The four pillars of work a SAM must execute on to be successful

By Jerry Alderman



The world of strategic or key account management (SAM/KAM) is the growth area of sales, which makes sense given how technology is overtaking so much of the transactional sales space. With customers no longer in need of someone to educate them on products or services, they need salespeople who can step beyond the information available online by delivering real insights that help them solve real problems. Welcome to SAM.

SAM is new to many companies. In others, it is transforming from relationship management to becoming a true problem-solving resource. During this time of transformation there is no better resource than SAMA (Strategic Account Management Association). They have been at the center of the universe for all things related to SAM research, learning and networking for more than 50 years….before SAM was cool!

Over that time, SAMA has benchmarked hundreds of B2B companies to identify what the best SAMs do differently. Keep in mind: I’m not talking about all the critical SAM program elements like executive sponsorship, account selection, compensation and the like. I am talking about the actual nuts-and-bolts work that a SAM must do with his or her internal and customer teams to be successful.

Too often, I think SAMs and their managers can lose sight of the actual work that needs to take place in order to make a SAM successful. These are the “Tier One” work activities absolutely indispensable to doing the job right. Without mastering these, no SAM can successfully drive growth with and for their strategic customers.

The Four Pillars of Work a SAM Must Execute To Be Successful

  1. Developing account plans
  2. Working with customers on account plan development
  3. Implementing account plans
  4. Creating value solutions for key customers



Seems straightforward, right? It isn’t! I have had the privilege of facilitating workshops for SAMA’s SAMA Academy training curriculum as well as founding a company that builds software tools to enable SAM. Through this work, I’ve interacted with thousands of SAMs and reviewed more versions of account planning than I can remember. I’ve witnessed account planning tools that either don’t work the way they’re supposed to or don’t adequately encompass the real-life work of a SAM.

So let’s focus on each of the four pillars and what they actually mean. 

#1: Developing account plans. That there needs to be an account plan is something, I think, every SAM I’ve ever met understands. The danger here is that the account plan becomes far more geared towards management than for the SAM. With SAM, it not about how many leads go into the top of the funnel and how many deals come out the bottom, but rather about how many customer challenges go into the top and how many solutions come out the bottom.

I think we could learn something from the general idea of a “sales process,” insofar as the work of a SAM is an ongoing process — not a static plan. Someday the overwhelming catch-all vernacular of the “account plan” will morph into “account process,” but not today.

#2: Working with customers on account plan development. There is not a SAM out there who does not talk to his or her customer; they all do. But the talking IS the problem insofar as too many SAMs are talking when they should be listening and understanding. This listening mindset is hard to achieve.

In the SAMA Academy workshop my company facilitates with Adrian Davis (of Whetstone), we talk about becoming a part of the customers so-called tribe. The point here is that if you are not aligned with and helping with your customer’s objectives and challenges, then you are not part of their tribe. And when the chips are down, the Tribe will band together and you’ll be kicked aside. Needless to say, this is not where you want to be as a SAM.  I think a test here is one of transparency. Do you openly share your plan with your customer, and does the plan reflect that you are part of their tribe?

#3: Implementing account plans. This is where the wheels start to come off. Ideally, the SAM should be able to tell anyone who asks, “This year we tackled 10 significant customer challenges, completed six, two are underway, and the other two are still being considered or canceled.” That is the mark of good activity tracking. The next level would include quantified customer results, such as, These solved challenges yielded $1 million of customer benefit. And after that, the efforts helped us to increase our share in Product X yielding Y revenue and Z profit.” Come time for the next customer negotiation, the SAM would bring several years of this data to the table. And when that time comes when the SAM’s CEO or BU president questions the need for an expensive sales resource, the answer is right there in the implementation data.

#4: Creating value solutions for key customers. This point is somewhat like #2 except deeper, more active and game changing. In our SAMA course, we use “The Hero’s Journey” to make this point. The Hero’s Journey is a framework for the path that all good adventures follow, the same one that George Lucas uses to tell the Star Wars stories. In The Hero’s Journey the customer is the hero. Point one is to get the SAM to realize that he or she is not the hero of the story. The customer is. In this scenario, the role of the SAM is to be the helper/mentor who brings the special weapon that allows the customer/hero to overcome great obstacles and move on to transformation and success. To extend the Star Wars example, the SAM isn’t Luke Skywalker. The customer is. The SAM here stars as Obi Won or Yoda. On this point the SAM or his coach needs to look at the customer plan and ask whether they are really working to bring the customer that secret weapon they need to become the hero.

The primary questions a SAM needs to be able to answer, rendered in my shorthand are:

  • Do I understand the customer’s challenges? If I shared them with the customer right now, would they agree?
  • Do I have ideas on how I might solve those challenges? Some of those ideas might be somewhat tactical, as that’s getting me into the customer tribe. Hopefully some of my ideas approach the “special weapons” category. Is there rigor put into describing, quantifying and prioritizing these ideas?
  • Am I clear with my customer and internally on which ideas we are executing?  And, just as importantly, on those we are not? Is there commitment on both sides to execute?
  • And finally, do I have an account plan that embodies these critical points? Does it help me stay on track with my work of understanding challenges, generating ideas and executing?

If your SAMs have the discipline, mindset and capability to use these four questions as a guide, then they will be successful in advancing the business for both you and your customer. Once again, this work is about putting customer challenges into the top of the funnel and getting solutions to come out the bottom.

A Couple Points of Common Confusion…

#1: SAM is not the same as BIG DEAL manager

Unfortunately, there is a class of SAMs out there whose companies treat them as BIG DEAL managers. I’m not saying having someone manage big deals is not important. It is. But it is not the core work of a SAM. Big deals arise from the work of SAM outlined above, but the SAM role should not revolve around managing the big deal.

