Key insights from SAMA’s Annual Conference

Nicolas Zimmerman



As the largest conference in the world focused on the challenges and opportunities of strategic account management, SAMA’s Annual Conference is a goldmine for anyone who wants to know what’s on the minds of SAMs and the architects of SAM initiatives. Here are a few things I and my SAMA colleagues picked up in Orlando May 20-23.

Don’t fear the machines.

While as much as 85% of sales tasks could be automated by 2020, the key is to know which situations call for human interaction and which can be handled by computers. 3M Vice Chair and Executive Vice President H.C. Shin summed up the dynamic perfectly in his opening keynote:

“As society becomes more technology-driven, human judgment becomes MORE important — not less. In this era of AI and everything else, what we do on a day-to-day basis is more critical than ever.”

McKinsey & Co. Expert Partner Jennifer Stanley recommends embracing “the bots” for what they can do better and faster than us, things like data collection, data processing, setting appointments and predictable physical work. This frees up critical time for activities only a human can muster: thinking creatively, developing new offers leading and coaching your teams, boosting your social and emotional intelligence skills and more.

“We should embrace them for taking parts of our jobs that are less exciting…because it frees us up to do the one thing that is most interesting anyway: being more human with our customers.”

Speaking of which….

Customer-centricity starts at the top.

Everyone talks about putting the customer first, but how many can say just how much time they spend with their customers? For H.C. Shin, the customer-first mentality starts at the top. He calls his management style “trench leadership.” When he gets his calendar in June, the first thing he does is block off 50 percent of his time for customer meetings.

“People don’t listen to what you say as a leader,” Shin says. “They listen to what you DO as a leader.”

Disruption is scary, but isn’t doomsday…yet.

Says Shin: “There is no state of equilibrium. We either take advantage of this opportunity, or we will fall behind and risk disappearing.”

Disruption will continue to come from unexpected sources. Who would have thought 12 years ago that Wal-Mart’s biggest competitor would be an online bookseller? By 2030, more than half of global data will be the product of machines talking to machines. The most conservative estimates put the number of professions that will disappear at more than 50.

But more that 80% of the world’s data sits behind firewalls. Incumbents will lead the next wave of disruption, predicts IBM’s Shari Diaz, who oversees innovation, strategy and operations for Watson Supply Chain.

“They have the expertise. They have the lessons learned. And they have the data. If they can take that data, get the right technology platform to leverage it, they will win the next wave.”

Finding ways to make your “intangible” value tangible.

With everyone moving away from products, the race is on to differentiate beyond product/technological excellence. This brings to the forefront the value of quantifying your intangible value of your offerings.

According to Andreas Hinterhuber (of Hinterhuber & Partners) and Stephan Liozu (of French security company Thales Group), two of the world’s foremost experts on B2B pricing, suppliers do three general things for their customers: save them money, make them money, and provide risk reduction/peace of mind/emotional satisfaction.

It’s this last area that is the “Final Frontier” of value quantification — and also the hardest to get right. “Our theory,” says Liozu, “is everything can be quantified.” But how?

You have to translate “soft” factors like brand perception, trustworthiness, country of origin, risk of failure and security into tangible customer benefits. For example: Brand is intangible. But brand equity is tangible. You have to figure out what it’s worth to your customers and then be prepared to defend your price premium.

Or take risk: In cybersecurity, the cost of a breech is astronomical. If you can build probabilistic models showing the risk of failure, you put fear into the mind of your buyer that helps justify a price premium.

Your company’s intangible benefits can’t be treated as “tiebreakers” —  a soft benefit that may put you over the edge in a competitive deal. Says Hinterhuber: “By treating intangibles as ‘tiebreakers,’ you defeat the purpose. They have and should have a value in and of themselves.

And here are a few more quick bites from the rest of the SAMA team.

  • “Innovate or die.” Of the 30 companies listed on the Dow Jones Index when 3M joined on Aug. 9, 1976, only five (including 3M) remain there today.
  • When everyone else zigs, you should zag. In the wake of the financial crisis of 2007-2008, the companies that invested in research came out way ahead of those who hunkered down and cut costs.
  • Opportunities exist at the intersection of huge technology changes and significant demographic shifts. How do you translate this equation into your industry?
  • Customers are looking for strategic suppliers who will share risk with them.

Feel like you missed out? Don’t worry: We have several training opportunities scheduled for 2018, and if you register now for our 2019 conferences you will benefit from our super-early bird pricing.

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