Is there any single skill that has a bigger impact on our personal AND professional lives than decision making? I would argue no. And yet, how much time do we actually spend thinking about how we go about making decisions (large and small)?
As someone working with your company’s largest and most important accounts, you are responsible for making decisions that affect your company’s bottom line, your colleagues’ livelihoods, and your own personal and professional reputation.
While you wouldn’t have gotten to where you are today without some inborn decision-making acuity, there isn’t a person alive who wouldn’t benefit from examining how they go about making decisions and then seeing where they can tinker with their process.
“Making better decisions isn’t one skill but rather a series of tools and frameworks,” writes Shane Parrish, a former intelligence analyst and the founder of the consistently brilliant Farnam Street blog. “What distinguishes consistently good decision makers from poor ones is a series of diverse mental frameworks and tools (as well as relevant specific information).”
This post is about decision making, but if you are interested in consistently amazing, enlightening and thought-provoking articles on everything from learning more quickly to being more creative. Parrish has a voracious, omnivorous mind, so it’s no wonder why 261,000 people (including coaches, athletes and CEOs) subscribe to his newsletter.
We fail to learn. “We all know the person that has 20 years of experience but it’s really the same year over and over,” Parrish writes. “If we don’t understand how we learn, we’re likely to make the same mistakes over and over.”
Looking good, not doing good. We are programmed to do what is easy over what is right. Writes Parrish: “We unconsciously make choices based on optics, politics, and defendability. We hate criticism and seek the validation of our peers and superiors.”
When approaching any decision, Parrish recommends a simple formula: intelligent preparation (which, if you work in strategic accounts, is probably second-nature) paired with looking at your decision through any number of time-tested, multidisciplinary frameworks. He goes on to list five of his favorite:
The map is not the territory. “The map of reality is not reality. Even the best maps…are reductions of what they represent.”
Circle of competence. “If you know what you understand, you know where you have an edge over others. When you are honest about where your knowledge is lacking you know where you are vulnerable and where you can improve.”
First principles thinking. “Reasoning from first principles…is a tool to help clarify complicated problems by separating the underlying ideas or facts from any assumptions based on them. What remains are the essentials. If you know the first principles of something, you can build the rest of your knowledge around them to produce something new.”
Thought experiment. “Thought experiments can be defined as ‘devices of the imagination used to investigate the nature of things.’ They let us take on the impossible, evaluate the potential consequences of our actions, and re-examine history to make better decisions.”
Second-order thinking. “Second-order thinking is thinking farther ahead and thinking holistically. It requires us to not only consider our actions and their immediate consequences, but the subsequent effects of those actions as well. Failing to consider the second and third order effects can unleash disaster.
They also assume you were born clairvoyant, omniscient and all-powerful. No pressure, right?
Even though Schneider is one of the longest-running members of the SAMA community, I was 20 years into my career before I attended my first SAMA event.
My first reaction was: “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”
I remember having conversations on the sidelines with complete strangers (many of whom I now consider close friends and even colleagues) that yielded nuggets I immediately put to use with my own customers. It’s a powerful experience.
But what I remember most vividly is how soothing it was to finally – at last! – be surrounded by hundreds of people who “get it.” Working as a strategic or key account manager can be lonely — and that’s what makes being a part of the SAMA community such a powerful experience.
It’s hard to believe, but the holidays are nearly here. I always find it useful to look back at the year that’s passed and — more importantly — what’s ahead in the year to follow. It’s easy to forget the past year’s accomplishments amid the excitement of what’s to come, and I want to be sure SAMA is providing the insights and knowledge you need. With that in mind, I’m pleased to have a chance to do a little bit of both in this space…a quick look backward and forward.
A look back
#1. We put into words what we believe is SAMA’s entire reason for being: To equip our customers (i.e., you) with the tools, insights and knowledge you need to become indispensable to your customers. I’ve found these words incredibly helpful for clarifying our mission and ensuring our offerings meet this expectation. If we can help you become indispensable to your customers, then the business results will follow.
#2: We added 23 member companies 96 individual members to the SAMA community. This is extremely important to the insights and value we offer you. Our community comprises, without exaggeration, the smartest, most forward-thinking B2B companies in the world, and we leverage their knowledge and expertise to synthesize and disseminate best and next practices in strategic customer management. Our strength is truly in our members, and every new company we add brings fresh potential for ideas.
#3: In 2019 SAMA minted 65 new Certified Strategic Account Managers. Not only have these exceptional SAMs invested in themselves by becoming certified, but they have transformed themselves into role models within their organizations and evangelists for the SAM approach to customer management.
#4: We developed partnerships with like-minded providers in France, Germany and Brazil. Why is this important to you? Because this will allow us to expand our ability to deliver training and thought leadership in these critical regions, further spreading the cause of strategic account management.