#2: Account Plans That Don’t Reflect a SAMs Job

There is also a contingent out there who believes that a SAMs job is significantly defined by their ability to produce: relationship maps, SWOT analysis, product penetration, customer profitability, competitive analysis, meeting dates, tasks, deals, contracts, crazy scores, etc. Sure all of these concepts are important and certainly are part of a plan. But they are also mostly internal and significantly secondary to the four work activities you want a SAM to tackle with their customers first thing in the morning.

So a word of advice: Be excellent on the four work activities that lead to success and be good enough on all of these other points that can choke a good SAM. On the other hand, don’t be fooled by a SAM who is amazing at filling in 60 pages of boxes but struggles to work with a live customer to solve real business problems. 

Jerry Alderman is the co-founder and CEO of Valkre, a cloud software developer that builds SAM/KAM enabling systems to help companies compete on value. If you like what you’ve just read, consider attending CORE 0, a foundational course for strategic account managers at an upcoming SAMA Academy training event. You can see the full schedule, course descriptions and more here

International sales: Getting to know your customer through the lens of culture

By Ray Cavanagh

Global Accounts Senior Program Manager, Kronos

Jesse Rowell

Managing Director of Global Mobility and Market Development, Aperian Global

Some research has shown that the majority of buyers prefer to interact with suppliers through virtual means – primarily email and some type of voice call. And though the handshake is not dead (roughly a quarter of respondents included it among their preferences), buyers overwhelmingly prefer being contacted by email and phone. These results demonstrate the importance of making sure what is “said” in writing or voicemail is well thought out and articulated clearly.

Being thoughtful and clear in every virtual setting can be a challenge even in our most comfortable work settings. But imagine the added complexity when working with people from other cultures and countries.

In this day and age, cultural diversity is all around us. Our personal and professional environments have dramatically shifted. Many employees work virtually now, adding to already diversified workplaces, and if you are a sales executive who has customers with global operations and workforces, you are constantly engaging in a global setting. Furthermore, the world is a melting pot of cultures, and chances are you meet people from other countries all the time. For example, that doctor at the walk-in clinic you visited last week, where is she from? The person next to you on the flight home, what is his background? The point is this: We live in an age where there is more global exposure and perspective than ever, and it infuses all aspects of our lives.

How one conducts business can also be vastly different from country to country and from culture to culture. If you are in a role that is selling and managing client relationships, you will increasingly find yourself working with people from different cultures. One does not need to be a global business traveler to have frequent cross-cultural interactions. Thus, any heightened awareness of your customer’s working style can only benefit you.

Let’s say for example that you work domestically in the U.S. and that you never travel abroad for business, and, in fact, do all of your work virtually. But you have just been introduced to your new contact at ACME Pharmaceuticals. You learn she lives in New Jersey, but she is from France and is on a long-term assignment in the U.S. What assumptions might you make about her that would influence how you communicate and build a selling relationship? Well, without knowing her personal working style, if she’s told you she’s from France and this is her first time in the U.S. for work, you can generally assume a few things that are likely true of her personal working style. The GlobeSmart Profile Cultural Work Style Inventory graph below shows a work style comparison between a typical U.S. American-born worker and a French one.

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What do you notice right away? The typical U.S. American and French worker cultures are pretty similar in how they communicate – both typically pretty direct. But the other cultural dimensions have some fairly  large gaps. And though you may not know your new contact’s personal profile, you can assume that she shares more traits with her own culture than with yours.
Looking at the Risk vs. Certainty dimension, what might this gap mean in terms of your expectation of a sales cycle? People from France tend to be more risk-averse than U.S. Americans, so you may need to alter a few things in your typical approach when corresponding with her. For example, you come to learn how people from France take assess risks and realize that the following may impact the budget and buy-in needed to agree to your proposal:

• The amount of background research and data needed in order to agree to a project

• The degree of consensus-building required before making a final decision

• The value placed on efficiency and speed vs. security and stability

Knowing this, you might state upfront that you do not wish her to consider your proposal until she and her team have everything they need to carefully review it. You might also tailor your communication to be a bit more formal and take more time getting to know her before asking for a commitment. These subtle changes just may convince her that you understand her position better than most (certainly better than most American vendors with whom she has spoken). With your credibility enhanced, the account and business has a better chance to thrive.

We refer to this as style switching. It is also a way to know your customer through the lens of culture. One definition of style switching  is adapting your style to that of your audience to achieve your desired results. Seems simple, right? But how do you do this when you are faced with multiple cultures? Can you even determine what culture an individual represents? Perhaps they are of Asian heritage but were born and raised in Europe. How do you determine what cultural perspective that individual has? The most effective method is to get them to open up about their background and work journey simply by asking probing questions. When working in virtual environments with electronic communication, it is more important than ever to do research on your audience.

Given all of the challenges we have outlined in identifying a person’s style, much less that of an audience, it is even more daunting in our ever-changing world of electronic communication. As noted earlier, technology continues to transform the workplace, and there is increasing attention paid to how we leverage that technology in our work. Because the use of online collaboration tools has substantially reduced direct, face-to-face contact, understanding someone’s cultural orientation is now more challenging than ever.

The good news is that social media can often help fill in the blanks. You can learn a lot about a person’s personal and professional background via social media, such as LinkedIn. This alone can help you make basic some assumptions, and therefore adjustments, in your sales approach. An effective way to gauge the style of an audience is to ask in advance for a list of attendees, and their titles and roles. With even  this little additional knowledge, you can find ideas and strategies to adjust your style to build rapport and influence more effectively.

But, you ask, what if I make a wrong assumption? It can certainly happen, and we’ll share a recent example: AU.S. account manager was asked to virtually present a “best and final” proposal for a global workforce management solution to the Japanese office of a major U.S. company. The account manager had done all of his homework around local labor laws, regulations, work policies and more. He knew the solution would have to adhere to things like the Japanese Labor Union Act, but what he didn’t know about was the attendees.

