One of the most frequent conversations SAMA has with members of our community is about strategic account manager training. Oftentimes they are unsure about how to begin the process and what to consider when making training decisions. We always suggest starting with the end in mind by asking them three questions:
What do you want to achieve?
How quickly do you want to start?
What are the KPIs for measuring their progress toward achieving their goals?
The answers to these questions will become the reference when moving forward with training development.
By Harvey Dunham, Managing Director of Business Development, SAMA
When the holidays approach, and my thoughts drift toward the special circumstance of having three generations of the Dunham family together in one place, I allow myself the occasional indulgence of waxing philosophical. Lately, I’ve been thinking about this question: What is the higher purpose of a strategic account manager?
Is it, as Milton Friedman would surely espouse, simply to create profit for your company’s shareholders? To make rich guys richer, in other words? As someone with a long career in sales — first as a fresh-out-of-the-Coast Guard salesman for Schneider Electric and then later as a district manager, strategic account manager and eventually country president — who is gracefully (I think) approaching retirement, my answer has aged and settled over time. And if you asked me now, “What is the higher purpose of the SAM?” I would say this:
The very best SAMs are entrepreneurs who not only create jobs but quite literally create the future.
Is it hokey? Maybe. But like I said, the holidays put me in a sentimental frame of mind. But I’m thinking about a conversation I had not too long ago with a strategic account manager whose name and company I won’t mention because it’s not nearly as important as the work he’s doing. The context of the conversation was this man’s final review before being conferred the official designation of SAMA Certified Strategic Account Manager (CSAM).
The purpose of the final review (and, indeed, of the CSAM program itself) is to demonstrate that the candidate has not only completed all of his or her coursework but is applying what they have learned to their actual strategic customers. (Lest this turn into a sly advertisement for SAMA certification, I won’t say more.) For his final review, the candidate, who works for a global pharmaceutical company, enumerated four initiatives he is currently working on for his customer, a large institutional customer.
We live in turbulent times, and there are all kinds of reasons – especially for those inclined to look for them – to be cynical. But here is a guy with a crystal clear vision of what he is doing and why he is doing it — to create a better existence for doctors and nurses, for the families of patients and, most importantly, for patients themselves. Here is a guy who is pouring his heart and soul into creating a better future for people who are suffering through the most painful and difficult human experiences.
As I was listening to this exemplary strategic account manager recount how his solution is directly helping patients suffering from cancer, I felt an incredible pride for the work that SAMA does training and educating strategic account managers — who are literally out there making the world a better place.
It got me thinking about my own proudest moments as a strategic account manager. In some ways, it was just another deal — the kind a SAM closes, pats himself on the back for, has a few beers with the team to celebrate and then forgets about because there’s always more work to be done. I’d been brought into reanimate a relationship that had been transactional before it had fallen off a cliff. Long story short, we went from selling a few random products into this giant manufacturer to being the single-source supplier in our category.
Overnight, we went from darkness into light. Like most sales guys with more than a few notches in my belt, I find bragging abhorrent. I only mention this career highlight because it represents the moment I realized that I wasn’t just selling products — I was creating jobs, sometimes hundreds of them, that helped sustain families. All those millions (or even billions) of dollars’ worth of products had to be loaded into a truck, installed, tested and commissioned — you get the picture.
The SAM job is a difficult one. No doubt about it. If you’re doing it right, you aren’t sitting around waiting for someone to identify a need before springing into action. You’re starting with a blank piece of paper, developing initiatives that create real value for you AND your customer, and then you’re marshaling the resources — internal and external — to bring it all together.
So while being a SAM (or KAM or GAM) is undoubtedly one of the hardest jobs there is, I believe it’s also one of the most rewarding. And that’s why I try to inspire the SAMs I interact with to aspire to be not just good SAMs but great ones. Because great SAMs are actively creating a better tomorrow, one deal at a time!
At SAMA we strive to be innovative in how we deliver value to our customers, and that means experimenting with different formats and media for learning, training and networking. That’s why we have partnered with Edmund Bradford, a former global account manager who is now an author, educator and game designer. He is the managing director of Market2Win and developer of SAM2Win, the world’s first online game that teaches strategic account management.
SAMA Assistant Director of Knowledge & Training Dave Schweizer recently sat down with Edmund to discuss the SAM2Win training/simulation, which SAMA will offer beginning in November.Their interview has been lightly edited and condensed. You can listen to the entire interview here:
Dave Schweizer: Thank you for joining us, Ed. So what exactly is the SAM2Win program?
Edmund Bradford: As far as I know, it’s the only game in the world that actually teaches strategic account management, rather than selling. I think the best way to think about it is it’s kind of like a flight simulator for account managers and teams based on over 30 years of research and experience from myself and my colleagues, both practitioners and academics. In the simulation, we have five global companies all competing for the business of one complex global account. Each company typically has about one to five players, who act as the account manager or act as an account team if they’re playing as a team. And the participants or the teams play against each other — not against the computer — with all the fun and irrational behavior that generates from that. And simply, the winner is the company that makes the most profit at the end.
