By Dominique Côté, Owner and Founder, Cosawi and Principal, The Summit Group and Kate Burda Owner and Founder, Kate & Co. and Principal, The Summit Group
With customer integration increasing, it creates additional complexity to build trustworthy relationships and partnerships. SAMs’ own organizations are evolving and often centralizing, adding more to the SAM’s plate not only in terms of skill set but also number of accounts, expectations for growth and required competencies.
SAMs are being stretched thin, from both a customer and internal perspective. Today’s SAM really does feel like she/he needs superpowers to do the job.
Complexity breeds ingenuity
We are living in a world of skyrocketing complexity and information overload, and one of the key pressure points that we see is the increased complexity and diversity of types of customer problems suppliers are asked to solve.
Facing more complex and broader issues, SAMs have no choice but to engage differently to differentiate themselves.
Living as we do in a world overloaded with data, we increasingly look to technology to help us deliver valuable, relevant customer hindsight, insight and foresight. But to do so requires better data management, including a mastery of how disparate data sources connect and communicate in order to translate this information into relevant customer insight and foresight.
As the closest person to the customer and the owner of the customer-supplier relationship, is the SAM or KAM alone with all of the demands wrought by the new economy? Hardly. Every superhero needs a partner, and the very best SAMs know when and how to bring the best people to the table to ideate, innovate and create impact for their customers.
Enter Marketing, stage left
As you read the word marketing, you may have thought of enterprise marketing, branding, positioning, awareness campaigns, advertisements or flashy public relations campaigns. Shifting to account-based marketing (ABM) isn’t any of these things.
So what is it, and why is it so critical in today’s world? Account-based marketing is the art of integrating digital marketing and the customer-buying journey to support, accelerate and be part of solution creation with the SAM and the SAM team.
Did you know that:
- According to ITSMA, 75 percent of executives will read unsolicited marketing if it contains ideas relevant to their business.
- Customers are twice as likely to engage when offers and communications are personalized (per Salesforce).
- Seventy-four percent of B2B buyers conduct half of their research online before engaging a vendor (per Forrester).
Customer buying journey: Start at the point of inspiration, not the point of sale
In both Sales and Marketing, we work so hard on customer-centricity, customer focus and customer knowledge. Yet do we truly understand the customer’s buying journey – from the moment they realize a need for a product or service, to the point of purchase? What does that journey look like? What steps does the consumer go through before they even show up on the radar as a prospect?
If we can start engaging with the customer at the point of inspiration, rather than the point of sale, then we increase market share and share of wallet. What follows is a simple example.
Imagine that you have a company that manufactures soccer balls. At a point of sale, you are engaging with customers at the big-box sports store, sharing the shelf with 30 other soccer balls. You may have promotions, campaigns, advertisements and even public relations, but it is all happening when the customer is shopping for a soccer ball.
At the point of inspiration, on the other hand, you could be partnering with a technology company to create a portal to help coaches communicate with parents on tryouts, workouts and scheduling.
What’s the difference when your product is showing up in front of potential customers at the point when their child says, “I want to try out for the team?” At the point of inspiration, your potential customers are moving from being unaware to being aware. This can result in loyalty and market share gains at the earliest stage of the customer journey.
Hand-in-glove: The complementary roles of Marketing and Sales in this tight collaboration
SAMs traditionally are the experts identifying customer pain points and then creating solutions that address them, guiding customers through the steps of exploration, research, validation, purchase and, ultimately, advocacy.
Digital marketing can be the perfect complement early in the buying journey, offering the capability for scale and customization across market segments.
Done right, this can be a true customer-focused collaboration between Sales and Marketing. Working together to create a true understanding of the customer buying journey, the SAM offers customer knowledge and “careabouts,” while Marketing contributes data-driven insights that create a 360-degree view of the customer and the opportunity.
Together they can find “points of communication” that foster engagement with the customer and connecting opportunities with products, services, value enablers and partnerships to bring maximum value to what matters most to the customer.
Throughout the engagement, Marketing serves as the guardian of what we call “the cupboards,” i.e., your organization’s products, services and value enablers. Thanks to its broad view of the organization, Marketing can and should help the SAM to navigate internally, rallying internal assets that could potentially bring value to a specific account opportunity.