The attendees in Japan were all Japanese, and the account manager could not find any social media/online background to provide additional context about them. Therefore, applying some cultural awareness strategy, he prepared the presentation and all email correspondence with a formal, Japanese orientation (for example, addressing the clients by their last names plus the suffix -san (e.g., Sakurai-san).

Then the virtual meeting happened. Right away during introductions, the Japanese spoke with U.S. American accents and said first names would be OK.

The account manager assumed a more traditional Japanese meeting, but the audience presented themselves with a Western orientation. It turned out that each Japanese attendee had spent significant time in the U.S. and was very adept at style switching for Americans. But the account manager had gained their respect by preparing to meet them according to their local customs. The presentation went smoothly, and the account manager won the business.

The lesson: Once you know the predominant style of the audience with whom you’re working, adapting to that style will go a long way to disarming your audience. Another example is that, in the U.S., it is typical to start a meeting with a humorous anecdote, but in certain cultures in Asia, this could be considered inappropriate and cause a person to lose credibility. To this Asian audience, starting a meeting by apologizing may be a way to show humility and ingratiate oneself. We recently heard of a consultant from the U.S. who had vast experience in intercultural training, who addressed a Japanese-American audience by discussing the difference between the two cultures and then apologizing for not telling a joke, thereby covering both cultural examples in the same breath.

All of these examples show that cultural sensitivity and awareness is crucial in doing business. All of us are unique and exhibit some evidence of cultural orientation. The key to success is identifying that and adapting to make your customers and colleagues feel comfortable doing business with you.

Of course, style switching requires you to understand your own style first. People develop their personal style in a number of ways. Orientation begins in a person’s earliest years but is subject to change, so assumptions can lead to misinterpretation. The important thing is to approach our work with a global mindset, which starts first with self-awareness. After all, how can you effectively style switch if you don’t know your own style to begin with? Or how you are perceived by others?

Fortunately, there are myriad tools available to help you determine your work style. Are you a very direct person? Do you work best independently or in a group? Are you analytical? Confrontational? Determined? Amiable? All of these play into your style. The trick is to understand it and modify your approach to adapt to that of your audience. Once you have determined your working profile and style, you can begin to adjust to your audience, and the good news is the more you practice it the easier it becomes. As your own cultural agility improves, so will your success in working with global clients and colleagues.

Ray Cavanagh is currently the Global Accounts senior program manager at Kronos. Jesse Rowell is the Managing Director of Global Mobility and Market Development at Aperian Global. 

How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

By Jennifer Stanley


McKinsey & Co.

B2B sales leaders who use digital effectively enjoy five times the growth rate of their peers who don’t. But a recent McKinsey & Company survey of B2B customers highlights a more nuanced reality. What customers want are great digital interactions and the human touch, depending on what they’re trying to do.

Companies that respond to customer preferences and add the human touch to digital sales consistently outperform their peers. They capture five times more revenue, eight times more operating profit and, for public companies, twice the return to shareholders. This data holds true over a four- to five-year period.

Many sales organizations, however, have trouble putting this human-digital program into practice. The truth is that there are no tried-and-true methods, though technology lies at the heart of customer interaction models to power or inform either the digital or human interaction. Companies need to create the human-digital blend that is most appropriate for their business and their customers. This should not be a random process of trial-and-error testing. What is needed is a systematic way to evaluate the optimal human-digital balance.

This human-digital balance is thrown into particular relief when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), which is having an impact not only on the broader selling profession but also on strategic account management (SAM). Take, for example, the case of “Andy,” a bot introduced recently by a company to help identify, contact and set up appointments for SAMs at their customers. These appointments were in customer business units that had been either unserved or underserved and that displayed decentralized, regionalized buying behaviors.

Andy’s key capability is her ability to rapidly learn what kinds of outreach and communications are working and to instantaneously adapt her methods to suit. After just a few months, new leads were up 50 percent compared to the year before, while new costs for obtaining those leads were down.

Bots are already managing relatively mundane tasks like this at many companies, but could a bot like Andy manage an end-to-end sale for something like a transactional good to a small- or medium-sized business? Researchers at McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) have studied more than 2,000 discrete human activities across 800 professions, in 50 different countries, to assess the degree of “automatability” of activities in those professions. In some cases it was 100 percent; in others, it was zero. For management professionals, like SAMs, it was around 30 percent.

Comparing skills that are most crucial for the SAM role — things like managing teams, co-creating value with a customer, managing stakeholder interactions and others — with other types of activities that we don’t traditionally think of as part of the SAM role, the three most essential SAM tasks are only marginally automatable.

JS figure 1.PNG

Figure 1. The degree of automatability of tasks by bot (left side) and by humans (right side).

But do customers want to interact with machines?  The answer depends on context, as figure 2 shows. Figure 2 shows the research on how customers buy. The answer: It depends on the context.


When working with a new supplier or vetting a new offer from an existing supplier, 75 percent of customers say they want to deal with an actual human being. As customers move into the evaluation and active-consideration stages, digital tools that provide information, such as comparison tools or online configurators, come into their own, especially when combined with a highly skilled salesforce. When it’s time to renew or update standard terms and conditions, the equation flips, with 85 percent saying they prefer a fully digitized interaction.

In essence, buyers are saying that when co-creating something new and different with a strategic supplier, they’re all for engaging with the SAM. Yet most B2B companies still reward reps more for spending time keeping customers loyal and repurchasing than for uncovering new customer needs or driving demand, which is exactly where customers say they want face-to-face expertise.

