Ulrik Monberg has nearly 20 years of experience in selling and delivering complex digital transformation projects to large international enterprises. He has held various positions in management consulting companies in Scandinavia and the Middle East and is the co-founder of Arpedio, the Danish software firm (and SAMA global technology partner) that helps B2B companies grow their customer relationships and manage complex sales.
Harvey Dunham is Managing Director for Strategy for the Strategic Account Management Association.
Harvey Dunham: So good day, everyone. My name is Harvey Dunham from SAMA. I’m the managing director of marketing and strategy for SAMA and really delighted today to have with us all Ulrik Monberg, who’s the CEO of Arpedio, a company based in Denmark that builds tools, basically, to be able to manage a strategic account and really understand the relationship and manage the relationships with those accounts.
And there’s been a lot of questions and a lot of discussion in the SAMA community about relationship management, the importance of relationship mapping and how to do it. And I thought it would be great to get the perspective of someone who’s built a tool to enable that. And Ulrik comes into this role with many years of management consultancy before he started up his own company and knows large accounts and the complexity of large accounts and has come up with what I think is a simple solution that’s very powerful and elegant in its simplicity, because it allows you to take something complex, the relationship of these large multinational firms, and boil it down to its essence so that you can actually do things about it. So, Ulrik, so happy you could join us. Thank you very much for giving us your time and I look forward to discussing this with you.
Ulrik Monberg: Hey, Harvey. Super happy to be here and really looking forward to just discussing one of my topics closest to heart: how we actually work with this complex stakeholder management so important for the strategic accounts.
Harvey Dunham: You know, I’ll dive right in here and say that, you know, one of the things that we know from our various consultants that are in the SAMA community — Vantage Partners and others — that the number of people in a customer that are involved in making a decision, a buying decision, have grown over the years. I mean, probably when I first started my career years ago, there might be one person making the decision. Now we see that it can be 10 or more people that are really involved, have formed a committee or a group, and they’re making this buying decision. So what are the implications of that? And what have you done to basically address that issue and help people manage that?
Ulrik Monberg: Yeah. When, when we first founded the company, it was all around Challenger Sale that now it becomes Gardner, where you needed your 5.4 stakeholders. That was the “new black” to actually make sure that you’ve got into knowing your accounts and be able to sell your complex solution. So that number has just grown.
And what we’ve seen is you need multiple people on your own team to match the growing number of stakeholders. Because it’s not enough that you have a one-to-one relationship, as you just mentioned, which is, unfortunately, something that a lot of account managers still fall in the trap of thinking that they have a good relationship with the customer because they have a very good relationship to one person.
But you definitely need to make sure that it’s divided between your team members. It’s into personal chemistry as well as interests and your knowledge and expertise that you actually match better to another set of stakeholders. So we’ve enabled with our tool that you build out a simple grid where you actually map out these stakeholders so that you have a visible way of actually seeing who knows who. So you don’t talk about contacts on an account. You actually talk about relationships on an account. So you actually talk about who knows who basically.
Harvey Dunham: Right. So you’re actually matching the people at the customer to the people in your company and it’s the SAM, from our perspective at least, it’s the SAM that really has to orchestrate it, keep it up to date.
Ulrik Monberg: Yeah. You need the visibility into it. And formerly that was in PowerPoint solutions or on a whiteboard or an Excel sheet where you’ve actually tried to map this out. But you need the visibility into what are then the actions. Because on the account team, the SAM needs to orchestrate, as you said, who is going to take the next activities towards specific stakeholders. And it’s not always the SAM. Again, sometimes it’s the technical architect. Sometimes it’s the innovation team. Sometimes it’s the finance manager. It doesn’t really matter, but as long as, you know, from a SAM perspective, who is going to take the next actions in this relationship map so that we move the account in the right direction.
Harvey Dunham: I think the other thing that must be important then is to be able to give visibility to everybody on your side…
Ulrik Monberg: Exactly.
Harvey Dunham: …of what’s happening and what the current state is and what the plan is. So maybe a few words about how you do that?
Ulrik Monberg: Yeah. We’ve built the whole solution on top of Salesforce. So Salesforce is one of the systems of record for a CRM solutions out there used in the big organizations. And basically what you want to do is, you want to make sure that the relationship maps are not in my drawer. So it’s not something that I have on my table and I know it, but anyone around the globe basically should be able to see who knows who on the account so that they make sure that the actions and the dialogues that they have on the account is visible to the rest of the account team. And in particular to the SAM.
Harvey Dunham: Well, I, you know, one other thought just occurred to me too. I’d love to get your comment on this. The most important knowledge that the SAM has about his customer is who the key people are. And if the SAM leaves, for whatever reason, or if there are changes — whatever breaks the relationship — if you don’t know who the key people are within the customer, you’re a long way behind the game when there’s a…
Ulrik Monberg: You have an open gate to the competitors, right? Because they have spent all the time where this account manager that was working on the account, they have spent that time on trying to position themselves, trying to build relationships into it. So all of a sudden they have better relationships than your company. So it’s of huge importance that you collect this data and then know that you have a cadence for updating it.
