This blog is an excerpt from an article in the Fall 2022 issue of Velocity Magazine.
In our book, Customers Win, Suppliers Win: Lessons from One of IBM’s Most Successful Strategic Account Managers, we share and analyze enduring best practices and principles of account and customer success management. We do so from our respective career perspectives as a researcher, teacher, and consultant (Noel) and an expert practitioner (Gus). Although account management has received significant attention — and is the rationale behind the growth of the Strategic Account Management Association (SAMA) — because of its obvious importance, our book takes a different tack by trying to understand what made one highly accomplished account manager consistently successful across more than three decades of change in technology, business trends, and boom and bust in the wider economy. What emerged were six skill sets, or acumens, that made this success possible. We believe our Acumen Sextet captures what account managers must master to do right by their own firms and their customers.
See the big picture for both the firm and the customer; engage in high-level resource-allocation decisions — for the firm and the customer — for both long- and short-term objectives. Strategic acumen requires a deep understanding of both organizations.
How do you take care of your most important customers? Join us and hear how Richard Santucci and David Hughes leveraged their combined 50 years of experience in B2B sales and sales leadership to build and lead a very successful, global Strategic Account Management program from scratch, then wrote a great book about it. If you are new to strategic account management, you will quickly realize that the principles and experiences Richard and David share in the podcast and their book apply to any company and newly appointed SAM Program Leader.
Listen to the podcast here
The Secrets Of Successful Strategic Account Management With Richard Santucci And David Hughes
I would be honored to introduce you to two experienced SAM leaders, Richard Santucci and David Hughes. They worked together professionally for many years and collaborated to create and improve several SAM programs, starting with a management mandate and a clean sheet of paper. They have kindly agreed to join me on this show and share what they’ve learned along the way. I can assure you all that you’re in for a treat. Gentlemen, welcome. Thank you much for your time.
Thanks for having us, Harvey.
It’s a pleasure. Let’s start right in. David, you were the one that was first approached by your company to create a SAM program. How did that all get started?
We started our program in 2010. Richard and I were both working for Tyco Valves & Controls. We went through one of our many reorganizations. We were going from a regionally based organized company into industry verticals, so oil and gas, mining, power and process. The gentleman who was going to lead the oil and gas vertical, at least temporarily until we brought in a new president, was a bit of a visionary. He was running our sales organization in Europe. He already had a SAM calling on Shell and was doing well in that regard. He convinced the president of Tyco Valves & Controls to start a SAM program within the oil and gas vertical, focusing on customers like Shell and ExxonMobil.
The roles that Richard and I had were going to change somehow someway because of the reorganization. He approached me and said, “You might be one of the people who could do a good job starting a strategic account program. Would you be interested in doing that?” My first question was, “What is the strategic account program?” I knew a little bit about it, but after thinking about it, I said, “Yes, that would be interesting.” I jumped in with both feet. That’s how we got started in 2010.
Richard, you got drafted. I’m not sure if that’s the right word.
It is accurate. Prior to the reorganization, Dave was running the North American region and I was running the Latin American region. The Interim President of the Valves & Controls organization for the oil and gas industry vertical was running Europe. We were all colleagues. When the decision was made to reorganize, Fredo approached me as well and asked me, “Your role is going to change. Would you work with David on putting together this strategic account program for the oil and gas industry vertical?”
At first, I was a little hesitant. I asked a few questions but then I thought, “Other than the fact that we need to concentrate on accounts, they don’t know how to do this.” I had a conversation with David and we thought this might be a pretty exciting thing for us to embark on. We went ahead and decided to move forward. I reported to Dave throughout our ten-year stint at this. We worked closely together and were able to put together a program that we later on decided to put on paper by means of a handbook that we wrote.
I relied on Richard and his input. Fredo, the gentleman running the oil and gas vertical at that time, hand-selected at least three of us. We had one person in North America, Richard in Latin America, a gentleman in Europe, and then a person in Asia. He handpicked us because he knew us quite well since we had similar jobs that he had. It was a big change because, at the time, I was running an organization of 500 people. Richard, you were running a big organization.
I remember talking to the gentleman in Europe who we brought on board. He was the Shell SAM. He was running all of Benelux, Belgium, and the Netherlands. I said, “Hans, how do you feel going from a gentleman running a P&L with 50 people reporting to him and then going down to being the individual contributor?” He said, “How do you feel having run an organization of 500 people going down to running an organization of four?” He put it right back at me. The whole ten years for me with Richard were enjoyable with all three companies, Tyco, Pentair, and then finally Emerson.
