thoughtful about when it helps and when it doesn’t. [Never] bring them in on a pricing discussion. Sponsors should be used for offense, not when the account manager is playing defense or doesn’t like where he or she is in the negotiation. As a negotiating tactic, it’s common to hear someone say, “I have to see a higher authority on that” to buy time to rethink or retrench. But if the C-level is sitting there, it doesn’t work.

BQ: Do you feel your top human resource people understand very well the role, especially the evolving role, of the corporate account manager at Ecolab?

For the most part, I think they do. It has been a very critical position for a long time. We’ve compiled a lot of industrial-psychological profiles and tried to line up who’s going to be successful in corporate accounts. From these profiles, we’ve selected about 50 people, and, of them, we believe about 25 are stars. So we try to identify and understand the consistent traits. There are some traits that aren’t often discussed, but are foundational; likability is one. Corporate account managers need a certain IQ, and they need the ability to listen and understand, because they’re dealing with very high-level people and they need to structure deals in a way that engenders trust. These traits are not often measured.

BQ: Also: being a good listener. Sometimes the lone wolf, the big hunter at sales, he doesn’t listen. He pushes the project, and the listening really allows you to have the outside-in view, which is so critical to understanding customers in depth.

I agree. And corporate account managers have to be willing to push for change within their own organizations. One thing I’ve learned is if corporate account managers are dealing with customers all the time, they tend to cash in all their “patience chips” with the customer, so when they get inside their own organization, they can be very impatient and not use their sales skills internally. In fact, they can become anti-sales within the organization.

This is something account managers need to understand: getting people to do something within their own organizations often takes very similar skills to those they’re exercising outside their organizations.

BQ: Within your corporate accounts, do you feel the need to tier your customers?

We have different businesses, and some do not tier corporate accounts, while others tier them in different ways, such as “value buyer” or “innovation buyer.” I always am a little fearful that it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, that once customers are labeled as price buyers, we won’t call on them anymore.

Often you just have to say, “If I’m not succeeding here, is it because I do not have the right value proposition, or is it that I’m not presenting it right or not dedicating enough time?” Our account managers show me their top ten accounts, but I want to see the top ten potential accounts in the entire industry. What’s our share there, too? I want the accounts they’re not selling to in front of them every month, staring at them, and account managers understanding what it is they have to do to make this list look different next year or the year after.

BQ: My question regarding tiering maybe doesn’t apply so much in your business as a whole, but if you look at a company like General Electric, they identify some top customers in terms of the fact that they want to innovate.

We do the same. We have marquee accounts that are very important to have because the rest of the industry looks to them, and we manage them a little differently because they demand it. They negotiate harder on innovation, on service, and, frankly, on water and energy savings than they do on price.

BQ: So you manage them a little differently.

They receive more of our resources.

BQ: More resources and maybe different people to manage them?

To some degree, yes. We have teams of seven to eight people, who are 100 percent dedicated full time to large, global accounts. In certain instances, our people have offices in these accounts. To us, these accounts are worth it; it’s a very smart investment.

BQ: And the corporate account manager for that kind of customer, does he or she have a very long tenure, do they stay long in the account?

Often they do; they can become a senior vice president in that position. We want, and can get, people who are really skilled and have the dedication to fulfill financial and, I would say, prestige ambitions, by staying in corporate accounts. We do not want to lose these people by saying, “You can’t be a senior vice president unless you get out of corporate accounts.” It would be self-defeating.

BQ: At Schneider, for those big customers, the role and compensation of the strategic account manager is the same as a country manager.

Ours is the same. If you don’t do this, you’re going to drive them out of corporate accounts and into being a country manager.

BQ: How would you summarize the key facets of your role as the global CEO in influencing the quality of these high-level corporate managers? How do you really influence them?

I believe one facet of my role is to ensure that we maintain our high standards in terms of who we’re putting into these positions. It’s a bit like any club, or even a board; people want to join organizations that have people they respect and admire, and if you start polluting the membership, you start polluting the attractiveness of the role.

But it’s more than that; you need a compensation structure that is consistent, and you have to provide the ability to move up in the organization and other incentives to retain your talent, which to us is very important.

Corporate accounts can be both a great development role for general management and a great career position for those who are inclined to do it. We want to have a corporate accounts path where people can have a career. If I don’t create this kind of environment, I’ve created a challenge.

BQ: Coming back to those customers who are marquee customers, you expect much higher business outcomes with those, don’t you? Like, growth, retention, loyalty, profitability and innovation?

Yes. It’s a bit of a virtuous cycle, right? When you put the resources on it, there’s some inclination between the two organizations to start a relationship, and then you feed it and are rewarded for feeding it. And then you want to feed it more. Some of it depends on the culture of the customer organization; some customers really want to push suppliers into giving them advantage, not just low cost. They really want help, they want to innovate, and we want to help them achieve their goals.




Beating procurement at its own game

By David Chapnick, Michael Kalikow and Liz Rayer

Vantage Partners

The influence, control and sophistication of procurement organizations over their companies’ buying processes have been increasing exponentially for years. Whether companies are selling commodity products, new technologies or highly differentiated professional services, sales professionals consistently report that the rise of Procurement has contributed to making their sales more difficult, time consuming and complex.

