In difficult times, sometimes red tape turns orange

By Saleh Al-Ben Saleh

Strategic Account Manager, Emerson Automation Solutions

It is quite rare you get into a global economic struggle with two, simultaneous disruptive factors, but we have just this situation now with the combination of the COVID 19 pandemic and the deterioration of the price of oil. As if one of them wouldn’t be enough to wreak havoc around the globe, it’s almost like they joined together to achieve their goal of maximum disruption.

The overall impact of these two simultaneous disruptors is something I doubt any of us will forget any time soon. It has forced decision makers to enact abrupt cost cuts (fixed and variable), encourage remote working, reduce active manpower on sites, adopt high dependence on virtual communications and virtual teamwork technologies, and finally to acknowledge the harmful impact of the pandemic and seek to at least minimize the damage. Only a lucky few end-users are still on the upper side of the revenue/cost chart. 

I would say there has never been a more important time for strategic account managers to proactively steer business efforts aimed at creating new business value for both the supplier and the customer. While SAMs have surely already created and captured real business value for his or her accounts, it’s time to take these efforts to the next level. But how?

1. Look backward. Start by going back to your old notes, and you will be sure to find a few topics and suggestions that you addressed with the client in the past that — for whatever reason, unfortunately — were rejected at the time. (Some of these justifications for rejection will still exist; others may not.) You just might find that much of the red tape created at the time has become orange — if not green! Conditions have changed in unpredictable ways, and you just might find your key customer contacts more receptive now.

2. Ask your key contact(s) if they’re open to having a conversation. You don’t want to push against a closed door.

3. Be direct. With this affirmative confirmation in place, ask bluntly for the opportunity to help by offering suggestions in light of new developments.

4. Make sure you can execute first. This is critical: Before doing anything else with the customer, first lay the groundwork internally to make sure (1) your organization is prepared to act quickly should your “red” tape turn “green” and (2) any suggested action or solution will still be a sound investment — and strong reference case — once the economic situation has improved.

5. Focus on the risk of inaction. Once you get in front of your customer, it will be imperative to make a very explicit case for the need to move forward and the risk of doing nothing.

6. Make sure you presentation is hyper-focused. You’re not likely to get face to face time with your key customer stakeholders, so you will be relying on virtual business meeting tools. Yes, this can sap some of the power of your communication, so you will need to compensate by having a focused agenda and set strategy for conveying your key messages to your various stakeholders.

7. Be prepared to escalate. You should not take any step that could potentially negatively impact relationships with your customer stakeholders. However, if your proposals are getting rejected with no clear reason, and you truly believe the risk of “no action” to be severe, be prepared to escalate to a higher level within the customer organization — while stressing at all times that you’re acting in good faith and genuine to desire to help.

Results-oriented clients will surely understand your persistence in wanting to help them through these difficult times.

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