#5: We launched The Facilitator, a tool enabled by a process that we developed to help our customers make better strategic account selection decisions. We have had 11 engagements to date, and the results so far have been tremendous. (More on this in 2020!)
A look ahead
So what larger trends and challenges is SAMA looking at for 2020 and beyond? Keep in mind, it’s still 2019 — so this agenda can and will change. But here are five topics SAMA is looking at for the year ahead, and we think you should be too.
#1: Bulletproofing the SAM program against cost cutting. With talk of recession (shhh! Don’t say that too often), SAM programs need to do all they can NOW to prove their value. Once you’re under pressure — whether from activist investors, a hyperactive CFO or just your Board — it’s already too late. You need to trumpet your success stories internally, continue to build the SAM brand within your organization and use the voice of the customer to demonstrate the value of the SAM approach.
#2: Customer success management is all the rage. What does it mean for strategic account managers? We believe it simply reinforces the fundamental wisdom and necessity of the SAM approach, which revolves around understanding customer pain points and value drivers, connecting them with their own internal capabilities, organizing and aligning an ecosystem capable of solving customer challenges, and then quantifying the co-created value in terms of the customer’s own metrics. It is a trend we are actively monitoring.
#3: Countering the “what now?” phenomenon. In other words, once you’ve set up your program, begun working differently with your most strategic customers and institutionalized the SAM approach across the organization, where do you go from there? Uncovering ways to unlock additional innovation and efficiency for mature SAM programs will feature prominently on the SAMA 2020 agenda.
#4: Understanding and optimizing the entire ecosystem of support around the strategic account manager. Today’s SAM is blessed with a myriad of tools in her arsenal, from digital marketing and customer success to inside sales and advanced analytics. We will be looking to make headway into understanding (a) what’s the optimal team construction and (b) how to upskill the SAM to ensure he’s able to properly leverage all these complementary skills.
#5: Technology supporting the SAM. As I mentioned earlier, we rolled out a new process-enabled tool to help customers make better, more objective decisions around whom to partner with. We also published a special issue of Velocity dedicated specifically to highlighting tools designed to enable the customer value co-creation process. We surveyed many of you earlier in the year, and one big takeaway is that our customers are looking to us to bring to the table tools that support both the SAM and the SAM organization. So this will undoubtedly be a prime focus for us in the year ahead.
Enjoy the holiday season! Take stock in your accomplishments, and let’s all anticipate greatness in the new year.
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!
By Danielle Matteson, Director, Global Accounts, AVI-SPL
Editors note:The following case story earned AVI-SPL a 2019 SAMA Excellence Award for “Implementation of a disciplined process to quantify and monetize specific customer value solutions.” Author Danielle Matteson is also a recent graduate of SAMA’s Certified Strategic Account Manager (CSAM) program.
Founded in 1979, AVI-SPL is the leading digital workplace services provider for organizations, with more than 2,500 employees worldwide. For more than 10 years, we’ve partnered with a prominent financial institution for audio-visual system integration and post-implementation production support services. Before the AVI-SPL global accounts management program launched in 2018, the global team at this financial institution relied on a combination of several different technology partners, including AVI-SPL, to deploy and support their infrastructure, meeting space technologies and user communities.
The infrastructure and meeting space technology investments of this financial institution are focused in two spend categories: real estate project implementation and support services. While AVI-SPL had delivered significant proven value in support services, the relationship and engagement had been limited to North America. This institution’s support services in both the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Asia-Pacific (APAC) regions had been consistently delivered through smaller, in-region providers.
At the time, AVI-SPL had suffered implementation challenges in North America with this customer, resulting in inconsistent performance vis-à-vis the customer’s internal KPIs, namely on-time delivery, meeting budget requirements, and global end-user experience and adoption. These challenges may have been preventing AVI-SPL from pursuing global growth opportunities, possibly inhibiting the opportunity for account penetration with line-of-business expansion and, most importantly, threatening to undermine the proven value achieved elsewhere.
With this, we needed to organize properly around local, regional, national and global project implementation performance. While we achieved successes in some regional markets, our global delivery process for this client lagged. We needed to take action to correct course.
At the time, this financial institution was challenged with global scalability, efficiencies and overall standards governance of its technology environments. As it deployed collaboration and meeting space applications to a broader community of users in several regions of the world, it increasingly struggled with establishing a sustainable and economical end-user support model. Additionally, its diverse list of global vendors yielded unmanageable variances in design, pricing, quality, serviceability, user experience and technology standards.
For example, one vendor in APAC would deploy a series of meeting spaces with technology and workflows specific to that APAC vendor. Meanwhile, another vendor in EMEA would deploy a completely different design and application in the EMEA meeting spaces. The net result was that when users traveled or moved from one region to another, they were completely unfamiliar with the technology in each room, resulting in poor user experience, lost productivity and a higher volume of support cases opened.