So there remains a time and a place for intimate, significant human interaction, and there is a time and a place for bot interaction. The trick is to understand which is which and to adapt the strategic account management approach accordingly.

In particular, there are five areas where humans are needed and can do a better job than AI-empowered machines:

#1: Managing exceptions to standard protocol. Advanced analytics and machines get it wrong a lot of the time, and sometimes you need a human being to actually make the call. A materials company during the height of the economic downturn faced a situation where one of its strategic accounts was experiencing a credit crunch. By any kind of financial or data-driven standard, this supplier should not have extended additional credit to this customer. Now, what a machine couldn’t know is that this was a family-owned business and that the father was getting ready to retire. One son had been tapped to take over the company, while another brother worked at a key competitor that also happened to be one of this supplier’s strategic accounts.

So while the decision not to extend credit may have been “obvious” based on the data, the head of strategic accounts, who was familiar with the situation, worked with the father to find a solution. In the end, the father was happy, which made both sons happy — and which kept both strategic accounts in play.

#2: Using judgment in situations of ambiguity. When data is new and unlike anything that a machine has seen, the machine won’t know what to do with it.  That’s where managers come in.

A company may be in an industry experiencing substantial mergers and acquisitions or business closures. In a merger situation, it is highly likely that the customer having the more advantageous terms with a supplier will ask for those same terms for the other account.  It takes human judgment to plow through those terms and conditions and to make tradeoffs based on the role the strategic account(s) plays in an overall portfolio.

#3: Shaping strategy. Humans still must shape the overall commercial strategy in light of their growth goals — even if machines take over part of the work, like analyzing buyer trends, determining new sources of growth or predicting whether accounts are at risk of full or partial churn.

#4: Nurturing a complex ecosystem of relationships. Because today’s customer-supplier ecosystem is so complex, with interconnected webs of relationships including those forged digitally, it requires even more thought to select the most appropriate people to invite into the ecosystem and then to manage the content shared with them. SAMs need to determine not only who is in the network but also on whom to focus at different times and in different situations with the customer. This requires SAMs to know who are the most influential decision makers within an account and to build this knowledge into their account plans. While there are tools today that can illustrate the breadth and depth of relationships based on social media presence and suggest who are the influencers, such machine-based data still cannot replace you knowing your customer deeply –- who is on the way up, who is on the way out and who you will need in your corner. When we rely too much on the data to tell us how our customers are likely to behave and not enough on our own intuition and personal knowledge, that’s when SAMs can run into trouble.

#5: Focusing the power of advanced analytics. SAMs should embrace advanced analytics for their ability to help us to have more, and more productive, value-creating conversations with strategic customers. This is the area where AI can make our jobs not only a lot easier but also a lot more fun.

This means taking the data for what it is but then testing and retesting it. If the data suggests ways to generate additional volume, grow revenue, cut costs — whatever the outcome is that you’re looking for with your strategic account — you can pilot, you can test and you can learn.  But you still need to use good business judgment.  For example, experimenting with next-product/service-to-buy algorithms can support cross-sell activities, but if it’s not a good time to have the conversation with the customer, those activities need to wait.

To stay ahead, there are two areas where SAMs need to raise the bar in terms of using advanced analytics to help deliver on customers’ needs:

#1: Know your products, services and data offers much more intimately than you do today. Customers today have access to a wealth of information about your offerings via digital platforms and their own personal networks; if they are going to have an actual conversation with a SAM, they expect a deeper level of insight and expertise than what they can find online.

#2: Become an expert advisor. Data is best at suggesting different options, but where humans can provide the most value is in making decisions using that data. SAMs need to get good at making sense of data to make better decisions. For example, there is a global producer of wind turbines that uses AI and big data to guide decisions on where customers should locate their next round of turbines. But even with this data, succeeding with large customers still requires a SAM to have a nuanced, highly informed and consultative conversation with stakeholders whose job it is to decide where to build and place the turbines. While data like barometric pressure, predicted weather forecasts, topography, population demographics and more are critical inputs to those decisions, humans still need to choose whether or not to follow the data in light of other investment considerations.

In the end, the biggest benefit of AI to the SAM profession may be in its ability to make the job more fun. SAMs spend only about 10 percent of their time on creative pursuits, such as brainstorming new offers. With all the time SAMs currently spend making appointments, following up on invoices and putting out fires at the customer, that is time that could instead be spent coaching teams, boosting social and emotional intelligence, and on other high-value activities. This is where the bots can step in and help. SAMs should embrace the bots for what they can do to free up time that can be spent doing more interesting and creative things – like becoming more human with their customers.

Jennifer Stanley will deliver a keynote address at SAMA’s Pan-European Conference 14-15 March 2019 in Amsterdam.

A personal note from SAMA’s new CEO

By Denise Freier

President and CEO


After being at SAMA for a few months as the new CEO, I wanted to reach out and share some early observations and appreciation for your support during my transition. I believe that it is vital for SAMA to continue to find more channels of engagement so that we can make SAMA more essential to you, our SAMA community.

First, I need to share that I am very thankful for my predecessor, Bernard Quancard, and the SAMA staff for where we are today. I’ve also had the pleasure of engaging with many of you, either by phone or in person at a SAMA event. These last few months have been equal parts humbling, challenging and energizing — humbling because our community is made up of so many smart, driven and passionate individuals…challenging because the business world is changing so rapidly, and SAMA has to evolve to keep pace…and energizing because I believe more strongly than ever in SAMA’s potential to positively impact the present AND future of our members.

