By Robert Hueber, Business Unit Director, Packaging, Herrmann Ultraschall

Artur Wagner, Founder and Partner, MP Consulting

Today, an increasing number of medium-sized B2B technology companies are establishing a global strategic account management (SAM) program for their most important customers. This was not always so. In the past, CEOs of such companies did not believe that customers, vastly larger than themselves in size, would be interested and willing to engage in a partnering and co-development process.

The SAMA slogan “It’s not about size, but all about relevance!” can become reality if the foundations for such a program are laid and a systematic process for building a SAM program is established.

We are convinced that our findings are perfectly applicable to larger companies as well. Many of these have already implemented a SAM initiative, but not all are reaping its benefits. This, we will argue, is mostly due to a sub-standard design and/or faulty implementation.

The aim here is to provide a specific methodology for assessing an optimal level of customer-centricity and the best way for integrating the SAM organization into the matrix organization.

The methodology

1. Secure CEO engagement. Due to the strategic and all-encompassing nature of SAM, it is not enough to have executive-level support. You need CEO support. The CEO needs to understand the need for SAM and fully support the journey, not only because it represents a considerable investment but also because it touches all dimensions of a company. The CEO should not only be a supporter but a raving promoter of SAM within the company!

2. Evaluate SAM-readiness. Before you embark on the SAM journey, you need to ask a certain number of questions: Is the go-to-market organization ready for SAM, or do you need to first change its mindset towards a stronger customer orientation? Does my company have customers for which a SAM approach will bring tangible value? Are we at this point willing and able to add another strategic initiative to those that currently engage us?

3. Plan thoroughly and be patient. The SAM process should definitely not be rushed. Be decisive but patient, and do not skip any developmental phases. Furthermore, if you don’t have experienced people to design and build the program, do not hesitate to hire core competencies or get outside help.

4. Understand your starting point. Analyze before you start. First, understand your current position with your key customers, the level of customer-centricity required and the time and resources to reach the desired level.

5. Integrate SAM into the whole picture. Your SAM program should be deeply integrated not only into your sales and channel strategy but also into your corporate strategy. Make sure it always stays high on the agenda. Furthermore, embed your SAM program into a culture journey to secure awareness, communication and collaboration.

6. Properly position and leverage SAM to increase customer-centricity. Properly positioning and embedding your SAM initiative within the overall organization should not be based on a trial-and-error process. It must result from a conceptual understanding of how matrix organizations work and how best to organize around your top customers. Furthermore, use the occasion to rethink your overall go-to-market and channel strategy.

7. Build coalitions. Find peers and higher-level executives from other BUs and departments who are not only supportive but willing to “get on the bus.” Critical mass and funds are needed to make it happen.

8. Identify talent early. As soon as you have a clear picture of the SAM organization, actively start filling the SAM positions. This is time sensitive, as it is difficult to find the right candidates. The profile of the SAM has a strong leadership component and is crucial for the overall success of the company.

9. Manage expectations. Managing expectations internally and externally with the customer is one of the most critical tasks of the SAM. The ability to communicate clearly and quickly and to openly address critical issues is one of the key requirements for gaining the status of a trusted advisor.

In summary, any company building a SAM program must expect it to significantly advance its organization. Once strategic partnerships are being established with key customers, momentum and pressure will build up. They will push you to the next level. This can result in “growing pains,” which can be overcome by your willingness to adapt quickly to their needs. The end result will be an organization that is truly customer-centric and fully customer responsive. It will ensure you stay or become number one in your market.

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