This left the customer’s support team unable to support the environment and user by quickly resolving issues, thanks to their unfamiliarity with the technology in a given room. Without a consistent global standard or playbook from which to work, the business would be operating inefficiently. These challenges resulted in low user adoption — one of the customer’s most critical KPIs. These variances and resulting challenges ultimately translated into intolerable risks for the lead customer stakeholders, as well as the entire end-user community, i.e., the financial institution’s employee base of more than 200,000 people. We knew that the key to success would be to find a way to increase the efficiency and scalability of our end-user support model, which we hoped would simultaneously reduce the customer’s global vendor-related risks while scaling spend for services overall.
In short, the root of our business challenge was two-fold:
How do we bolster a
prominent customer’s confidence in our
project implementation business and deliver the outcomes they expect
consistently on a global basis, and…
How do we leverage
our past proven value with our support service performance to deliver
economies of scale for the customer’s operating
budget while benefiting from expanded wallet share?
This customer candidly shared its desire for a more consistent approach from a single audiovisual and unified communications provider that could achieve better employee collaboration outcomes at an accelerated pace. With this knowledge, as well as an overall awareness of the client’s global enterprise customers’ needs, we designated the client as a launch client in our global accounts management program in January 2018.
Our first step to solving this client’s business challenges was to organize and facilitate a series of disciplined strategy sessions with the key customer stakeholders, which included executive support, the global technology services organization, internal owners of meeting space technologies and the customer’s global operations. In order to demonstrate our commitment to increasing this client’s confidence, we assembled cross-functional teams of AVI-SPL resources to participate in these sessions.
Our first goal here was to tackle the challenge of project implementation consistency. We worked together with our client to uncover how we could enhance performance, understand the impact of past shortcomings on their business and KPIs, and articulate what success would look like for them with respect to their quantified KPI goals. We also facilitated structured discussions to explore the customer’s macroeconomic and industry drivers, how they affect its user-experience objectives and, ultimately, how those objectives are measured. Our findings from these sessions helped us identify and prioritize a mutually beneficial partnership roadmap.
In order to monetize the value of improving our project implementation performance, we organized a programmatic approach to consolidating their spend and services, which provided scale and efficiencies. This, along with incentives for growing global spend, was established as part of the overall (and exclusive) benefit to this customer as part of the GAM program.
The overall result, we hoped, would be growth and share-of-project implementation business coming our way while simultaneously allowing the customer to scale its overall OPEX spend though global service consolidation. The end result would save the client on capital and operating costs while improving global end-user experience. Meanwhile, we would see an increased share of the client spend, both for implementation and production support around the world.
Next, we co-created a plan to realize efficiencies through vendor consolidation, automation and service operations enhancements. For example, we identified the customer’s largest support service cost as full-time support employees, who came from several vendors around the world and many of whom were underutilized through disparate processes.
Next, we reviewed the options for automating several key support functions, including proactive monitoring, issue identification and resolution, which would require less full-time equivalent support. We were able to quantify the resulting productivity increase and then show the resulting impact on the company’s bottom line. With the implementation of automation and supplier consolidation, the customer reduced its OPEX spend by approximately five percent in 2018, with a projected annualized reduction moving forward of more than seven percent.
combining these two initiatives, we enabled the client to realize the maximum benefit by consolidating its spend with a single
global partner, allowing them to realize a controlled, scalable cost-structure, with clear
accountability to performance and measurable outcomes.
In summary, we worked directly with the customer to value engineer a two-pronged strategic approach:
Consolidate all the financial institution’s OPEX (support services) spend, which would yield cost savings as well as increase the value delivered by AVI-SPL due to improved efficiencies, automation, scalability, serviceability and, ultimately, an overall lower total cost of ownership for technology and infrastructure
Increase CAPEX (project implementation) spend with AVI-SPL
through standards and global accountability and pricing consistency.
This engagement transformation project has yielded quantified results for both the client and AVI-SPL, namely:
For the customer, the program has resulted in project implementation cost savings of approximately 15 percent for 2018 as compared to the previous year. Moving forward, the annual CAPEX cost savings for the customer is projected to be 22 percent. With the implementation of automation and supplier consolidation, the customer realized approximately 5 percent cost reduction in associated OPEX in 2018, with a projected go-forward annualized reduction of approximately 7 percent.
For us, the most significant outcome has been the shift in our relationship with this critical customer, moving from a vendor/solutions provider to a trusted advisor and strategic business partner. After implementation, we became the first ever global single-source supplier in the audio visual/collaboration space in this customer’s history, with the customer labeling us as an “IBM-like partner” moving forward.
We have been able to quantify the net relationship change through our strategic account benchmarking methodology, which scores an account in five categories: (1) account attractiveness, (2) value, (3) alignment, (4) relationships and (5) growth. Each category has three statements that are then scored on a scale of one to five, with one representing “very unfavorable position” and five representing “very favorable position.”