In all, I’ve had conversations with roughly 75 SAMA stakeholders, including customers, SAMA board members and training partners. Here are a few early observations that I want to share:

  • Many of you consider SAMA a “best-kept secret.” We need to continually evolve our offerings to remain your key business partner, further develop our value proposition, and do a better job of communicating to our members.
  • We want to nurture a wider and richer community to accelerate the discovery of changing trends and proven best practices.
  • We will continue to build our library of original research and thought leadership to make sure you have the latest insights and information you need in order to become (and remain) essential to your strategic customers.
  • We need to stay laser-focused on our on-time execution. That means producing “turnkey” insights, resources and training that you can put to immediate use with your customers.
  • We intend to do more to foster peer-to-peer exchanges with ideas such as micro-communities within the larger SAMA community for more targeted connections. SAMA will work to make it easier for you to connect with peers.

As we move into the next few months, where would YOU like to see us focus our attention? Please feel free to respond to this email, pick up the phone or bend my ear at the next SAMA event.

Thank you again for your commitment to joining our efforts to elevate our unique practice of strategic account management around the world.


Denise Freier joined SAMA in 2018 after more than 40 years of executive and sales leadership at IBM.

In the Press
Velocity profile
Crain’s announcement
Forum Magazine

Digitalization and You: The Future of Work

By Nicolas Zimmerman

SAMA Editor-in-Chief

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2018 report estimates the proportion of total work hours performed by humans will drop by almost 20 percent by 2025, from 71% to 58%. Machines and algorithms, the authors say, will increase their contribution to specific job tasks by an average of 57%.

This will have huge implications for you, your company and the very meaning of work. Below are just a few findings from the report, the rest of which you can (and should) download here.

If you work in strategic accounts, you should actually feel pretty secure about your continued indispensability in a more digital, computer-driven world. In Table 4 below, which highlights the skills that are likely to become more and less relevant by 2022, the “in demand” skills (e.g., analytical thinking, complex problem solving, leadership and social influence) include many of the character traits found most often in top-performing SAMs.

For a deeper look at how the forces of digitalization will reshape the SAM job, see this excellent post from University of Auckland professor Kaj Storbacka and SAMA’s former senior knowledge content developer Elisabeth Cornell.

Fostering Ecosystem Co-Creation Around Digitally Enabled Innovations

This post is adapted from an article of the same name scheduled to appear in the Fall issue of Velocity. The post, and the article on which it is based, describe the business case at the center of Arcadis’s 2018 SAMA Excellence Award™ for “Outstanding use of data and digitally based processes to impact co-creation.”

By Carmel Woods

Global Internal Communications and Engagement Manager


Digitalization is transforming the markets in which Arcadis operates, creating uncertainty and opportunity for our clients as well as the account teams assigned to them. Our corporate strategy, released in 2017, reinforces our commitment to becoming the leading digital business in our industry. To get there, we have implemented a number of initiatives enabling our account and delivery teams to help our clients capitalize on new digital technologies. These include:

  • Creating a market-focused “pivot program” designed to ensure early identification of future market challenges for our customers, enabling us to help lead them through those challenges
  • Investing in primary research capabilities, such as our Industrial Capex survey, which allow us to unlock large data pools. Using these capabilities, we are able to more successfully challenge the way our customers make key asset investment decisions and respond to the uncertainty caused by digital transformation.
  • Using technology like Building Information Modeling (BIM) and a new global strategy alliance with Autodesk, we are helping clients better understand their built assets and enhance asset performance.
  • Training all senior account, solution and delivery leaders through the Vlerick Business School Executive Program, an interactive three-day course facilitated by a digital transformation expert, Dr. Stijn Viaene
  • Developing sector and account planning workshops that support focus and lateral thinking on digital opportunity
  • A flagship Deep Orange™ design-thinking sprint process, in which we submerse our clients in an intense design sprint around a specific problem statement while connecting them with specialists and other organizations from our digital ecosystem, leading to accelerated development of digitally enabled solutions

Deep Orange in action: Addressing an airport terminal capacity problem

Experience has taught us that co-creation is key to digital success. Recognizing this, in 2017 Arcadis introduced Deep Orange™, our flagship program designed to help clients navigate, solve and optimize digital uncertainties and opportunities in a sprint environment. Based on a four-day co-creation sprint, Deep Orange applies a human-centered, prototype-driven process for innovation to products, services and business design.

Deep Orange follows a three-stage approach based on key success principles, bringing together account teams, technical experts, digital disruptors, facilitators and, of course, customers.

For one of our Big Urban Cities (BUC) key clients, we deployed Deep Orange to engage a broader coalition of ecosystem partners, ultimately delivering immense value to our client by improving passenger experience, increasing sales from retail outlets in the airport and enhancing passenger safety through capturing and using data to solve complex challenges.  

Our client, an airport operator, is seeing unprecedented growth in passenger traffic.  To meet demand, they are investing heavily in the transformation of the airport by allocating more than 1 billion euros to deliver a new and extended passenger terminal. Until the new terminal is operational, our client’s existing terminals are struggling to meet demand. One terminal in particular is consistently operating above the capacity it was designed to comfortably accommodate, and passenger satisfaction has declined markedly.

Thinking laterally, our client hypothesized that, through technology and big data analytics, it would be possible to more efficiently operate the terminal and better manage the passenger journey, leading to better overall customer satisfaction. Unfortunately, the data on which to build a solution did not exist, so our joint effort to solve congestion and improve passenger satisfaction would need to generate its own data.

Taking up the challenge,  we set out to build a digital prototype to  capture the data needed to fix terminal congestion and monitor occupancy, allowing us to give passengers access to congestion “heat maps” that would both ease pinch points and put control into passengers’ hands.

We identified and selected  ecosystem partners and Arcadis subject matter experts to form a multidisciplinary team qualified to address  the challenge. Team members included relationship-holders, aviation experts from Arcadis, data analytics and insights specialists from Accenture, and back- and front-end designers from IBM.