And that has to be simple. Because otherwise, we all know that the everyday life of the SAM is not one where you want to sit in and write comments around all the contacts all the time when it changes. It has to be simple and simplistic.
Harvey Dunham: Right. It’s a bit like an insurance policy, really.
Ulrik Monberg: Definitely. We’ve heard that term before.
Harvey Dunham: I can imagine, yeah. Because it’s a risk basically that you have: how as a large company do you manage the risk with your largest and most important customers?
So, you know, given your background as a management consultant before you started Arpedio, you must have a lot of insight into how companies actually operate. What’s your view on, on your customers and companies, in general, what is the biggest impediment to building these meshed or zippered relationships with the customers and managing [them]?
Ulrik Monberg: Basically, today’s decision makers are, they’re even more geographically dispersed, and they are in different areas of the product or functional areas that we need to actually encompass when we look at who knows who in the organization. So in earlier times, you could just visit your account. You could basically go to the decision makers and understand where the account was moving. And today it’s just, as we all also go more and more virtual, it’s much more important to make sure that you map this out in a common way across the account. So you actually get a common language of who is actually a decision maker, who is actually the buyer or who is actually a mobilizer for us on this account, or who’s actually a blocker for us and wants the competitor to go in there? And that’s even more important that you get that common language around how you address the stakeholders and categorize them to operate efficiently.
Harvey Dunham: Interesting. It’s almost like you’re building a new capability or a new skill within your sales organization to have this knowledge and almost sensitivity to what’s happening within your customer.
Ulrik Monberg: Yeah. You can say you have a possibility to be proactive in actually moving the total relationship with the customer forward instead of being reactive in terms of just reacting to what you are being told.
And then of course there is the knowing what matters to the individual stakeholder as well. Again, if you’re, if you’re too focused on a one-on-one relationship, what actually is important for the rest of the buying group or the rest of the relationship, or the relationship of the stakeholders on the customer side really gets blurred for you as an individual. But it might be very clear to other members of your team. So getting to know what’s really important for each individual is what I see works in these large accounts as well.
Harvey Dunham: So, I mean, in essence, what you’re saying is, is that when there’s a decision that’s going to be met, if you know who’s sitting around the table…
Ulrik Monberg: You can actually map out whole individual goals in terms of, of what they want to obtain with this new product, new feature, new strategic direction or whatever it might be.
Harvey Dunham: Right. Interesting. You know, one of the SAM best practices that we encourage the SAMs to do, and we repeat it often because it’s something that you can’t have enough of I would say, which is to create high, wide, and deep relationships. And, you know, in terms of best practice, what do you see in your customers that are, that are doing this well? What are the great SAMs doing?
Ulrik Monberg: Yeah, the best SAMs I’ve seen are actually as focused in on what relationships they have as well as all the relationships that they don’t have. So what you don’t know is equally important as what you know around the relationships on the account. And another area where we really use the Arpedio methodology is the ability to go in and assess the account mapping and the account relationships, reflect on why you are red [Ed. note: In the Arpedio tool, red indicates a weak or endangered relationship] on different areas and then put a plan together with the account team and execute it. So a plan could be to make sure that they are engaged in the next corporate event — if we are allowed to have such a thing. Or they receive the newest publications or whatever it is. And then two weeks down the line we reassess. So is there an area here where we have seen an impact? Is there something that we still don’t know, we want to know, we need to know in order to move forward?
And that really goes into high, wide and deep relationships because just because you know something about the account, you also need to know what you don’t know. So you need to know where you have some black spots where you’re not engaged well enough, so you can assess it, reflect upon why you are not good enough engaged, put a plan together and execute. And then reassess. Does that make sense?
Harvey Dunham: It does make sense. And now I’m thinking about the SAM role and you know, really the, the approach you’re advocating here, which is the SAM is, you know, like a symphony conductor, the leader, but isn’t necessarily the forger of that relationship. The person who’s actually making it…
Ulrik Monberg: No, it’s more like an agile coach in this agile and scrum world. Also because on the big accounts, the relationship map changes all the time, like you mentioned before. So basically if the CFO moves away, what impacts does it have? What are the next actions we’re going to take around that? Who’s the new person? And then you have to orchestrate that again. So you actually have to be the conductor, making sure that whoever is best positioned to improve the account relationship has some actions against that.
Harvey Dunham: And I, you know, I just to follow up on that. An observation that I have is, is that experts like to meet with other experts in their discipline. Do you see that, and is that really the basis of why it can’t just be the SAM trying to forge these relationships, it’s got to get your other people involved?