The customer’s post-implementation assessment increased the overall benchmarking score by a dramatic 10 percent, with the highest net increases coming in the following areas:
competitive position with the customer (i.e., “mindshare”)
Relationships: Trust-based relationships have been established with the customer
opportunities for account expansion
Value: The customer views AVI-SPL as strategic to its business
As a result of our strengthened relationship, AVI-SPL also realized significant financial growth with this customer. In 2018, through Q3 (September 30th), our year-to-date top-line bookings with this client jumped 346 percent year-over-year. We also engaged Forrester Research to help us quantify the total economic impact of our digital workspace solutions for the inaugural 12 customers in our GAM program. The result, from Forrester: a total cost of ownership savings of $5.5 million and a monetized productivity increase of $11.9 million.
In our GAM program’s inaugural year, we have seen significant growth in spend across all customers, and we attribute the success and progress so far to our commitment to a disciplined program methodology. The program offers strategic and tactical benefits, ensuring that the latest technology and industry best practices are adopted.
Overall, the GAM program has exceeded our expectations by positioning the business to deliver an accountable and consistent global approach for planning and project implementation. By strategically aligning with our client for planning and roadmap design and enabling the “client-way” team communication and planning, we have definitively enhanced customer experience, improved business outcomes and created additional value for our clients and ourselves.
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.
• An individual who rescues the drowning B2B customer from the flood of high-quality and sometimes conflicting information.
• A trusted advisor to the customer that not only shares but also explains and contextualizes information, assisting the decision-making process through guidance, providing perspective and support in evaluating data and tradeoffs
• A seller who doesn’t “tell customers what to believe, but rather helps them to develop a mental framework to make their own decisions.”
In its study Gartner defines the buyer as the internal requisitioner of a service or product within an organization — the marketing leader, IT director, operations executive or R&D researcher — who reaches out into the market, encounters overwhelming and conflicting information and desperately awaits a white knight in the form of the “sense making seller” who arrives to help make sense of it all.
I am not disputing the increased availability and abundance of information at our fingertips, or the sometimes confusing nature of this information. What I do frown upon is the fact that the buying process described by Gartner leaves out one very critical element (arguably the most critical element of all) — namely, the role of the professional procurement function in this. The concept of procurement assisting the internal requisitioner, and ultimately leading the interaction with the seller, is not addressed at all.
The word procurement is not mentioned once in Gartner’s report. That does not make any “sense” to me.
The B2B buyer journey
Based on my experience as a professional B2B buyer at Procter & Gamble and elsewhere, let’s take a look into what actually happens when the aforementioned requisitioner requires a service or product. He or she will not approach this task in the same way they would book a holiday or purchase a mobile phone — by consulting search engines and social media, as highlighted by Gartner. This would undoubtedly lead to this overwhelming onslaught of information that one might struggle to make sense of.
Most employees, rather, turn to their professional procurement department to have their needs fulfilled. It’s Procurement that plays the role of providing structure to the buying process, enabling and guiding the internal requisitioner. It is Procurement that navigates the decision-making process, and it is they that help the requisitioner to make sense of the available options in the market. Procurement’s role, in other words, is to be an advisor ensuring that business needs are clearly defined, that external capabilities are identified and assessed, and that a purchasing decision is achieved in a timely fashion.
Gartner describes today’s B2B buyer journey as a messy, complicated, unpredictable reiterative and time-consuming process. But is this a fair representation of reality? I would argue that any company that struggles to bring structure to its buying procedures should seriously ask itself what is broken in its procurement setup. If, as Gartner claims, purchasing requests are indeed being delayed or cancelled because of information overload and companies’ inability to deploy the analytical skills to make timely decisions, then I would go so far as to challenge the professionalism of these companies. At the end of the day, these are the fundamental business management skills of organizational leaders that Gartner puts into question here, namely: digesting information, making assumptions and coming to a timely decision.
The solution? Enable procurement.
By no means am I discounting Gartner’s research that customers appreciate an impartial and consultative salesperson who can make sense of the abundant information out there in the market — a salesperson who can back up his data with third-party sources and who builds credibility through advising and not just selling. Every customer appreciates this – the procurement professional, and B2B and B2C customers alike.
Is Procurement immune to the oversupply of quality information? (Certainly not.) Are we not also struggling to weed our way through the various sources of data coming at us? (Yes, absolutely.) The difference is that we are trained to analytically digest this information and to make sense of it. This is why business leaders empower us to manage and own the buying journey for them.
In my view, today’s sales teams should not focus on the requisitioner only but instead zero in on the question of how to enable their procurement counterparts. Helping “make sense” to someone who is trained to analytically digest an abundance of data to come to a procurement decision (i.e., a procurement professional) is obviously different than assisting someone (i.e., a requisitioner) who may not be trained to manage the entire end-to-end buying process.
