Key insights from the floor at SAMA’s Pan-European Conference

By Bernard Quancard

President & CEO


Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

This French proverb (“The more things change, the more they stay the same”) has been perhaps overused, but it is interesting to note how much it applies to the best practices of strategic customer management. One thing I love about SAMA’s conferences, training events and leadership symposia is the dual focus on emerging trends impacting strategic account management and “evergreen” subjects that never lose their currency with strategic customer-centric organizations.

With that in mind, I offer you a few critical observations gleaned by my senior team and me during two days with the SAMA community at the SAMA Pan-European Conference 12-14 March in Berlin. These are in no particular order, and, like SAMA’s conferences, they contain a mix of old and new wisdom — and, hopefully, a little something for everyone.

  • Customers want their strategic suppliers to be more proactive in proposing solutions that address their big strategic challenges. In his opening keynote, Arcadis CEO Peter Oosterveer talked about personally visiting each of his company’s major strategic accounts when he came aboard — both to telegraph his personal commitment to his customers and to listen to what they had to say about doing business with Arcadis. In his keynote, he said he came away from those meetings with two main realizations: (1) Customers do not care one bit about their suppliers’ internal issues and organizational challenges; they just want them to follow through on their commitments and help them solve their own business challenges. And even more critically, (2) customers are eager for their strategic suppliers to more aggressively and proactively bring them solutions that create actual business value. If you, as a SAM, are waiting around for your customer to approach you with a problem, you risk missing out on opportunities to co-create value.
  • Despite having generally strong solutions, most companies report a sad inability to tell their story well enough to capture the imagination and spend of their customers or to accelerate the rate of the sales cycle.  The real issue is that companies’ messages are not structured in a way that the human brain wants and needs to consume information.  The ultimate standard for all communication is that it can be repeated. This makes sense when you consider that complex customer purchasing decisions are made by an average of 6.8 people from a range of functional areas, roles and geographies. This means a salesperson’s key customer contact must then retell the sales story to a network of other stakeholders in a concise and convincing way.  The majority of the time they can’t, resulting in long delays in getting a decision — or, worse, a deal that is dead on arrival due to the story’s lack of compelling clarity and clear benefit.
  • SAMs must learn how Procurement works and how they’re measured. Presenter David Atkinson of Four Pillars estimates that only 10 percent of sellers truly understand how to effectively work with Procurement. What makes this such a head-scratcher, according to Atkinson, is that Procurement’s toolbox hasn’t changed much over the years. Atkinson proposes that strategic suppliers should incorporate Procurement metrics into their account plans. If SAMs can communicate their value in a way that aligns with how those in Procurement are measured, then they will be better positioned to make their Procurement counterparts look good, which will help steer the conversation away from price and toward value.
  • When selling to the C-Suite, your messaging must be calibrated to each relevant stakeholder. Jacques Sciammas, who served in the C-suite at Charles Schwab, Berkshire and BankBoston, reminds us that every executive is measured differently and sees business decisions through his or her own prism. You can’t come in with a one-size-fits all message and expect to get the traction you need to be relevant to and resonate with each individual’s vision and measurements.
  • Most B2B companies are not truly customer-centric. According to Gallup, companies’ lack of customer-centricity is leading to a double whammy of anemic growth and customers’ migration to disruptors. And while SAMs are the primary keys to success of a SAM initiative, they can only be successful if they’re backed up by a strategic customer-centric organization. Based on extensive polling and interviews, Gallup found that fewer than 30 percent of companies are fully engaged in a true customer-centric approach. And where does the customer-centric approach need to originate? I would point you to my first takeaway: Just think about the signal it sends to customers when a strategic supplier’s chief executive sits down with the sole purpose of listening to his customer. If suppliers aren’t set up to enable the SAM, companies risk failing to attract and retain top talent and ultimately struggle to grow organically and to reap the benefits of well-intentioned leadership initiatives.
  • Suppliers are all at risk of having strategic customers leave you.  These are the top three reasons customers make a switch: (1) supplier is too difficult to work with, (2) supplier takes the relationship for granted, and (3) supplier doesn’t do an effective job monetizing its value. While many suppliers think they are engaged in strategic account management, many of them are stuck on the treadmill of managing deals. As a strategic supplier, you can’t give your customers any excuse to start weighing their options.
  • The importance of creating a coaching culture at your company can not be overstated. As I wrote above, the SAM is the fulcrum of the entire strategic account management effort, so attracting and retaining the best talent is a business imperative. Psychometric tests widely available today can help answer the questions every SAM leader should be asking: Does a potential SAM candidate have the requisite inherent makeup to become a great SAM? As a SAM coach, how do I know what areas to focus on developing for each individual on my team of SAMs to improve their long-term efficacy beyond just “deal coaching”? Other questions SAM leaders need to ask themselves: Should I coach my SAMs myself or hire outside coaches? (Either way works.) Should my coaches be certified? (Absolutely, yes.) And should I track and measure an individual’s growth and the ROI of the coaching effort? (Most definitely.)

The last thing I want to leave you with is from a conversation I had in Berlin with a very experienced SAM. When I asked him why he had taken the time out of his incredibly busy schedule to attend the Pan-European Conference, this is what he said: “I just got assigned to a new customer after having successfully developed my current customers for more than five years. I decided it was time to remind myself of the best and new SAM practices, versus relying on what I remember working in the past.”

Do you need to brush up on what the best are doing with their most strategic customers? Join SAMA for our 2018 Annual Conference May 21-23 in Orlando, Fla. Click her for more details.


One thought on “Key insights from the floor at SAMA’s Pan-European Conference

  1. Bernard, you’ve highlighted truly compelling points about the art and science of being a world class Strategic Account Manager. Each one of the subjects you’ve touched could be expanded into individual essays, that’s how meaningful they are. I’m going to share your post with my fellow management and our SAMs, and encourage them and others to join us at the upcoming SAMA Annual Conference in Orlando. best, Ron Davis

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