By Abhijit Gangoli, Cofounder and CEO, DemandFarm
The top three decision criteria for B2B buyers today are account managers’ knowledge and understanding of the industry, the business itself, and service provider trustworthiness. Top performing SAMs leverage customer insights and constantly recalibrate how they create value for customers in the face of industry disruptions.
The Essential Seven
Based on our experience working with successful leaders, speaking to hundreds of high-performing CSOs, and studying user experiences over 2,500 consistently growing strategic accounts, we identified seven key drivers of strategic account management. These drivers are most impactful only when they are activated within an effective operating model and applicable to the sales methodology or framework adopted by the organization.
1. PROPOSITION DISTINCTION
Knowledge of the customer’s business and industry, an under-standing of their organization, and how your solutions benefit them in purposeful and innovative ways, is vital to succeed in strategic account management. Thus, proposals must change from being feature-led to being customized, as each customer is truly unique.
If you involve customers in co-creating solutions by encouraging collaboration and dialogue, you have already won a big part of the customer’s mindshare. In our experience, we have seen that by involving customers in co-creation they gain ownership of the solution and are more likely to accept it. Customers feel empowered and believe that the solution is their creation. Not only does this lead to greater acceptance, but the solution better meets the customer’s needs as it was designed by the customer.
2. INTELLIGENCE AGGREGATION
In many organizations, vital information about customers is spread across multiple systems. Data is mostly unstructured and available in emails or PowerPoint presentations. A high level of manual effort is required to pull data and analyze it. By using a digital account-planning tool within your CRM, you can eliminate the need for separate documents. Your firm can transition from disconnected formats and sketchy details to integrated and unified data structures containing broad and deep intent data to mine insights.
Insights can be related to the organization, decision makers, competitors, and even personas. A unified data structure helps create a pathway to organization-level intelligence that builds sustained, person-independent, data-powered relationships with customers. It’s important to have customer data in one place, where it can be easily accessed by all stakeholders. Once done, it can truly accelerate sales. This is corroborated by Gartner, which says that intelligent information drives purchase ease and high-quality sales by 3.0x (Source: Gartner, Future of B2B buying).
3. RELATIONSHIP FOCUS
It is believed that an average of 11 individual stakeholders are involved in a B2B purchase. This number can occasionally increase up to nearly 20 (Source: State of Sales, Salesforce). Hence, it is not possible to cross-sell and upsell if you are not cross-connected and up-connected. This calls for wide and deep relationship mapping — not just how many people and who you know in the customer organization, but how well you know them and their disposition towards your organization.
As the Covid-19 pandemic proved, the partners or vendors who were unable to demonstrate enough value or leverage a deep relationship with their customers, saw their growth diminished. If your relationship with your key customer is only at an operational level, it needs serious revaluation. From just being a partner at an operational level, the relationship has to transition to a level where the customer is an advocate for your products or services. This can also be measured by the number of products or services that the customer has added to their initial purchase. A significant percentage of account planning is using insights from business relationships to create value-added plans for strategic accounts. Effective account planning needs to take these business relationships into account and systematically document the key insights that emerge from these relationships.
4. COLLABORATION ENABLEMENT
Internal collaboration is the key to leveraging opportunities and creating value with innovation. Collaboration must move from limited collaboration within account management teams to multilevel collaborations across internal functions and external stakeholders such as partners, industry bodies, alliances, influencers, and clients. For example, enterprises must check whether the collaboration with the company is restricted to just the account management team or whether collaboration is occurring with teams such as Finance and Marketing. You can also measure this by seeing how many ways the customer partners with your company through activities, including industry or community events, sponsorships, and marketing campaigns.
5. COMMUNICATION MATURITY
Account centricity can also be measured by the communication maturity that a company has with a customer. The progress of communication can be evaluated by the type of feedback. Ideally, feedback should move from passive to active to progressive and finally to continuous participation. Communication also should evolve from being product- or solution-related to contextualized discussions and thought leadership.
For example, valuable thought-leadership content can help customers better understand industry nuances and improve their competitiveness. Communication must transition to conversations, with equal inputs, feedback, and engagement from both sides. The account managers who consistently improve customer conversations will succeed in growing their strategic accounts.
6. PROGRAM MANAGEMENT
Today, customers expect high-touch programs not just across their preferred channels but also across all levels of the buying centers — programs that orchestrate seamlessly and are tailored for specific conversation progressions. To improve account centricity, the account management function has to move from limited, non-personal engagement to omni-channel, collaborative interactions and co-partnered decision-making. Ideally, all initiatives should have the backing of the key influencers or decision makers with active feedback and participation at the C-level. Program effectiveness can also be measured by the type of communication and the number of channels (virtual, physical, blended, omni-channel) that a customer engages in with an organization.
7. GOVERNANCE MECHANISM
Typically, 65% of account managers’ time is spent on non-revenue generating activities (Source: Capterra, 2020). Hence, it is imperative to progress from ad-hoc reporting to outcome-based, real-time tracking with single-view reports accessible to stakeholders anytime on any device. This results in clear, unified, and standardized tracking and reporting. SAM has to transition from activity and tactical output-led tracking and reviewing to outcome-based, real-time tracking of revenue growth and relationship health. For a strategic account, an organization should have a view of every activity related to the account. This includes daily activities and performance-related milestones. To track these easily, SAMs must have access to digital reports that can be viewed anytime.
From our experience, we believe that the above seven components will help organizations create a flexible and scalable approach that consistently creates and delivers value to SAM. These seven components can help enterprises track healthy and vulnerable performance areas and measure the real impact of account-centric sales effectiveness.
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- Strategic Account Manager Training: Begin with the End in Mind and Ask the Right Questions - February 3, 2023