One of the things I have to say is that Fredo was pretty visionary in selecting the people, not because he selected us, but because he was looking for businessmen. Having been responsible for P&Ls, Dave and I fit the skillset that he was looking for as opposed to just salespeople. We believe that is a competence necessary for a SAM program to progress.
It makes me wonder what business problem was Fredo trying to solve. Maybe it wasn’t a problem. Maybe it was an opportunity. In business, it’s either problems or opportunities. It depends on whether you’re winning or losing.
It was an opportunity. It was pretty well-known that Fredo, having a SAM on Shell, was very successful. We were doing significant business with Shell. That particular SAM who became part of our team called on their corporate engineering and procurement that was helping write their valve standards. He was close to the account. It was pretty easy for Fredo to convince the president at that time, Patrick Decker, to start this program because it was widely accepted that Shell was a success.
In addition to the Shell example, the rest of the regions did not have any type of Strategic Account Management program. It created some issues because the responsibility fell on the sales organization. The sales organization was incentivized to sell and book orders. Therefore, the care, the relationship building at the central locations at the corporate level, and the visits to the sea level folks were not happening.
That created a big problem being able to climb up the relationship ladder because we weren’t building relationships at that level. We were calling on the locations and trying to pedal our widgets and close deals because we needed to hit the month. We needed to hit the quarter. We were not thinking about building long-term relationships with organizations so that we could attain a greater share of wallets and position ourselves to become trusted advisors with them. In that respect, Fredo was quite visionary and pushed hard for a Strategic Account Management program within Tyco at the time.
It occurred to me. I’m not sure this is true, but certainly, the customers that you’re talking about like Shell, Exxon, and these kinds of companies are global by any definition.
They wanted to be treated as a global organization too.
That was one of the criteria that we had for selecting accounts. The account had to have locations in multiple regions. If not or if it was headquartered and mainly had locations in one region, it was a regional account. Our program was a global strategic account program focused on large global companies.
Back to when you first got started, were you given any guidelines? Usually, with these gifts from the CEO, there are some expectations that come along with it.
Expectations were there, but there was no guidance. Perhaps David could elaborate a little bit on that.
One of the guidelines that Fredo established, which I don’t think turned out to be the best, was focusing it regionally. Me in North America, Richard in Latin America, we had a person in Asia and the person in Europe. We ended up changing to or moving towards because we’re focusing on the accounts and having these SAMS where they needed to be from an account standpoint, not from a, “We’re going to have somebody in each region.” We didn’t have any Asian-based, regional or global accounts at that time, but we had a SAM in Asia. Outside of that guideline, they were blank sheets of paper. It was like, “You guys go create the program.”
I remember talking to our VP or Director of Marketing at the time. She said, “You guys should get involved in this organization called SAMA. We said, “What is SAMA?” This happened at the beginning of the year. It was January and February when we kicked off the new company. We found out there was a SAMA conference in May. We asked the President, “Could we attend that?” That was our first SAMA conference in May of 2010. Thankfully, we went to that conference. We got a lot of information from that.
It spearheaded the process that we created.
To answer your question, outside of the initial structure with the four people, we didn’t have a whole lot of guidelines. There was no cookbook for Strategic Account Management as far as we knew. We found out about this organization and we said, “We got to go see what goes on there.”
There were some books that we read, but what helped us were the training seminars that we attended that May of 2010.
One of the gentlemen in the community often says that SAMS, SAM leaders, and adults learn best from stories and peers. It seems like that was true for you guys.
No question about it. The one thing that I was amazed at is that meeting was in Chicago. I couldn’t believe how many people were there. I said, “How can there be this many people involved in this thing called Strategic Account Management?” We were real novices but we jumped in and did our best to create our program.
Before we go forward here, I’m curious about this. If someone who had inherited a SAM program called you guys up and said, “What advice can you give? What questions should I ask? How should I get started?” What advice would you give them?
We have a book that you can buy. I shouldn’t toot our horn but we do. That’s why we wrote the book. We struggled to try to understand what we were supposed to do and how we were supposed to structure this thing that we were calling a program. It needed to be a program. We wanted to give people a handbook on how you can think about creating the program and the different elements of that program. Outside of SAMA, I would say buy the book called The Secrets of Successful Strategic Account Management. It will help you with the different processes that are involved
If we were to dive a little deeper, becoming a member of SAMA, getting the organization to become a member of SAMA would be the first step, but then getting a good understanding of what leadership wants, and making certain that leadership is committed to the program is also crucial. In our case, Dave, one of the things that allowed us to get the process going and get the process to grow the business was the fact that at least at the beginning, we had a full commitment from the top, from Patrick Decker down to Fredo, and then Sherry.