DS: In the simulation, participants can make certain decisions. What kind of decisions can they make, and how do they enter those?
EB: We pose three big questions to the participants. The first big question is “Where should we compete in the account?” In other words, which sales opportunities are the best for the future? We want them to be future-oriented in this. So, “Where should we compete in the account?” Sales opportunities, in other words.
Second question is “How do we beat the competition?” Which, in other words, really means, “How do we craft superior value propositions that fit current and future needs of customers and that will also beat any other competitor offers out there?”
And finally, the third question that they need to think about is, “When do we want to see the results?” So do we have lots of time in front of us, or do we need some results here in this particular period that will affect the kind of decisions the account makes? So it’s sales opportunities within this account, how to invest to generate the best customer value, share of wallet and profit (both for now and for the future) and how to invest to outsmart the competition.
We also look at the decisions, and analyze those decisions and provide feedback on how they’re making those decisions. So we give course correction guidance as we go through the simulation.
DS: How are the outcomes of each decision calculated?
EB: We typically run about five decision rounds in the simulation. When each decision round closes, our software engine compares all the decisions made by the different companies, and the companies that grow the fastest are those that invested most effectively in creating the best value propositions and the best sales opportunities.
So it’s all about getting your strategy right, getting the tactics right for how you are generating value and making sure that your decisions and your thinking are better than the competition. It looks at all the decisions from all the teams and says, “Who’s making the best decisions from the customer point of view and, therefore, from a customer point of view, where would you place your business?”
DS: Sounds like a very complicated thing to develop.
EB: I would say probably 10 years of real experience of creating and supporting account programs in companies went into it. Even before we put the software together, there was a lot of research and experience that went into it because we really wanted to get it right.
DS: That’s very impressive. So what knowledge can the participants expect to gain from the simulation?
EB: Well, there’s a huge amount, both in terms of knowledge and skills. First, they learn how to apply a good needs-based segmentation to the account. One of the first real wins is for them to go back to their account plans, get back to their strategic account analysis and say to themselves, “How should we divide up this account? Maybe there are cross-division, cross-country needs, which are similar. We just need to find that ‘golden vein’ of needs that run across the whole account.”
Second, we teach some great tools about how to pick the best sales opportunities for the future. So “Where should we focus our spend effort to generate the best long-term relationship with the account for the future?”
Third, it’s about developing superior value propositions — understanding what value actually means, crafting value propositions that are superior to anything the competitors are providing and making sure that we communicate that to customers.
Fourth, I think it’s about just getting better strategic customer analysis. For example, in the simulation, there’s a big procurement piece. With our good mutual friend David Atkinson, we’ve put a lot of good thoughts into the simulation around understanding procurement and how to align our account strategy with the procurement strategy — seeing how we’re positioned in the eyes of Procurement, both as a supplier and also in terms of our category of spend.
Those are the big knowledge areas, but I would also say: learning the art of strategic focus. So many account plans have this idea that we’re going to compete everywhere, against all competitors, in all sales opportunities, equally all of the time. And every time there’s an RFP coming up, we’re going to leap on it with all our resources. And the trouble is there’s not enough time to understand what the genuine needs are, and so that leads to shallow value propositions, very poor co-development of value and then stressed, unhappy and dissatisfied customers.
DS: Fantastic. How much time per week should participants expect to allocate for this program?
EB: You’re talking really about two days of effort over 16 weeks, and that equates to roughly about one-and-a-half hours per week. So it’s not nothing, but neither is it going to take over your life.
DS: How else do participants benefit from the simulation?
EB: Well, I’m glad you asked, Dave. First, it’s about account leadership skills, particularly around strategic thinking and execution. Participants become good at sort of rising above the details to understand the future, to not get buried in all the data. They become basically good at sort of, you know, seeing the companies play, understanding their future, recognizing their company’s place in that future and learning how to get there. So they are proactively aiming their company at a good place in the future rather than being dragged into bad places by the customer or by the competition.
Second, I think the benefit is that players are free to fail. The simulation allows an opportunity to experiment and take risks in a safe environment. And the nice thing is that no one gets sacked from playing the simulation. You learn from the mistakes and think about how you can apply the lessons learned to real life.
Third, players become very good at thinking about the issues and putting account plans together.
An unexpected result that I’ve seen: When we get people from different functional backgrounds, we see better alignment because – whether they’re coming from Finance or Logistics or Marketing – playing the simulation, they get a better understanding of what account management is all about. People end up sharing a common language. Some of the best games I’ve seen have been from cross-functional teams from the same organization.
DS: Do you have any tips on how to win?
EB: Do you watch “The Great British Bake Off”? Well, if so, you know Paul Hollywood. He’s asked, “Any final tips before the competitors go out there and bake their cakes?” I’m a little like Paul: I don’t want to give too much away. But I’ll say two things. Number one: Do your homework. Number two: If you’re losing, it’s probably because you’ve misdiagnosed the real problem. I’ll just leave it at that.