Ulrik Monberg: Definitely. But you have to, you have to then educate or enable or empower those experts so that they use maybe five or 10 percent of that time they are thinking about the expert area to also think about, okay, what do I need of information and from this dialogue for the account relationship? So actually making sure that that I’m equipped and, and, also informed about what we need to know on the account in order to move the account relationship forward.
But definitely it is about experts want to talk to other experts and, and some finance people want to talk to finance and some developers want to talk about the new best things in AI or whatever. So definitely not something that SAM necessarily can gain the trust and insight into the account based on, on his skills or his relations with other top personnel at the customer level.
Harvey Dunham: Right, right, right. Do you see SAMs, are they actually, with these experts, you know, maybe suggesting some questions or some areas to explore with their counterpart?
Ulrik Monberg: Yeah. They are. Actually what they do is they help highlight areas where we need some information and then kind of play the ball with the other team members, which just, again, puts in some effort on the SAM to control the internal processes. Because you need to engage equally in the internal processes and make sure that the experts, if we should use that as a, as a group of people here, that they have the sufficient information about how this customer actually has, what are their key pain points? What are the overall areas where we are trying to co-create some value with this customer? In that sense, you need to educate your internal team as well. And the good SAMs I meet with, they, they, they really do that. So they would get a lot of energy out of also enabling their internal team.
Harvey Dunham: Interesting. This is way in the weeds, maybe too far in the weeds. But I’m just curious, did the great SAMs ask the expert or a local person, whoever they’ve delegated the responsibility to, to better understand this relationship? Do they enable those people to make the changes in the tool and you know, update the status of the relationship?
Ulrik Monberg: So basically, in that way, you also feel a little bit more empowered. And as an expert you can put in, ” I know Harvey, and I have a good relationship with him.” And all of a sudden I can indicate that to the whole account team and actually to the whole organization, my own teams, that I have a good relationship with Harvey. So if anyone needs to talk to Harvey, it might be a good idea to call me. So that’s definitely a part of, of our tool and empowerment as well.
Harvey Dunham: You know, I’m curious. We haven’t talked so much about the leader of the strategic account effort. How do you see them working with the relationship status of a customer? What’s best practice for a SAM leader, as you see it?
Ulrik Monberg: We are actually enabling when we implement the tools to organizations that part of the first sessions are around “What does good stakeholder management look like?” So we actually have a red, green and amber score for the relationship on the account. And what happens to the leader is enable him or her to look into numerous accounts and look for the ones where the relationship score’s low, dig into why is the relationship score low. Is there any support I need to give? Is there some specific training on how to do relationship management that we could engage in this specific team, instead of going out broad and talk about a high, wide and deep relationship management? But you can be much more specific when you already have an idea of what good looks like.
Harvey Dunham: So it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got 10 strategic accounts or 200…
Ulrik Monberg: Nope.
Harvey Dunham: …You’ve got a visual and you can quickly see where you’re…
Ulrik Monberg: Exactly.
Harvey Dunham: And know where…
Ulrik Monberg: Where do you get most value out of, out of the strategic leader or the global account manager’s time? Supporting and building, and building up some better relationships.
Harvey Dunham: Maybe just a couple of words of how you sort of calculate this relationship score?
Ulrik Monberg: Yeah. Basically, we have an initial model that we go in and, and deploy when we implement the tool. So basically what it does is it enables the organization to define how many relationships do you need on an account? And with relationships, I mean, how many good relationships do you need to X number of stakeholders on the customer side against number of internal resources? So you might say that we need 10 good relationships in order to actually go to green on this.
But furthermore, we put in place a stakeholder analysis. So you can define some attributes against which you want to measure the quality of a certain relationship, a certain stakeholder in the organization. So that could be, is, is that person in favor of us, is that person a power player, is that person wants to change, in general? Or is he basically against? But all these attributes can be designed when we set up the tool. And that also goes into the scoring mechanism. So maybe you say we need three power play players to be in favor of my team, our company, in order to be green. And then you start to build up a logic around that where you can actually move that forward. So if you would collect in all of this data, we can actually deploy an AI engine to look at that data and suggest where things are missing. And that is in the next steps of, of our development at the moment.
Harvey Dunham: What I’m hearing is that for each one of your customers, you can set the parameters of how this calculation will be made. So it isn’t like it’s buried inside the code. You can’t touch it.
Ulrik Monberg: No, no, no, no, no, no.
Harvey Dunham: You say, as you said, we need 10 relationships here. This is what a good relationship looks like. And then we, you know, basically calculate the score for the account.