What I am concerned with in Gartner’s research is the fact that the procurement dimension of the buying process is totally omitted. It is absolutely crucial in my view that sales teams are not only aware of Procurement but also learning how to deal with them. A well prepared, customer-centric salesperson who understands the procurement processes, the KPIs and ways of working can complement Procurement’s work to steer the organization through the buying and decision-making processes.
Modern sales theories — including Gartner’s, I am afraid — have completely lost touch with reality on how advanced companies are managing their companies’ expenditures — namely, through professional procurement teams. Leaving out this dimension entirely is not only a miss but a dangerous one for any salesperson who is actually being faced with the reality of needing to interact with professional buyers day in and day out.
Making sense of procurement
So how can you be that sense-making partner for your procurement counterpart? How can you build a close relationship with your professional buyer? Involving instead of avoiding is where it all begins. Reach out to the procurement function proactively, early in the process, together with or in parallel to the requisitioner.
Walking in the shoes of your purchaser and putting yourself into their analytical mindset will be the ultimate key to success. As a matter of fact, a professional buyer looks for five key behavioral traits in a sales person. Understanding them, incorporating them into your ways of working and living up to them will help you build that winning relationship with Procurement.
Here is what you need to do:
Care! Care about my needs. Understand my company, my stakeholders, the end consumer and the nature of the business that I am in. I don’t have time to explain over and over again what my needs and requirements are. Invest the energy up front to understand the constraints, opportunities, risks and KPIs of my organization. A salesperson who can relate, is empathetic and has built credible knowledge of my business and industry has laid the foundation for gaining my trust.
Compete! Know where you are at vis-à-vis your competition. I have spent a lot of time to assess your strengths and weaknesses, and so should you — before you come and meet me! Understand where you are strong and where you lack expertise. Ask for feedback and consider it a gift. Be upfront about your opportunity areas and where you might fall behind your competition. I do not expect you to be the best but to always try to become the best. That is the spirit I am looking for in a salesperson.
Improve! The status quo is never acceptable. Continuously and proactively think about how you can make our relationship even better. Don’t wait for me to bring up what needs to change because by then it is already too late. Improving what is already good will allow you to form a trusting relationship with me.
Respond! My timeline should be your timeline. And at times, sorry to say, it might not fall into your 9-to-5 framework. Understand my own and my organization’s communication requirements, communication frequency, channels and the language that should be used. Not responding or making me wait for your response can be painful. Adjust and adapt your communication strategy to my needs. Understand the stakeholders in my company, and assume the responsibility to be responsive.
Win! Know what you actually want to get out of this relationship. There is nothing more deflating to me than when a salesperson does not know the answer to this question. Just making the quarter is not good enough, I am afraid. Inspire me by articulating what you want to achieve in our winning relationship in the next two, three or five years — and let me know what I can do to make you successful. Believe it or not, I am actually invested in helping YOU win because only a successful supplier can deliver value to MY organization long term and sustainably.
Jens Hentschel, Founder & CEO of THE FIVIS PARTNERSHIP. The Consultancy That Gets You Your Oomph back! www.fivis.io
By Harvey Dunham, Managing Director for Business Development, SAMA
By stirring the Board to force B2B companies’ CEOs to reduce the cost of their companies’ centralized functions, activist investors are unwittingly putting their most strategic customer relationships — and their colossal lifetime value — at significant risk.
In my role as Managing Director of Business Development for SAMA, I’m talking to customers every single day. And lately, I have received at least a half-dozen first-hand reports from our Corporate Member companies who have succumbed — or are actively resisting pressure from — their Boards to move their strategic account management programs out of their company’s central function organization and into either a business unit or region.
I won’t “name names,” but these include some of the world’s most venerated, recognizable companies. In all cases, activist investors are cited as the root cause and drive. The justification? To reduce costs by eliminating a handful of SAM program key roles in an effort to reduce costs and give shareholders a short-term profit lift.
Doing so is short-sighted, wrong-headed and flat-out self-defeating. Here’s why.
When done right, SAM programs work. SAMA research over the past two decades has shown, again and again, that a well-funded, well-executed strategic account management approach produces 2X growth (compared to a traditional approach), 10 percent higher margins and significantly improved customer satisfaction.
A SAM approach is required to sell innovation. According to research by Thomas Steenburgh and Michael Ahearne published in Harvard Business Review, senior leaders of companies express confidence in their ability to develop innovations but not in their ability to commercialize them. After studying more than 2,500 salespeople, those who effectively practice strategic account management dramatically outperform others in selling new products, services and solutions. The authors site SAM’s focus on balancing short- medium- and long-term growth in the service of helping their strategic customers achieve stronger business results — not just short-term sales growth.