In outline, the four-day sprint unfolded like this:

  • Day 1: Defining the problem
  • Day 2: Incorporating convergent and divergent ideas, building a storyboard
  • Day 3: Using the storyboard to create an actual prototype solution
  • Day 4: Testing and finalizing the prototype, and preparing for the final pitch presentation to senior stakeholders from the client, partners, venture capitalists and Arcadis.

The results

The outcome of the co-creation sprint was a solution that could be quickly applied to help the customer’s current issues while also being scaled to address future, similar challenges. An interactive heat map/visualization tool immediately improved passenger experience in the problematic airport terminal, easing  capacity issues while giving our client the ability to harvest the data to make better decisions elsewhere in its portfolio. 

Scaling digital co-creation

The success of Deep Orange comes from having a clear, simple process that takes into account the realities of the digital world. The approach focuses on identifying the digital realities that drive value in co-creation from the client’s perspective. Keep in mind that:

  • Customer experience is key and valued.
  • Customers are moving targets.
  • Business ecosystems co-create value.
  • Digital platforms boost value co-creation.

In the airport example above, it was important to understand the drivers of the client’s current issues to help frame the data requirements. Aging airport facilities were limiting the capacity around expansion in passenger numbers and retail, so we looked at how we could use big data in the form of passenger foot traffic flows to understand where passengers were spending their time and the flow of traffic to departure gates and facilities. By monitoring and recording passenger behavior, we have been able to test the hypothesis that the client can control passenger behavior by empowering them to make their own decisions — via the communication of congestion information — and in turn, use real-time data to direct passengers to free spaces, retail units, as well as food and beverage outlets.

The analysis allows us to create a user experience app to show quickest routes, allowing the customer to deal with delays and the impact on certain areas of the airport waiting areas and walkways. The ongoing project with this airport client has produced a series of real-time analytics outputs that allow us to give this data a new dimension. With the help of our data scientists, the insights from the data analysis has driven an expansion of scope within the project and a more ambitious financial impact for the airport. 


Eleven pieces of wisdom on digital transformation, from HP

Is there a business challenge today that’s both more important, and yet less understood, than digital transformation? Back in July SAMA and ERP software provider QAD hosted a full-day symposium featuring senior leaders discussing how to drive digital transformation at their own companies and at their customers’.

Here, SAMA offers ten important truths about digital transformation from Volkhard Bregulla, VP for Global Accounts Germany and Central Eastern Europe at Hewlett-Packard GmbH. (Click here for the first part in this series.)

First-mover’s advantage is real and growing. The speed of adoption is taking place faster than ever, with new technologies emerging at unprecedented space. This is expanding the gap between the leaders and the laggards.

Business outcomes are the key. Entrenched customers aren’t going to get excited by new digital technologies for their own sake. To hook them, you need to connect the technology to the KPIs they care about. To produce a digital transformation in the manufacturing space, customers need to see double-digit improvement in those critical KPIs.

Start with predictive maintenance.  In manufacturing, this is by far the easiest place to start implementing digital transformation. First, it’s easy for the customer to understand. They want to push their machines as hard as they can without risking them. Second, with the wealth of data available, the algorithms are already quite strong. Third, there is enormous money to be made from optimizing asset utilization and predictive maintenance.

Data must be integrated horizontally. Simply capturing data isn’t enough; you have to be able to integrate it across all points on your value chain. 

The analytical engine has to sit as close to the process or manufacturing line as possible. Mission critical decisions need to be made in microseconds. That’s why Gardner predicts 70 percent of all processing power will move out of the data center in the next five years. Be prepared.

Find the right people to talk to. If all that processing power is leaving the data room, your SAMs need to learn how to have different kinds of conversations (around KPIs) with different customer stakeholders. (HP estimates that each year two percent of its budget moves away from the people at the customer with whom the company currently engages.) Instead of focusing on the “manager of data,” Bregulla recommends concentrating on the “manager of results.”

Defend, extend, create, disrupt. This is the framework executives use to conceptualize their business. When your SAMs are talking to these people, they need to frame their conversations along one of these four quadrants and be prepared to place your solutions in the context of one of these scenarios.

Bandwidth is the most precious natural resource of all time. The amount of processing power required to run AI and other technologies is astronomical. There will always be computing bottlenecks somewhere; you need to move them around creatively and efficiently.

Your SAMs will need to be trained differently. At HP that means putting its top client executives through a customized, 12-week “Digital Master’s” program that teaches them the fundamentals of driving digital transformation. They are also training these executives on how to sell to the line of business, rather than to IT. It’s a matter of zeroing in on the right customer stakeholder, identifying the KPIs that these stakeholders care about, and connecting it to the right part of HP’s portfolio.

Invest in partnerships to build real-life use cases. Many customers, especially in manufacturing, are inherently conservative. It is hard to sell them on digital transformation with a PowerPoint, no matter how persuasive it may be. That is why HP has invested in partnerships that put HP technology inside actual customer sites. It gives HP’s SAMs and salespeople not just real data (which is huge) and real use cases, but also a real-life setting in which customers can see HP’s digital solutions in action.

Establish a clear, simple process for pushing digital transformation with customers. At HP, it’s the following: (1) Establish credibility on the KPI level (see “Find the right people to talk to” above). (2)  Establish what you can do for the customer to impact their critical KPIs. (3) Offer use cases. (4) Establish partnerships within the ecosystem.

Wish you could have engaged with Volkhard in person? SAMA’s Executive Symposium series offers SAMA corporate members the chance to learn from senior SAMs and SAM program leaders facing the same challenges as you. To learn more about the benefits of SAMA corporate membership, contact SAMA Director of Membership & Strategic Accounts Chris Jensen at or +1 312-251-3131, ext. 10.







