This blog post is based on a keynote presentation from the 2021 SAMA Annual Conference. The session was moderated by Jim Ford, Chief Commercial Officer, Solecta and SAMA Chairman of the Board. Panelists’ remarks have been paraphrased for this blog post.
The future is now.
After 14 months of chaos, now is the time for SAMs to learn from the past and prepare for the future. Regardless of the organization we work at, we could be outspent, out resourced or out marketed but we do have the opportunity to outthink our competition. The challenge is to visualize what that future will look like.
Over the past 12 months, SAMA has established a knowledgeable point of view based on hundreds of webinars, the SAMA Experts Council and countless interviews with members. From all this, we stress tested long-held views about strategic account management. We acquired real-time, relevant insight from the world’s best practitioners and thought leaders in the SAMA community.
Panelists: the three experts of SAM
- Karen Passmore is Partner at the management consulting firm McKinsey and Company where she works on organizational design and go-to-market strategies with a focus on breaking down organizational silos. She also works on sales effectiveness and has recently done some innovative work around omni-channel excellence.
- Frédérick Kahn is Global Vice President of Sales at Wavelength Pharmaceuticals. He is a savant in bringing SAM programs to life, revitalizing SAM programs and helping get the most out of a SAM program from a structure and talent perspective. On a global scale, he’s worked for Hovione, Lonza and other private equity and venture capital organizations.
- Kaj Storbacka is a professor at Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki and Founder of Market Shaping Lab. He has served on the board of directors at SAMA. He’s a global thought leader around business-model innovation, market design and disruption. He’s authored more than a dozen books and is a frequent guest speaker around the globe for corporations, executive education and various industry communities.
The future of SAM: Four critical dimensions
When considering the future of SAM, panelists highlight four dimensions around which SAMs should consider some critical questions for themselves and their organizations. They are:
- Stakeholder Value: Clients have all had to pivot to survive; as a result, the sources of value creation and relevant stakeholders have shifted. Ask yourself: What is stakeholder value in a rapidly changing environment where organizations, whether thriving or striving to survive, are scrutinizing SAM programs and asking, “What’s the payback? What’s the value creation across our clients’ value chains and the ecosystems with which we’re involved?”
- Customer-Centric Program Design: Dynamic times mean agility in program design for optimal customer experience. Ask yourself: How are programs designed, and how do they support the concept of customer centricity? What’s the right mix of people? What are the right support structures? How do we leverage technology? How do we engage and connect with our individual strategic accounts?
- Impact of Digital: Digital impact on SAM was already significant and the pandemic has accelerated adoption by ten times or more. Ask yourself: What does the acceleration of digital adoption and the explosion of available data mean for SAM?
- SAM Skills & SAM Role: The SAM role leads the customer experience and continues to evolve and elevate as expectations grow. Ask yourself: How do the above three dimensions impact the role, function and skillset of SAM? Per Phil Styrlund, CEO of The Summit Group, what are the hard and soft skills needed to be a “SAM virtuoso” and stay ahead?
The new world: Changes we are seeing
The Covid-19 crisis has created a new world for SAMs. SAMs must redefine how they interact with their customers and their own organizations. SAMs can excel in the new world by:
- offering broader interactions with customers
- engaging customers in new and different ways
- adopting a more integrated, multifunctional approach
- becoming market makers
- adjusting their notion of stakeholder value
Offer broader interactions with customers.
Passmore emphasizes that customers are looking for an “omni-channel” model where they have “more interactions across a broader, more diverse set of people.” Customers are looking for more than physical interactions. They became comfortable with digital connections over the pandemic and often prefer the flexibility of those interactions.
Engage customers in new and different ways.
Delegate directly to your customers. Passmore emphasizes that “there is agrowing desire for digital self-serve for customers.” It’s important to engage with customers and organizations in new ways. “Don’t look at SAM programs in isolation,” says Kahn. “We have to understand how SAM relates to the other ways that we engage with customers like marketing, sales, supply chain management.”
Adopt a more integrated, multifunctional approach.
Build multifunctional teams includingsupply chain, quality and operations that focus on servicing customers. Prioritize learning development capabilities within your organization. Storbacka recommends “automating routines, which should free up time to do strategic things.”
Become market makers.
Kahn suggests that SAMs need to be “innovating markets…We have to look at the whole system of stakeholders and see how we can create value within that.”
Adjust notion of stakeholder value.
Organizations are redefining value. This requires SAMs to shift how they create and define value. It’s not only shareholder value, customer value or stakeholder value. We need to look beyond the customer relationship and the account. Kahn explains “We have to look at how to create value in in a world where the market is much more malleable.” (See Figure 1)
Six skills for success in the future
To be a leader not a laggard in this new world, SAMs need to enhance their skills. McKinsey recently completed research about the longer-term impact of the changes and what separates leaders from laggards in terms of growth. The research was conducted with 25 companies across 10 industries, more broadly about sales, but it has real implications for SAMs and SAM programs. See results in Figure 2.
#1 Action-oriented analytics
Become an expert in analytics. Make sure to translate your data into actionable insights.
#2 Customer–centric focus
Focus on your customer relationship, establishing trust and better understanding how they create value for themselves. Kahn recommends that “by providing the optimum value that the customer expects, you can generate a very profitable business.”
#3 Strategic mindset
Become a “strategizer” who is always focusing on new ways to help your own organization. Also, educate customers and stakeholders on new ways you can help them create value.
#4 Facilitative style
Be an orchestrator. Create alliances, assemble partners, build joint development efforts and fulfill value-based solutions to meet both the customer’s expectations and your company’s expectations.
#5 General management skills
Be sure to manage by “influence and objective” not from a hierarchical perspective. Having strong management skills will help SAMs be even more efficient.
Be flexible and open to trying different scenarios. Test, retest and then iterate and evolve as necessary. A successful SAM is entrepreneurial and avoids analysis by paralysis. Storbacka says “We should make less plans and have more action.”
Looking to the future: exciting times
Panelists expressed optimism about the role of SAMs in the future. There is an opportunity for SAMs to play a more strategic, impactful role within their organizations where they truly represent the eyes and ears of their customers.
Passmore sums up the future for SAMs up by saying “It’s clear that the SAM plays an elevated role in this evolving world, being at the center of what is now an ecosystem, a fragmented team of marketing, customer service, customer success and analytics. There is no one else better positioned to lead, to orchestrate that team, to play that role and to represent the needs of a customer.”
Let us know how you plan to position your organization for the future.