Customers demand the ease-of-doing-business offered by strategic account management. Large and strategic customers do not want to deal with their suppliers’ internal complexity. They demand a single point of contact from their strategic suppliers who are
Responsible and accountable for the entire relationship, including all of their company’s products, services, solutions and innovations — at all of the customer’s geographic locations
Tied directly to the supplier’s senior leadership.
Focused on helping them (i.e., the customer) become a better company
Willing to organize their own company to achieve this outcome
And it’s not just this. Our current uncertainty about how much longer global economic growth will continue, how global political unrest will affect the future, and the threat of new disruptors in every industry leads to another sobering (yet often forgotten) reality: A supplier’s best chance of surviving the next recession DEPENDS on its largest, best managed and most loyal customers!
To CEOs: Resist all activist investor pressure to send your SAM program back to your regions or business units. You would be much better served by putting your strategic accounts at the center of your strategy as your best insurance policy to ride through the next macro-economic crisis.
To SAM program leaders: Help your CEO by making the clear and undeniable business case for SAM.
By Saleh Al-Ben Saleh, Strategic Account Manager, Emerson
Expediting “inside” knowledge of your strategic account(s) is vital to realizing indisputable value for both you and your customer. Human interactions are invaluable to gaining this knowledge, but issues of location, time and logistics make accelerating these interactions a common challenge for SAMs.
Here I present a tactical approach that covers best practices showing human interactions success for one strategic account site, taking into consideration the following three key metrics likely to contribute to successfully accelerating human interactions (and, thus, inside knowledge) at a selected strategic account site:
Interaction time with individual strategic account client(s) during a single day visit
Relationships built/strengthened, quality of information gathered, initiatives/opportunities realized
The number of potential touches created for future visits
Before getting started, let’s look at four facts we need to accept in order to understand the value of the approach I call “Once you’re in…you’re in.”
Strategic accounts often have multiple scattered facilities, yet you only have eight hours per day to spend on a customer visit. So you should spend that time wisely, and by wisely I mean on valuable client touches.
While most clients claim to have open arms to meet and explore business-related issues, the reality is that priority takes precedence, and planning for meetings is a time-consuming task for all parties.
Even with a solid agenda, it will be difficult to facilitate several formal meetings on the same day at the same location.
Unplanned, stand-up meetings can be just as important as well-prepared meetings — if they are executed in the right way, with the right talking points and objectives in hand.
Putting all the above points into the context of expediting “inside” knowledge of the client, we can agree that SAMs would be wise to leverage any planned customer meeting to generate additional valuable but unplanned meetings during a single customer site visit. Picture yourself jumping from one purposeful interaction to the next, all day long in the same place. This is the main reason I have chosen to call this this approach “Once you’re in…you’re in.”
It’s not that hard. On a typical customer visit, we probably have at least one scheduled meeting of between 30 minutes and two hours, out of a total of seven hours (the typical daily window for meetings). The challenge is to see how much of these seven hours we can use to create human interactions. I propose that the answer is “all of them” – if you prepare well, remain alert and act quickly.
The following six-step methodology has worked for me in my career as a SAM.
#1. Start with the “T.” The “T” stands for “them” in the “TUFA” concept, a process for building on your existing target customer profile or creating one if none exists. The “U” stands for us, “F” for fit and “A” for action. Your customer profile should include all information on your history with the customer, including past performance, ongoing initiatives, an organizational chart and a social chart. Make sure to compile a list of all gaps in your customer profile. All this intelligence should be written and organized in a way that will help you drive fruitful conversations with the targeted account clients. Pro tip: Make sure to use open-ended questions to allow more talking space for your clients.
#2. One planned meeting to get in. If you are calling on an established customer, start from the end and follow up on a hot topic(s) with your assigned focal point. If it is a new customer, you may need several exploratory meetings to identify the right people with whom to interface. In either case, once you have secured your meeting, you should be able to develop others for mutual benefit.
#3. Jump to the unplanned meeting. Through the profile you have developed in step one, and/or through your scheduled meeting(s) from step two, updates, initiatives and challenges will present themselves to you in one form or another. Whenever possible, seek to learn the champions of these items and ask to meet them while you are onsite. Most likely, you will be able to track them down for short, fruitful, stand-up meetings. Repeat this as many times as your schedule allows. After each interaction with a new champion, make sure always to exchange contact information, which you will need to schedule follow-up meetings.
#4. Think client and “walk the talk.” Eventually, a picture will emerge, and the potential for the next meeting will follow accordingly. Clients will frequently use three evaluation tools to decide whether or not they want to continue developing a relationship or not:
How much you understand the business from the client perspective
How well you can build mutually agreed-upon action plans for both sides
How fast you are able to “walk the talk,” deliver as promised and follow up on other commitments as well
#5. Enhance the “T.” Make sure the gathered information in steps two, three and four are reflected on the profile you created in step one. Having an updated profile will allow you to see the big picture clearly, plan your next visit and identify the people you want to interface with either through planned or “spontaneous” meetings.