How to work with customers so they are “able” AND “willing” to pay for your value

By Todd Snelgrove, founding partner, Experts in Value

For every individual SAM and SAM team, one of the most important goals is to be able to deliver value to the customer AND make sure you get paid for it. Once upon a time, “all” you had to do was convince the end user of your offering’s superiority to other options — and then let them do the internal selling for you. Today, you’re dealing with a highly educated Procurement function with a great deal of sway over what gets bought from whom.

Don’t despair: All hope is not lost. To thrive in today’s world, you just need to learn to think like – and sell to – both the economic buyer (i.e., Procurement) AND the technical/business/end user. In this post, I focus on eight areas your value program needs to master to get all your customer stakeholders the information they need to pull the trigger on your offering. These will be covered in much greater detail in a one-day workshop I will be delivering at SAMA Academy in San Diego on Tuesday, Oct. 16.

First things first, let’s look at a couple terms from the title of this blog, so we make sure we’re speaking in a common language.

Ability to pay (ATP). Simply put, this term refers to whether or not your customer has the money to pay for your offering. We’ve all had customers tell us our product is too expensive, that another, cheaper option is “just as good,” or that the supplier isn’t budgeted to spend what we’re asking. In my book, this is just evidence that our offering just isn’t resonating with the buyer — that it doesn’t sufficiently address our customer’s needs and strategic drivers. But I also think about what my former CEO used to tell me: “Todd, budgets can be changed. If you put a newer and better option in front of me that creates real economic value, it will get funded.”

Willingness to Pay (WTP). This refers more specifically to whether your customer is actually willing to pay for your option over its next best alternative, whether that means buying from a competitor or sticking to the status quo. It is critical to understand that WTP fluctuates as a company’s needs change. And so it’s critical for you to understand that Procurement’s needs differ from the end user’s needs, so they are going to value certain qualities — and hence their willingness to pay for them — less. While your end user may be willing to pay a premium for decreased downtime or better systems integration, Procurement won’t be unless you can quantify and document the value in business terms.

So how do you build your organization’s ability to succeed at selling value? Based on the work of myself and others, many companies have begun creating ROI/value quantification tools, but often these value initiatives aren’t leading to bottom-line results. Research shows that, all too often, suppliers focus only on helping marketing and sales sell value but not creating a simultaneous culture change that actually incentivizes and encourages them to *WANT* to sell value. Recent research from SAMA shows that, while pretty much every company in the world knows it needs to quantify customer value, only 30 percent actually have a disciplined process for doing so. And in my experience, of those 30 percent most could stand to do it much better.

Below, you can see a handy chart I created with James Anderson, the distinguished professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management (or, as I like to call him, The Value Guru), which shows the factors that influence a salesforce’s ability AND desire to sell value.

Causes of Value Selling Success 1.png

Let’s tackle these concepts one by one…

Value conceptualization. During your new product/service development process, are you thinking ahead about how much this new offering would be worth to your strategic customers? Are you building the formulas and test case examples in advance, so when you’re ready to launch you already have sample ROI calculations to share with customers?

Value-selling process. Do you have a process that pushes Sales and Marketing to interact earlier in the buying cycle so you can frame your customer conversations around value from the start, rather than reacting to an existing demand via RFP and trying to push value when it may already be too late?

Customized ROI tools. Have you created a tool for Sales to create customized ROI analyses for all your solutions, and is it easy to use, intuitive for the customer? Does it save and track cases as you build them, and can it track actual realized value for customers who have begun to adopt your solution?

SAM/sales team training on value selling. Have you given your teams the training they need to be able and comfortable selling on value? A one-off seminar isn’t enough. Training needs to be robust, ongoing and challenging, with exercises, role-playing and tests. Selling is a skill, and like any skill it requires training and ongoing fine-tuning.

Rewarding the right behavior. To give just one example, many companies still measure their SAMs/sales staff on sales versus target. But if I’m a SAM who is only being measured on the top line, what incentive do I have to push my customer to pay a price premium, even if I know the value is there to justify it? I’m much more likely to cave and offer a five percent discount and move on. But that five percent comes off the bottom line, and for most companies that’s 50 percent of net profit. One tell-tale sign you’re not rewarding the right behavior is that your SAMs and field sales are either continually pushing for discounts or complaining that you’re not priced competitively. This is a sure sign they don’t have the tools, knowledge and, most importantly, incentives to have the right kinds of conversations with your customers.

Value-based contracts. Have you created contracts that allow the customer to pay based on the actual, mutually agreed-upon and delivered value? If not, it’s a lot to ask of a Procurement expert to just “take your word for it.” Words and PowerPoint slides will not get you the traction you need to sell on value. While many companies have built processes around offering discounts, very few have ones that guarantee delivery of value.

Business Culture. What does your company stand for? Does your CEO talk about customer value? Is it part of your company’s annual report? Does it get discussed at your investor day? For true business culture change around value, you need a person working full time to drive the concept of value and its adoption at every level of the organization.

Customer Culture. Are you engaging customers earlier and, most importantly, differently? Are you discussing early in the sales process that, when they buy your offerings, that they need to consider value and not simply buy at the lowest that meets the minimum requirement? It takes a different sales and marketing approach to be seen as a thought leader in your industry and to drive a change in how your customers value value.

Tools to help quantify and demonstrate value are critical, but underlying those tools your company has to have a holistic value mindset that runs across and through the entire organization. For much more detail, see my book (co-authored and -edited by Andreas Hinterhuber), “Value First Then Price: Quantifying Value in Business-to-Business Markets” (Routledge, 2016). And of course, remember to register for my SAMA Academy workshop in San Diego on Oct. 16, 2018.

Todd C. Snelgrove is the former Global Vice President of Value at SKF, where he drove the creation, tools, processes and results of a 20-year value journey at the company.