Being part of the account team from the early days, Marketing can also focus the co-creation process by finding alignment between the goals of customer and supplier, helping to arrive at the best package of solutions that address what matters most to your customer.
It can be a powerful tool to differentiate your company from your competitors and stave off commoditization.
Marketing can and should also boost confidence and provide credibility by creating business cases that help accelerate, scale and replicate the best, most innovative solutions from across the organization. Marketing can help not only to co-create (with the SAM team) communication points but also to monitor how they are performing.
“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close, in fact, you tell them what they need well before they realize it.”Steve Jobs
This Venn Diagram illustrates how these two roles can work together to co-create value for the customer.
ABM in action: a semi-fictionalized example
Let’s say that Danielle is the strategic account manager for a large, international hotel company, and she is responsible for the company’s relationship with ContinUMotion, an athletic apparel company that has started developing a business division for sleep apparel and bedding. After taking a deeper look at how her own company might partner with ContinUMotion, Danielle realizes that this new division might offer the perfect opportunity to co-create a solution to enable ContinUMotion’s foray into bedding and sleep apparel.
Danielle knows that helping ContinUMotion gain exposure to new customers will help create a stronger business partnership with her customer, and so Danielle and her Marketing counterpart assemble an ABM-SAM roadmap. Her idea is to put ContinUMotion’s bedding line in the hotel’s concierge-level rooms, which would expose the hotel’s customers to its new product line. With this in mind, it is Marketing’s role to furnish Danielle with deep insights related to ContinUMotion.
First, they map out a buying journey that makes sense given the proposed solution, starting at the time someone books a room through the duration of their stay – even after they leave. Rather than looking at marketing campaigns that are at the point of purchase only, once SAM and Marketing chart the entire customer buying journey, they can create communication points that are relevant to that customer for each stage of the buying journey.
In this example, it could take the form of creating running maps that are co-branded with ContinUMotion and the hotel or pre-arrival offers to upgrade to a room with ContinUMotion bedding.
Figure 2 outlines what Marketing and the SAM can offer during each stage of the customer journey.
What the best do differently: Creating distinctive business value in today’s digital economy
Customization and personalization are key to gaining more market share and decreasing “switchability.” Customers no longer choose an offering because “everyone has one.” Instead, the conversation needs to be steered towards how a product or service has been made or adapted just for them. This has been true for a while now in B2C, and it is becoming increasingly so in B2B. Everything is focused on personalization.
While SAMs are focused on the personalized engagement/overall relationship (market drivers, strategic goals, careabouts), both SAMs and Marketing need to be focused on crafting personalized solutions. Together, they have the potential to bring a better and differentiating customer experience using innovative frameworks like design thinking and others.
But it is difficult, if not impossible, to offer a personalized customer experience if organizations are not deeply connected with their customer’s buying journey. And it is difficult, if not impossible, to fully understand the customer buying journey in the absence of this critical partnership between strategic accounts and Marketing.
Leveraging the full power of their function while tapping into the scientific mindset, marketers can analyze data to pinpoint opportunities to advance account plans and engage with customers. The magic lies in how they tell the value story using their brand, services and partnership as they would use Lego blocks to craft a personalized solution – an account-based solution – in a way that is engaging and consistent across all channels.
Whether the customer is online, on the phone or in a store, the story should always be consistent, enticing and shareable. We see the best organizations do these things as a team, coming together to provide the best customer experience.
While SAMs must function as the orchestrator of both the customer organization and their own internal account teams, the marketing team can help by participating in the development of joint scorecards that integrate the customer goals and KPIs, thereby demonstrating measurable impact on the customer’s business model.
The final word
In these disruptive times, where the SAM role is growing ever-more complex, the strategic accounts organization has a tremendous opportunity to leverage Marketing as their quarterback, especially when SAMs seek personalized, actionable insights and value solution alongside the customer decision-making journey.
Allow us to borrow an analogy from diving. The SAM is the explorer, diving deeply into the needs and goals of their accounts. But in order to deep dive, they need air from their counterparts in Marketing in the form of analytics, business cases and data-based insights. The only path forward is to take the plunge…together.
- Strategic Account Management Association (SAMA) Formalizes Partnership with The Congruity Group - April 10, 2023
- How To Build A Resilient Sales Identity - February 14, 2023
- Strategic Account Manager Training: Begin with the End in Mind and Ask the Right Questions - February 3, 2023