#6. Do the loop. Now start again from step one and move through the process again.
Once you capture the value from undertaking this process, you can draw imaginary lines between the steps, create additional steps and add “sub-steps” as needed. I think of this as a best-practice template, which I encourage you to adapt to best fit your circumstances.
When trying to expedite constructive human interactions within your strategic account clients, you must endeavor to find the “sweet spot” between formality and informality. If your process is overly formal, you risk missing out on potential customer touch points and slowing progress. If your process is overly informal, you may get more customer touches, but your conversations will be less constructive and new relationships much less “sticky.”
The goal is to have as many meetings as possible in a single day, continually leveraging the information gained from past interactions to garner new ones. When executed to perfection, you will move from unplanned meeting to unplanned meeting. Success is never guaranteed, but based on my experience, this approach will give you the best chance of expanding your customer footprint over the long haul.
Boston Consulting Group recently released a three-part series on digital maturity in the manufacturing sector. SAMA reached out to series co-author Jonathan Van Wyck, a partner and managing director at BCG, to ask him what suppliers can do to make themselves indispensable to their strategic customers’ digital transformation journeys. This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
SAMA: I think people may have a narrow view of what we’re talking about when we talk about digitization. Can you lay out the full scope of what we mean by digitization?
JVW: When we think about digital transformation broadly, we think about a couple of different avenues. There’s one leg of it that’s saying, “How do you reengineer the customer experience, leveraging digital technologies, to support the projects and products you are offering?” The second is, “How do you actually leverage digitization as an opportunity to drive new growth and launch new solutions and new businesses?” And then there’s digitizing your internal operations, which is taking the internal lens and asking, “How do I take my manufacturing process, my supply chain, my customer service and support, and my sales processes, and leverage digital technologies to reengineer — either at a lower cost or to drive more effectiveness — those internal processes?” We have a framework off the shelf on that if that’s helpful to share.
SAMA : Can you talk about what you set out to study and what you learned?
JVW: What we’ve been seeing is that everybody’s talking about digital operations, and everyone feels a high degree of conviction that this is the future. But when you take that and contrast it with the progress that we see with our clients, there’s a disconnect. What we’ve found is that they’re taking almost a project-based approach to digitization, where they’re working with individual vendors who have a cool technology to pilot it in a specific location. Or they have an internal project around some component of digital — a plant scheduling tool or something like that — but they’re not able to drive it at scale and really capture the full benefit.
So we took a step back and started thinking about what we have learned from doing this with a bunch of companies to sort of bridge that gap between what we talk about as the opportunity versus the reality of where companies are — and then move from point solutions and individual projects or applications to actually driving value at scale.
SAMA: So what you’re saying is, there are a lot of pilot projects out there that can prove themselves out, but the companies, for any of a number of reasons, don’t manage to scale the solution and really capture the full value.
JVW: Exactly. When you look at past industrial revolutions, I’m sure it took the same stages in development. But the challenge here is that the way of working is so fundamentally different from traditional approaches. We’re talking about another revolution in terms of the types of talent, way of working from an agile standpoint — but also building the infrastructure to be able to support these use cases. I see our third paper as the most critical one. It’s about the organization and way of working to drive this at scale, which is ultimately what I think is the issue.
It’s not like companies don’t have great ideas, and it’s not like companies don’t have an idea of what the right use cases are. It’s really about, “How do you actually build the organizational capability, the funding model and the talent to be able to do this?”
SAMA: I’m thinking about the manufacturing environment, in which great plants are typically run by very seasoned people who have been doing this forever. And to do a pilot project, you’ve got to bring in data scientists and a bunch of under-30 digital natives who can actually make it happen.
JVW: Also, company processes are oriented towards waterfall I.T. projects and are not set up to support this type of innovation. Because a traditional funding model is, “Submit a capital request with your full plan, the milestones all laid out, the exact financial investment that you’re looking for from the company, and then we’ll have a meeting with our senior leadership and debate it, probably cut your funding a little bit, and then approve it.” Whereas here, you don’t actually know the challenges, and actually laying out a full roadmap and waterfall set of milestones is actually counterproductive to what you actually need to do to experiment quickly, which is to assume that 25 percent of what you do is really going to work. So you do the 75 percent that will fail very cheaply, and then rapidly scale the 25 percent that does work. You just don’t know all that stuff in advance, and so it doesn’t fit with traditional processes.
So there’s a challenge from a talent standpoint, but I don’t think it’s just about hiring more people under 30. It’s about thinking about your internal processes and, in some cases, modifying your approach to how you drive digital operations. And this applies more broadly, not just within operations but to your traditional funding, project management and approval.
SAMA: So to a certain extent, you have to invest and pray and then say, “OK. How can we take this 25% percent [that’s actually working] and really put more effort into those and get more benefits faster?”
