Change drives success in Managing Major Accounts
Everything written about managing major accounts strategically has one theme: it’s not a marketing or sales campaign, it’s a leadership initiative driven by the C-Suite.
The overarching key to long-term success is how well the organisation changes to manage strategic accounts differently. Changing job titles of salespeople to account managers without making changes to processes or procedures is a perilous journey, one without end. A better approach is to complete an internal structural audit to see how you currently manage strategic accounts and then interview a few of your top accounts.
There are many hurdles to implementing a Strategic Account Management (SAM) program, which requires changing how you currently do business.
Implementation hurdles and risks for SAM
Introducing a SAM program into your organisation must be treated as a major change initiative. The initiative is often seen purely as a sales project. Like all change initiatives, there are many risks. Successful SAM programs overcome the risks in these five areas:
Managing organisational change
Managing organisational structure
Managing rewards and incentives
Let’s focus on managing organisational change. The remaining risks are covered in depth in Managing B2B customers you can’t afford to lose.
Managing organisational change
Often organisations focus on getting their SAM program perfect and fail to implement anything. A pharmaceutical company asked for help to implement its SAM program. They had spent many months developing policies and procedures and templates for SAM processes, yet had not started anything with their team or customers. They planned to roll out their SAM program in a couple of years.
It takes time to get results from SAM, so starting on a small scale, building capability and momentum are far more important than getting things perfect from day one. Take a ‘more is less’ approach to SAM. SAM is an initiative to change organisational culture, so small steps and building momentum are critical.
An organisation working on one strategic account, regular internal and account meetings and some form of account plan and objectives, is better than a near-perfect SAM program in the drawer gathering dust.
Involving other departments, increasing internal collaboration, asking the customer more strategic questions and taking time out from daily operations to discuss your key account are significant steps. You can build on these steps and refine them as your SAM program becomes established.
Lacking CEO and senior executive sponsorship, and buy-in
The entire business must own major accounts. It requires genuine commitment and active involvement from the CEO and other senior executives. In difficult times SAM is one of the first programs cut if the CEO doesn’t understand the strategic value, revenue and profit drivers.
The CEO needs to commit time to the program. They must set clear expectations: the account manager will have primary responsibility for coordinating activities within the company and with the strategic account. Giving the account manager primary responsibility is one of the most difficult things to change.
Account managers need to step up and take far greater responsibility for developing and driving the strategy with the account. Senior executives, including the CEO, must accept that they will often be working under the direction of the account manager to achieve the account objectives. Account managers need to proactively communicate upwards and across the organisation to keep key stakeholders informed. No-one in the organisation, including the CEO and leadership team, should meet with the account without the prior knowledge of and briefing from the account manager. And no-one should make decisions about the account without involving the account manager.
Any significant change program faces resistance. This resistance means the program fails to take hold, or it takes a lot longer than planned to become established. In SAM programs, resistance typically arises in two areas.
1. Account Managers
In traditional account management, the account manager is central to all relationships with the account. They may be threatened by the plan to introduce more people into the account, especially more senior managers. They may see involving more people as interference, and perceive this as an indirect criticism of how they currently do their job. It is critical to educate the account manager and have them embrace the evolution of their role to be more significant and more influential.
2. Non-Sales Departments
In non-sales areas in the business, SAM is viewed as a sales-only initiative. So when other departments are called on for people and other resources, they are reluctant. Reluctance is most common in ‘siloed organisations’ or where there is a culture of protecting scarce resources.
Creating action to implement a SAM program requires leaders that plan for organisational change and execute key elements before going to market.
We recommend the C-Suite pick one of their key partners from the top accounts and co-create the future vision. Global companies implement SAM programs, limit resistance and allow change to happen faster by:
by reviewing their current accounts,
making small step changes, so they start quicker,
providing executive sponsorship,
and managing SAM as a change program.
The results from key partner accounts are astronomical as compared to the old way of doing business.