Crafting the right sales message for every customer-supplier situation

By Nicolas Zimmerman, Editor-in-Chief, SAMA

To challenge or not to challenge? That is the question.

Ever since CEB published its seminal book “The Challenger Sale,” the challenger paradigm has reigned supreme. It has been taken as gospel that the best way to win more deals is to disrupt the status quo by taking control of customer conversations and introducing new, provocative ideas. (On the other hand, SAMA has always considered the idea of “taking control” of your customer to be misguided at best, disastrous at worst.)

Corporate Visions has been at the vanguard of partnering with academics on research designed to test whether challenging actually does what it’s supposed to — and if so, under what conditions. In other words, challenging may work when you’re trying to convince a prospect to move business to you. But does it also work when you’re trying to convince existing customers to:

  • Stay with you?
  • Pay more for your products/services?
  • Do more business with you?
  • Forgive you for a lapse in service?

(Sneak preview: The answer is NO.)

If you missed the SAMA/CVI next-practice symposium Feb. 12 in Chicago, first of all: Shame on you. But second of all: You’re in luck, because I’m going to lay out many of the key takeaways here. Read on…

Continue reading “Crafting the right sales message for every customer-supplier situation”

Announcing a new way to track and manage your most important customer relationships

The Strategic Account Management Association and Arpedio announce a joint development agreement that continues SAMA’s ongoing commitment to bring forward tools that enable the work of strategic and key account managers.

SAMA and Arpedio, the Danish provider of sales and strategic account management insights and software, have announced a partnership to create a cutting-edge tool designed for strategic and key account managers to objectively assess their customer relationships and then progress through a value co-creation journey using SAMA best practices.

A recent survey of the SAMA community identified developing SAM-enabling tools as the community’s most urgent area of need, bringing into focus what continues to be an area of strategic focus for SAMA.

“Strategic account management enablement is all about tools, training and coaching,” said SAMA President & CEO Denise Freier. “This new feature uses as its organizing principle our SAMA intellectual property and best practices around value co-creation, and it can be used to coach teams around that process.”

We see it as an ideal complement to our existing, long-term technology partnership with Valkre, which offers a complete and progressive platform for enabling the work of the SAM as prescribed by the SAMA Playbook. We will continue to leverage Valkre’s offering in SAMA’s certification curriculum (CSAM), and the partnership with Arpedio just adds another digital tool companies can use to transform how they create value with their customers.

“Arpedio builds on its key alliance with SAMA to put SAMA’s knowledge in the hands of all strategic account managers,” said Ulrik Monberg, Founder & CEO of Arpedio. “Formalizing what has long been a key relationship between SAMA and Arpedio is a major milestone for Arpedio.”

The tool is ready to use and can be implemented in less than 30 minutes. To see how companies are already using Arpedio’s platforms to streamline stakeholder mapping, automate sales playbooks and bring discipline to the value co-creation process, read this article in the recent issue of Velocity magazine.

“We use Arpedio’s suite of tools ourselves to give a common structure and strategic lens to managing our most important customers. It’s quick, it’s easy to use and it’s powerful. It forces you to step back and say, ‘Where am I with this customer, and what do I need to do to get to the next step?’”

Harvey Dunham, SAMA’s Managing Director for Marketing and Strategy.

“SAMA has defined what makes a strategic account management program successful, and we provide a way of anchoring it in Salesforce CRM,” said Daniel P. Kallestrup, Business Development Manager for Arpedio. “It is the perfect match, resulting in professional execution, efficient teamwork and ongoing coaching.”

Please note: To take advantage of this tool, you must be using Salesforce as your CRM. For information on how this joint development agreement can help your SAM/KAM organization better manage its most critical customers, contact Harvey Dunham at

About SAMA

The Strategic Account Management Association (SAMA) was founded more than 50 years ago to help expose B2B companies to tools, methods and processes that enable them to forge closer relationships with their most strategic customers and co-create new sources of sustainable, customer-driven growth. We help companies become essential to their most strategic customers through competency-based training, conferences in Europe and North America, publication of original research and customized services like benchmarking and peer-to-peer learning.

About Arpedio

Arpedio is a sales-enablement company and full-stack consulting company operating globally in a dynamic, cross-functional and complex sales environment in a variety of industries. Learn more here.


You *MIGHT* be a SAM/KAM….

By Harvey Dunham, Managing Director of Strategy, SAMA

With more than 30 years working with strategic accounts at Schneider Electric, I know first-hand that few jobs in the world are as misunderstood as that of a strategic or key account manager. People think of you as the ones who “make the big bucks” without the stress of making quotas, the ones who put their customers’ needs above their own company’s.

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.

In honor of that feeling of community, and in anticipation of our upcoming Annual Conference and Pan-European Conference, I present to you my own personal top-10, “You MIGHT be a SAM…”

If you have a company car, but you only use it for driving to the airport….

If you have far more people working for your customer initiatives than your boss has direct reports – even though you have no official direct reports…

If your best years involve an audit from Finance “just to make sure” you’re not fluffing your results…

If your magic power is being yelled at by your customer’s CEO and your own CEO at the same time

If you spend dull meetings mentally calculating how many weeks it’s going to take you to recover from jet lag…

If your own spouse and kids are on a first-name basis with your main customer contacts…

If you’ve got more swag with your customer’s logo on it than your own company’s…

If your meetings bring together more of your customer’s big players than their own meetings do…

If you catch yourself calculating bar tabs in your customer’s home currency…

Then you might…just possibly…be a strategic/key/global account manager.

Yearly rewind (and a look ahead) from the desk of SAMA’s CEO

By Denise Freier, President & CEO, SAMA

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.

Sense making in sales starts with making sense of Procurement: My view on Gartner’s most recent research on the “Sense Making Seller”

By Jens Hentschel, Founder & CEO, THE FIVIS PARTNERSHIP

Gartner, a global research and advisory firm, has just redefined what makes a high-performing seller — at least according to them and their new research. It is what they call a “sense maker,” which they define as:

• 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: 

  1. 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.  
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Make sense? 

Jens Hentschel, Founder & CEO of THE FIVIS PARTNERSHIP. The Consultancy That Gets You Your Oomph back!