JVW: You just need to set it up to say, “We’re going to have an outside-in view of what the opportunity is. And we’ll have a long list of use cases, roughly mapped to that opportunity, and an idea of what that’s likely going to cost.” And then in your next meeting, a month later, you’re going to have a much more refined view. And then a month later, it will be even more refined.
So it’s a journey from more ambiguity to more specificity, but you just can’t shortcut that journey and have the specificity at the beginning.
That’s really challenging for companies that are used to having that specificity, which in reality is false specificity because projects overrun 80 percent of the time and take longer, et cetera. It’s a mindset shift.
SAMA: In my career, we had a hurdle rate that you had to exceed. If your project didn’t have better than a two-year ROI and proven, financially sound waterfall, you didn’t even submit the project because it was never going to get funded. Is that mentality bumping up against how you have to approach the digitization project?
JVW: There is a set of infrastructure that needs to be put in place to support use cases: You need to set up a cloud infrastructure. You need to build a data lake. You need to invest in a certain number of technologies, et cetera.
The challenge is where I’ve seen companies burdening those first set of use cases with the cost of all that infrastructure, even though that infrastructure could support 100 use cases.
This problem can be unlocked by doing it at scale and having conviction around the strategic relevance for your overall company and the total value on the table, versus taking it piecemeal and starting with three or four use cases in one factory.
SAMA: In a normal plant environment, there’s a plant manager, there’s a division leader, there’s probably some subject-matter experts, et cetera. But with this kind of thing, it sounds like you need to go above that traditional manufacturing decision-making process and get C-level buy-in?
JVW: Typically it’s at the C-level.
SAMA: From the supplier perspective, do you see them being a catalyst by bringing some of these ideas forward, or is it all internal to the customer itself?
JVW: I think the more stakeholders you can involve in the ideation process, the better. I’m a big proponent of involving suppliers, but I like to first recommend that companies internally align on what the pain points are and a high-level view of what a solution could look like before they go down that path.
SAMA: Are there any kind of best practices that you see good suppliers doing to really help this process work?
JVW: Recognizing that the process needs to start with the pain points and value levers. Don’t lead with your technologies, but facilitate a workshop around a specific process that’s relevant to them. That can be really powerful. It’s also about being open to collaboration and sharing of data. Because one of the other challenges I see is that it’s so hard to share data across companies.
SAMA: Are there any observations on who typically leads that so-called ecosystem to create a common data lake? Do you sometimes see a supplier that takes that on for the manufacturing company to help pull all these disparate entities together?
JVW: It’s typically a manufacturer, but wherever the supplier has the scale I don’t see why they couldn’t take the lead in their specific swim lane.
SAMA: We teach our customers to say, “It takes a village to solve the problem, and if you can become the leader of that village, there’s a lot of value.“
JVW: I think that’s the next frontier: How do you digitize the value chain and start working with your suppliers and working with your customers to take waste out of the system looking holistically? Whoever can lead that ecosystem is in a pretty interesting position.
SAMA: Say I’m the strategic account manager for 3M going into a factory and trying to bring value to them. Any advice you’d give?
JVW: First, I think it’s so much easier to do that if you have a business model or an offering where you’re a solution provider versus an individual product provider. That’s one piece. And then the other piece is, map out the customer journey associated with your product or solution, and what that looks like — where the frictions or pain points are along that journey. If you don’t have that, then you’re not going to be able to add value to your customer. Having that approach embedded into the strategic account playbook becomes really valuable because it allows you to have a different level of discourse with your customers.
SAMA: Say you’re a SAM who just got assigned to a new customer. Is there a typical spot that you might want to start inside your customer, or is that really company by company, organization by organization?
JVW: It is very case by case. Some organizations will have a manufacturing strategist. Some may have a digital organization already set up. Some may be decentralized, with the plant manager driving the decision making. Some may be more centralized. That’s why you need to be able to map the organization of your customer and understand where the decision makers are.
SAMA: Typically, when this first meeting happens, is the customer expecting the supplier to bring people that have subject-matter expertise?
JVW: Yes, you can also look horizontally — because you may not have the whole scope of technology required to solve this pain point.
You need to be humble in recognizing that you may not have the capabilities to solve the entire pain point, and so you may need to work with your peers to build a solution that you can then bring to your customer.
And if you’re the one actually orchestrating that, it can be really value-additive, versus just bringing your customer a specific technology.
Say for example that you have the best programmable logical controllers, and then maybe you partner with the analytics provider who does the analysis on top of that, and then — oh by the way — you partner with a robotics company. I haven’t seen many suppliers do this effectively, but that could be very differentiating to be able to offer as the supplier. And then, by the way, you’re the one with the overall solution, versus [just being] one piece of it. That’s a much more powerful position to be in from a margin standpoint.
You can find BCG’s how-to guide to digitization here. Parts two and three can be found here and here.