Making Brainstorming a Highly Effective Creative Tool


By Mick Carroll, PhD

Brainstorming is easily the most common activity that an organization turns to when it needs to be creative.  First, let’s take a look at what brainstorming is and why it is so ineffective as most commonly practiced.

The origins of brainstorming can be traced to back to the 1940s and ’50s to an American advertising executive, Alex Osborne.  This process was based on the creative characteristics of:

Fluency, i.e., the ability to generate a multitude of ideas

Flexibility, i.e., the ability to change perspectives and thought patterns

Originality, i.e., the ability to express new concepts, relationships or ideas

Awareness, i.e., the ability to see beyond the given rules and principles

Drive, i.e., the motivation, energy and confidence to take chances and fail

The biggest problem with these creative characteristics is that they are not normal ways that the human brain functions. The brain is programmed to immediately search for solutions.  The brain has evolved to be a survival instrument always looking for the quickest ways to size up a situation or challenge it — and then quickly provide the best path to resolution.

Brainstorming requires the following rules, which make intuitive sense:

  • No criticism. The atmosphere for brainstorming is supposed to be open; the purpose is to encourage ideas, not judge them prematurely.
  • Freewheeling discussion and free expression are desired — more than carefully thought-out ideas.
  • Quantity over quality of ideas is desired.
  • Combining, improving and adding on to ideas are highly encouraged.

So why doesn’t brainstorming typically result in many creative and useful ideas?  It has to do with how the brain is wired and what people know.  The thought process is driven by neural connections that people make based on something called “knowledge clusters.”  This is a fancy way of saying that people have created ways of knowing and processing information, and this becomes deeply engrained, habitual and many times automatic.  Simply putting people in a room and telling them to be creative has no impact on their highly patterned ways of thinking.  Often, this is described as “stuck thinking.”  Unless tools and mental processes that make a person make new associations, relationships and thought patterns are introduced, very few new or creative associations and relationships will occur.

The main purpose of this post is to answer the question “How can you make brainstorming a highly creative and generative process?”  The main ingredient of creative thinking is to achieve new combinations, relationships and associations among the knowledge points or clusters that one has stored in his or her head.

Keep in mind that, for brainstorming to succeed, you have to change  the patterned ways in which your brain wants to think. Here are some steps that can be immediately taken to improve your next brainstorming session:

Two weeks before the planned session, send out a notice that there will be a brainstorming session. Include on the notice a clear statement of the issue/problem/opportunity the session will be addressing, e.g., “The purpose of the brainstorming session scheduled for two weeks from Friday will be to generate ideas around how we find more effective ways to process internal workflow to speed up our delivery to customers.”

Have participants rewrite this statement at least two different ways and send them  to you within two days. Depending on how many people will be attending, give individual or team pre-assignments.  Depending on the purpose of the brainstorming session, the following assignments should be given:

  • Have participants research three companies in your industry and report back on how they handle your issue.
  • Have several people go on small “field trips” to different places (e.g., museums, restaurants, sporting events) to see how these environments might have possible solutions/ideas about your issue.
  • Similar to above, have several people search for analogous activities (e.g., an election, air traffic control, Library of Congress cataloging) that might be similar to how you handle your issue.
  • Have participants draw a picture or pictures of the problem/issue that you will be addressing at the brainstorming session.

Here are a few guidelines for the actual session:

  • Have each person or team report on their assignment.  Allow time for ideas to flow during each report.
  • Periodically during the session, ask three questions and document the answers on a flip chart: (1) What is the purpose here? (2) What is happening here? (3) What is the value here?
  • It is critical that someone in the meeting organizes, illustrates and displays the ideas for the group.  Pictures are key stimulators of ideas.  It is also extremely helpful that someone draws out the current process that you are trying to improve upon.  Seeing what you currently do can help the mind look for alternatives.
  • When harvesting ideas, don’t throw any away — rather, drop them into different buckets, such as: ready-to-use, “seedlings” (i.e., the beginnings of a good idea) and “useful directions” (i.e., useful broad concepts), ones that aren’t ready at the moment but may have future value.

Alternate approach to classic brainstorming:

“Six Thinking Hats” Ideation Each hat color (see below) represents a persona, attitude or approach.  Have each participant pick a hat color/role that represents qualities that are out of their comfort zone. The idea is to change the way you normally think about things.  (Have fun with this; humor relaxes the mind and causes new connections.)

Another variation calls for everyone wearing the same color at the same time.  At a designated time,  everyone will change to the next color and assume the associated thinking approach or attitude.

White Hat:  Data and information. “What data is available?” “What data is needed?” “Let’s run some projections.” “How do we get the data?”

Red Hat:  Feelings, intuition, emotions, no data or evidence. “My gut tells me…” “I don’t like the feeling of this.” “This just feels right.”

Black Hat: Caution, risk averse, critical judgment. “This won’t work.” “We’ve tried this before.” “We don’t have the resources.”

Yellow Hat: Optimistic, positive, benefits, figure a way to make it work — opposite of Black Hat. “Let’s pretend money is no object.” “What do we need to do to make this work?” “Who needs to be involved?”

Green Hat:  Creative thinker, new ideas, variations, challenges conventional thinking, movement.  “What are the main concepts we are looking at?” “Let’s look at five great companies inside and outside of our industry.” “Let’s have weekly ideation sessions around this.”

Blue Hat:  Process, control, manages process, keeps process moving. “Let’s summarize.” “What are next steps?” “Let’s go back and review Red Hat’s points about _____.”

Could these tactics help prime the pump at your next brainstorming session? Or are they too zany to fly at your organization? Let me know what you think by connecting through LinkedIn. I’d love to hear from you!

Mick Carroll holds a PhD in educational philosophy and is the founder of BetterThink, a business consultancy specializing in using creative thinking to solve problems.