Managing accounts strategically is different to managing accounts operationally. Some of the differences are highlighted in the table below.
From the table, the differences are clear. So, introducing Strategic Account Management to a group of existing account managers should be simple. However when introducing strategic account management (SAM) to an existing team of account managers, it is surprisingly difficult to predict how your account team will adapt to a more strategic way of managing their accounts. Until your SAM program is underway you won’t know who will adapt to the strategic planning.
For various reasons some people in the team will 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 organisation and across the customer’s organisation to show them different ways of working. This is a complex form of influencing, far more than traditional sales or traditional operational account management. In brief, Strategic Account Managers need to lead change in their own organisation and in the customer’s organisation.
Some people do not make this leap. They are constantly seeking guidance from their superiors, are hesitant to make important decisions and simply can’t ‘step up’. With these people your company will not develop or execute strategies with the account. So, you have to change the people.
In one manufacturing company, with a mainly long-serving account team, there was concern about the capacity of the team to adapt. The team was re-energised by their evolving role and became extremely valuable. In the eyes of their accounts they were the same people. However, their capability grew significantly: to ask more strategic questions, to gather insights, to solve problems for the account and to create opportunities for their company. The credibility and the trust they had established over many years provided a foundation that they could build on with the customer and with their organisation.
However, if they are provided with the skills and guidance they need to grow into their new roles, many people can adapt and become great strategic account managers. Critical skills for account managers include influencing, financial acumen and negotiation. To learn more about these skills and other requirements for successful account managers check out our ebook: Sales or SAM? Just the Same.