By Harvey Dunham, Managing Director of Business Development, SAMA
When the holidays approach, and my thoughts drift toward the special circumstance of having three generations of the Dunham family together in one place, I allow myself the occasional indulgence of waxing philosophical. Lately, I’ve been thinking about this question: What is the higher purpose of a strategic account manager?
Is it, as Milton Friedman would surely espouse, simply to create profit for your company’s shareholders? To make rich guys richer, in other words? As someone with a long career in sales — first as a fresh-out-of-the-Coast Guard salesman for Schneider Electric and then later as a district manager, strategic account manager and eventually country president — who is gracefully (I think) approaching retirement, my answer has aged and settled over time. And if you asked me now, “What is the higher purpose of the SAM?” I would say this:
The very best SAMs are entrepreneurs who not only create jobs but quite literally create the future.
Is it hokey? Maybe. But like I said, the holidays put me in a sentimental frame of mind. But I’m thinking about a conversation I had not too long ago with a strategic account manager whose name and company I won’t mention because it’s not nearly as important as the work he’s doing. The context of the conversation was this man’s final review before being conferred the official designation of SAMA Certified Strategic Account Manager (CSAM).
The purpose of the final review (and, indeed, of the CSAM program itself) is to demonstrate that the candidate has not only completed all of his or her coursework but is applying what they have learned to their actual strategic customers. (Lest this turn into a sly advertisement for SAMA certification, I won’t say more.) For his final review, the candidate, who works for a global pharmaceutical company, enumerated four initiatives he is currently working on for his customer, a large institutional customer.
We live in turbulent times, and there are all kinds of reasons – especially for those inclined to look for them – to be cynical. But here is a guy with a crystal clear vision of what he is doing and why he is doing it — to create a better existence for doctors and nurses, for the families of patients and, most importantly, for patients themselves. Here is a guy who is pouring his heart and soul into creating a better future for people who are suffering through the most painful and difficult human experiences.
As I was listening to this exemplary strategic account manager recount how his solution is directly helping patients suffering from cancer, I felt an incredible pride for the work that SAMA does training and educating strategic account managers — who are literally out there making the world a better place.
It got me thinking about my own proudest moments as a strategic account manager. In some ways, it was just another deal — the kind a SAM closes, pats himself on the back for, has a few beers with the team to celebrate and then forgets about because there’s always more work to be done. I’d been brought into reanimate a relationship that had been transactional before it had fallen off a cliff. Long story short, we went from selling a few random products into this giant manufacturer to being the single-source supplier in our category.
Overnight, we went from darkness into light. Like most sales guys with more than a few notches in my belt, I find bragging abhorrent. I only mention this career highlight because it represents the moment I realized that I wasn’t just selling products — I was creating jobs, sometimes hundreds of them, that helped sustain families. All those millions (or even billions) of dollars’ worth of products had to be loaded into a truck, installed, tested and commissioned — you get the picture.
The SAM job is a difficult one. No doubt about it. If you’re doing it right, you aren’t sitting around waiting for someone to identify a need before springing into action. You’re starting with a blank piece of paper, developing initiatives that create real value for you AND your customer, and then you’re marshaling the resources — internal and external — to bring it all together.
So while being a SAM (or KAM or GAM) is undoubtedly one of the hardest jobs there is, I believe it’s also one of the most rewarding. And that’s why I try to inspire the SAMs I interact with to aspire to be not just good SAMs but great ones. Because great SAMs are actively creating a better tomorrow, one deal at a time!
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