By Eric Pinard
Business Mentor Consulting
As soon as I was appointed strategic account program vice president for Schneider Electric, the global energy management and automation firm, my boss asked me a simple question, “Eric, what is the main preoccupation keeping you awake at night?” I didn’t even take one second to think about it, the answer was so obvious: “For sure, the internal alignment of the company!”
Even if your program is very mature and well structured, it will always be a challenge to transform a great account strategy in the SAM’s computer into an operational plan capable of mobilizing all the energies of your company to be at the disposal of the performance of your account. Rather than a strict process, I propose guidelines and an eight-step methodology. If you tick all of these eight boxes and respect the chronology, you’ll be on your way to your goal.
1. Align the SAM program with your company’s key challenges. Your company is facing challenges and applying a strategy. You have to make absolutely sure that you leverage your strategic account program to be at the disposal of your company’s challenges. These challenges could be growth, profitability, innovation or a combination of these. The critical thing is the alignment between the mission assigned to your strategic account program and your company’s challenges.
2. Value your account strategy. First, make sure to explain the way you bring value so that all stakeholders understand your methodology. Second, define your level of commitment to customers by addressing the four steps of the go-to-market approach: transaction, solution, consultation and partnership. Third, standardize as much as you can in your account strategy model.
My view is that the account strategy model should be as simple as possible, having a deep dive into two dimensions: the understanding of your customer and the understanding of your own business model. Based on this, and considering only the overlap zone between these two dimensions, choose your strategic initiatives by keeping totally focused on the value created for your customer.
As your account strategy model should be standardized, so too should be your performance model. It should be as simple as possible, considering only two dimensions, which I call the two pillars of performance: (1) the perfect sales execution of the business as usual, which will generate the volume of your sales, and (2) the accurate choice of your strategic initiatives, which will change the way the customer looks at your company.
3. Validate your account strategy at the highest possible level. As soon as your account strategy is defined, you should validate it with your manager, your executive sponsor and other main leaders. The higher and more formal the level of this validation, the more you’ll be empowered to cascade it across the company and to get resources you need to achieve your ambition of performance. The best way to gather all leaders to validate your account strategy is to include them in an account review meeting.
4. Translate your account strategy into a clear account plan. The time has come to translate your strategy into a clear account plan that will map your ambitions to the need for resources to achieve these ambitions. It is YOUR responsibility to quantify and qualify these resources.
I’m not a big fan of the term “account plan,” which is sometimes confusing in that it mixes different missions and different timeframes. I prefer to talk of the “strategic account manager package,” which differentiates the mission/intent and the appropriate support for each piece of the package. I break it up into three components:
• The account strategy (defined as both strategic and business-as-usual initiatives). Timeframe = three years, recurring. Support = PowerPoint
• The account plan (defined as the ambition versus the need for resources) Timeframe = one year, recurring. Preferred support = CRM
• The action plan (defined as tasks assigned to account team members with expected outcomes). Timeframe = immediate. Preferred support = CRM
To better address the topic of tools — and to aid in cascading the account plan to the team in being totally transparent, assigning tasks, measuring and monitoring performance, and making necessary adjustments — I strongly recommend managing the account plan and the action plan in the company CRM. Obviously, you’ll need to adapt your CRM according to your performance model. As already said, we have to respect standards, which means being able to follow these standards in choosing tools.
5. Tell the nice story of your account to your main stakeholders. To give you, the SAM, the best chance to get the support and resources you need to achieve your ambitions, you should tell your company’s main stakeholders the nice story of your account. This is not only a matter of seduction, this is also a way to prove that you manage perfectly both sides of value creation (i.e., for your company and for the customer). We all have to keep in mind that to justify its existence, a SAM program must be differentiated from the traditional sales department. At a time when hiring new resources is more difficult than ever, the objective is to convince profit and loss (P&L) owners that they will perform better by rebalancing their existing resources to be at the disposal of strategic accounts rather than keeping the status quo.
This account storytelling should be very clear and concise. The idea is to engage others to support the SAM program and allocate resources according to the needs of strategic accounts. From my point of view, it should be done as a six-piece pitch. The first three points should address the customer at a glance: (1) its challenges, (2) strategy and (3) key initiatives. The next three points should address your company: (4) the current business, (5) the growth plan and (6) the support needed to deliver the plan. I strongly recommend getting help from internal communications experts to work with you, the SAM, on structuring and delivering the message.
Want to know Eric’s final three steps for perfectly aligning your organization’s resources around creating value for your strategic customers? He will give a presentation on the subject at SAMA’s 2019 Annual Conference, May 20-22, in Orlando, Fla. Additionally, the article from which this post is adapted will appear in the spring issue of Velocity magazine.
Eric Pinard has 40 years’ experience in complex sales and has served on the SAMA Board of Directors. He is the owner of Business Mentor Consulting and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or +33 7 67 18 15 59.