It is surprisingly difficult to predict how your account team will adapt to a more strategic way of managing their accounts, and the more influential role they will play in the company. Until your SAM program is underway, you won't know who will make the transition.
Some in your team for various reasons will simply not adapt. They will struggle to move beyond an operational focus and to break traditional habits. Strategic Account Managers are leaders, leaders without formal authority. Strategic Account Managers will work with people across their company and across the customer's company to show them different ways of working. This different way of working involves a complex form of influencing, far more than traditional sales or operational account management. In brief, SAMs need to lead change in their own company and in the customer's company.
Some people won't be able to make the change. They will constantly seek guidance from their superiors, will hesitate to make important decisions and simply not 'step-up'. With these people, your company will not develop or execute strategies with the account. So, you will have to change these people.
Can Salespeople become Strategic Account Managers?
Don't assume that all existing sales teams can make the switch. Sales people are rewarded for achieving short-term revenue targets. So, many only focus on the tactics that will most efficiently secure a sale so they can move on to the next opportunity. Salespeople manage multiple accounts, so they develop a superficial understanding of their accounts. They tend to be skilled at identifying the minimum effort required to hit their revenue targets in this financial year.
Contrast this with the expectations of an account manager responsible for one of a company's most important accounts. They must identify and realise long-term strategic objectives with the account. They develop a deep understanding of their accounts. They work toward objectives that fall beyond this financial year and get involved in many activities with no revenue pay off in the current year.
So, to successfully transition into a Strategic Account Management role, a salesperson will need to shift skills from short-term into a long-term strategic context. They will need to shift their skills in building relationships, identifying opportunities and business networking in to a long-term strategic context.
Single-point of Contact
Many companies mistakenly see the account manager as their single point of contact with the account. While this sounds like a good idea, on deeper assessment, this is inviting failure. Some customers do not want to have to contact one person for every type of issue. Customers know the account manager will have to defer to someone they could have contacted themselves. Enforcing a single point of contact can lead to slow response times and frustration.
A single point of contact can also impede the informal contact others in your company have with the account, which creates stronger relationships. Many customer representatives highly value informal contact, especially with technical staff and their corresponding functional counterparts. Single point contact discourages informal connections between the two companies. As contact with the account is narrowed and formalised, this reduces customer insights.
From the company's perspective, relying so heavily on one person creates potential work overload and a potentially big risk if the account manager leaves.
Educate All Your People
All people in your company need to understand why the SAM program is being implemented and what it will mean to them. Some people will question the need for a SAM program.
All key stakeholders who will be involved or provide support and resources must be educated on the fundamentals of the program. Companies frequently underestimate how much the behaviour of non-customer-facing staff needs to change. So, education should include some background on SAM concepts, the company's objectives and what will be required of them and their teams in the future. This education will set the account manager up for success and ensure organisational alignment of behaviours and mindsets through shared language and experiences.
For your account managers to transition into a more strategic role, they need support and education of their skills and the understanding and support of the rest of the company. SAM is a long-term initiative, so to get results you need to spend the time and money educating the whole company. Education should not be a one-off event, but should be a continuous cycle of improvement as understanding and experience grow and when staff roles change.