Ulrik Monberg: Yeah. And, basically, one of our big customers is, I’m allowed to mention that’s Deloitte. And they have actually, after spending two years using the tool, they actually gone in and reassessed what the rules should be. So they adjusted it slightly because they found that it was sometimes a little too difficult to get to green because they could see that some of their accounts where they had good growth, they were always a little bit on the yellow side because they have defined the rules too narrow. So we built out the rules a little bit. And then the utilization of the tool just increased because, because they, they got an even better picture of focusing only on the red accounts, where the relationship really needed to improve in order to, to, not lose the account or, or to build some more business.
Harvey Dunham: Wow, that’s very, very cool. That’s nice to know that it can dynamically change. This is not a…
Ulrik Monberg: It’s not a static one because the world is not static and we should– we always encourage our customers also to use the intelligent data that it’s actually put in by their intelligence, key resources in our own organization. We put in all this data around how we work with stakeholders. You need to use that data. It’s a goldmine!
Harvey Dunham: Right. Right. Which actually leads me onto, I think, my final question, unless we come up with another interesting thing to ask. Of course, the whole world has changed in the last two months. And the world of face-to-face meetings has basically been taken away from the SAMs that we know. It seems like most of the SAMs around the world have been told to go home, work from home, stay home, don’t travel. And even if they could travel, the customer is saying, “We don’t want you to come visit. We don’t have our safety regulations down. Or if you come to visit, you’d have to come to my country and quarantine for two weeks.” Or whatever.
So in this kind of an environment, what do you think companies should do with their strategic accounts to either create or strengthen new relationships with customers?
Ulrik Monberg: Actually, there are two things that immediately spring to mind. So you need to enable your account management processes in general to be digital. You have to have that virtual team. You have to be able to get an overview of the account because you’re not going to go into a lot of meetings and draw on the white board and agree on next best steps. You need to do that virtually, and you can do that with tools like Arpedio.
Secondly, on the relationship-building side, and I’ve discussed this both with my own team and with a number of customers. You need to get on the phone. It’s even more important than before, even with the little things. Don’t fall into the trap of sending emails and just asking the questions over emails and wait for the next virtual meeting, where you have set up an account meeting. Even for the little things, clarify it over the phone. Keep building a relationship with picking up the phone and do your calls. Even if it’s for five, 10 minutes, it’s, it’s so important to stay on beat with your relationships, kind of a build-up rapport with people. You need to be very good at doing that on the phone.
And then social media platforms. I have WhatsApp and texts, basically all of my key relationships, a lot. So spending time on the social channels as well. But not keeping it to email because email is, more and more, seen as a dead medium there in the relationship at least.
Harvey Dunham: How do you position a virtual meeting then, a meeting where you’re using Zoom or Skype for business , where do you see that in this connectivity?
Ulrik Monberg: I see that a lot as a replacing the physical meetings. And I see that for the whole future. I think a lot of the physical meetings will be replaced by the virtual ones. But I think we really need to build in the medium steps of connecting and small talking around non-business-related issues to make sure that we build the rapport and the relationships as well.
Harvey Dunham: So it’s your view that a person-to-person phone call is the best way to accomplish…
Ulrik Monberg: Yeah. If I’m meeting a customer tomorrow at three, I will find an excuse to just call and check in a couple of days in advance, just on what’s on the agenda and then a couple of, things just, just to align and make sure that we don’t just have those cadence status calls on the account that’re so rigorous Because that would never happen in real life.
Harvey Dunham: Right. So there’s a sort of an air of informality that you introduce into the exchange with the customer that, “OK. If we’re going to have a formal meeting, we’ll set up a Zoom, we’ll invite others, there’ll be an agenda, etc. But in terms of how you and I collaborate, we don’t necessarily need that. We can just have a quick conversation and maybe a short catch-up on what’s happening personally and dive into a question or two on the phone.” And that’s a best practice.
Ulrik Monberg: Exactly. Yeah. But if I’m a SAM and I run a big account, I can make sure that that happens not just with the ones that I have the key relationships with, but my team members are doing the same thing with their relationships. So it’s something that you need the organization to actually take in and take seriously. Because otherwise a lot of these relationships, for people who are not focusing on that alone, will end up in the sand, as we say in Denmark.
Harvey Dunham: Understood. It makes perfect sense. It’s great to hear your advice and thoughts and vision, I would say, for how to handle what is arguably the most important asset that a company has, which is their relationship with their big customer.
Ulrik Monberg: Yeah, definitely.
Harvey Dunham: And it’s, just, I so thank you for spending time with us and..
Ulrik Monberg: Great questions.
Harvey Dunham: …And, you know, certainly encourage anybody that’s listening, if they have any questions, don’t hesitate to come back to SAMA — to myself or directly to Ulrik at Arpedio.
Ulrik Monberg: You’re very welcome. Just ping me on LinkedIn, and I’ll happily engage in any conversations on stakeholder management. Definitely.
Harvey Dunham: Great.
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