As salespeople come to terms with this evolving selling paradigm, they will be forced to address different challenges from Procurement that will only become more common and pronounced with time. We’ll address five of the most common ones.

#1 Procurement as gatekeeper

While end users typically still play a significant role in decision mak- ing, more and more corporate policy now requires end users to go through Procurement to make their purchases. But treating Procurement as “the enemy” will quickly make them your enemy. Better to put yourself in their shoes to help understand what drives them. But how?

· Engage the procurement professionals responsible for the product or service you sell, perhaps as a facilitator or convener in conversations with end users. This will help them fulfill their goal of maintaining a degree of control over the buying process, while simultaneously ensuring that they get to hear firsthand from your end users about the value you provide to their organization.

· Explore ways to help Procurement become trusted advisors to their end users. For example, you could provide them with an overview of what you are seeing in their industry, share with them what you are hearing from their internal customers or tell them about ways you have been a resource to your other accounts.

#2 Selling value when Procurement seems only to care about price

Try to engage in conversations with Procurement, end users and other “coaches” within the organization to better understand what the customer’s procurement organization cares about – both in general and specific to what you are selling. For instance, you might discuss with them:

• What end do they ultimately hope to achieve, and what impact do quality, convenience, features, service or other differentiators play in the organization’s ability to achieve their desired results?

• To whom is Procurement accountable, and what are they being asked to deliver?

• How are they being measured?

• What supply chain risks keep them up at night?

• Are they open to working together to uncover cost savings, to refine pro- cesses and to innovate?

Ultimately, the more you learn about Procurement’s role and what they care about, the easier it will be to frame your solutions, your organization and the data they care about from their perspective – rather than from your perspective or that of your end users.

#3 Negotiating when it feels like Procurement has all the leverage

Salespeople often view negotiation power as a function of who needs the deal most. Since walking away from the deal is rarely a viable option for most salespeople, Procurement is perceived to have the power. In fact, research from Vantage Partners indicates that more than 75 percent of all sales and procurement respondents studied believe that the other side has more leverage during negotiations than they do.

Always think about potential sources of negotiation power you may have overlooked. For example, how long will it take for end users to get up to speed on a different supplier’s technology or get used to working with a different service provider? What risks to their supply chain are posed by a switch that doesn’t work out or moving down the learning curve with a new supplier? Are there costs with a competitor that will lead to increased total cost of ownership that they have not thought through?

#4 Managing Procurement’s reliance on the RFP process

If you have built trust- ing relationships with end users and Procurement alike, then you may at least know a request for proposal is coming. You may even be able to get in front of it and help shape the request by initiating a dialogue with your customer about some appropriate criteria to use when making buying decisions around your product or service, or by sharing market intelligence you have.

By far the best way to frustrate Procurement in a response is by submitting standard or canned information, answering questions that you preferred were asked versus ones that actually were asked, or, even worse, submitting endless, disorganized marketing materials that were not requested. It is critical to consider the actual questions and make sure these are answered directly.  Paying attention to what is being asked will provide valuable intelligence about Procurement’s interests and the key criteria they are using to evaluate proposals, and your responses should be framed accordingly.

#5 Dealing with threats, stalling and other hardball tactics

Procurement often engages in some of the toughest negotiation tactics: threatening to put the business out to bid, insisting on excessive or unreasonable demands, misrepresenting the facts, getting angry or emotional, and even making personal attacks.

The trick in responding to the difficult tactics themselves is, first, to not react. Then, remain firm and constructive. All too often, the supplier simply gives in and makes concessions in order to close the deal. But research from Vantage Partners has shown that making such exceptions can lead to a precipitous drop in average selling prices for all customers over time.

Ultimately, you should not grant a price concession on its face without connecting it to something you are getting in return — or to something they are now not going to get as a result. That might mean re-scoping, chang- ing volumes, extending timelines or decreasing add-on services.


For the foreseeable future, Procurement will continue to expand its role in the buying and negotiation process. Getting into Procurement’s shoes and developing skill in negotiating with them are essential competencies for every account manager working today. Likewise, all sales leaders need to equip their teams with the data, processes, preparation and tools they will need in order to standardize engagement with Procurement and ensure that positive outcomes are not just possible but repeatable.

5 atypical places to find SAM talent

hand writing business success diagram

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.

3. LinkedIn

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.

4. Customers

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.

How to network without becoming a nuisance

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 of signals someone is ready to stop talking to you.

Body language

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.

Time yourself 

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 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?

  1. Executive buy-in. This was the critical success factor. Executives understood the value of the initiative and helped drive it through the entire organization.
  2. Group education and training
  3. Monitoring response rate through good technology
  4. Use of mobile apps for ease of use/monitoring
  5. Access to reports on- and off-line

How did they foster engagement with their customers?

  1. You have to explain that the ultimate product is not insights, it’s action.
  2. The SAM plays an active role — sending out the invitation, follow-up, etc. This lends credibility to the outreach.
  3. The invitation is personalized for the customer according to a template provided to the SAM as part of the launch package.
  4. There is automated timing of a thank you to make sure participants feel appreciated.
  5. 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

  1. 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.
  2. The SAM is expected to play an explicit role here. It’s his or her personally sending out invitations to participate in the surveys.
  3. As part of the launch package, the SAM is given very specific examples (templates) of what communications should look like.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.