It was an enterprise-wide program and it was visible to the whole organization. The fact that we were leaders in the former structure helped because we were well-respected within the organization. It gave us the ability to maneuver and lead without authority across the regions considering the fact that we were dealing with global accounts.
One of the concerns that we had was being able to show ourselves as a united front in front of these customers. That’s one of the things that they were clamoring about. Making certain that there is a commitment from the leadership team within the organization to invest in this program and support the program is crucial. In addition to buying our book which will tell you how to do it, the initial point is to elicit and attain commitment from the top
Is the top the CEO and C-Suite? Push a little further in here and say, where do you need that commitment from?
In our case, it was the president of the company. It was from the top.
It was the person who was running the P&L because we were people who had been with the company for many years. Our salaries were not low at all. They were making it a pretty big commitment by taking us from these general management positions and putting us into these strategic account roles. In our case, it was the P&L leader. In that particular business, we reported to a president of oil and gas who reported to a president of Tyco Valves & Controls.
Even though the teams were smaller, each vertical had some kind of a SAM program like process and mining. If the president of Tyco Valves & Controls had not approved of that program, he could have done away with that in each of the verticals. We needed to make sure that the president of the overall organization, Tyco Valves & Controls, was supportive of that program. That person at the time had come from Emerson and had a pretty strong program. He was supportive.
The other thing that newcomers to Strategic Account Management program need to look at is account selection. In our case, it was relatively easy because we were talking about oil and gas and we selected the oil and gas majors. The other thing that needs to happen based on the resources that are going to be given to the program director, he needs to make certain that he does not grab more than he can chew. It needs to be a small program at first with few accounts.
Make certain that the program is successful before they can think about growing it and expanding it into other accounts. That would be another piece of advice that I would give somebody who’s starting the program. Commitment from the top, make certain that you are resourced correctly, and don’t try to bite more than you can chew.
The last thing I’ll add if I can is that people should keep an open mind about SAM. In our case, you approach somebody like Richard or me who has been a General Manager and a P&L Leader for a number of years. You say, “I would like you to think about becoming a SAM or running a SAM program.” People could look back at that as a step-down. People should keep an open mind. Those years were one of the best ten years of my career, creating the program, running it and building a team. In the end, we had a team of 13 to 15 managers and program managers. It was a blast. Because of the nature of the program, we traveled around the world and that was a great experience.
Being able to deliver resources is also important.
That was table stakes, Richard.
I like my bonuses at the end of the year.
When we were talking, I got the sense that you ended up helping more than one program. As you were going through this process, you got the opportunity to help some of the other divisions and help get some other programs started. Could you talk a little bit about that?
I’m not trying to pat ourselves on the back, but Richard and I have had a good reputation in the company. When we would travel to other regions, we were greeted. They wanted us there because we understood strategic sales, account management, and account planning. When we went into a region, we did a lot of training of the salespeople that were in those regions. We helped the sales organization in many cases.
We also got involved in a lot of marketing efforts related to the different industries. They would tap Richard for information on oil and gas, or they would tap Colin, our mining guy on mining expertise. We had a lot of experience and a good reputation in the company. We got involved in a lot of different aspects of the company and hopefully, it made it better in that regard.
As we traveled, we were embraced by the regions and by the sales organizations that were responsible for covering specific territories. They wanted us to go and make sales calls with them. We did. Since we were Strategic Account Managers that had relationships at the corporate level, we would normally be able to find key people at high levels within the sites that would be difficult for the sales organization locally to reach.
Those doors would be open right away through our relationship from the corporate office or from the central location where they would send an email and alert them of our visit. They would set up appointments for us to meet with the plant managers and high-level individuals at the sites. This was extremely valued by the sales organization because they would accompany us to those meetings and initiate a direct relationship with those folks, which was crucial to the latter growth of our business in those particular locations. They loved us.
Because we had exposure to so many different parts of the organization and so many different people, particularly in the sales organization, I remember getting asked about people who they were thinking about promoting, and whether that was a good selection in my opinion. We got involved in HR to that extent because of the relationship that we had with the various people in the regions. That was neat.
This is one of the concepts that we hear. We hear this a lot in life sciences in particular because every country has a different life science setup. As opposed to having a central SAM program where everybody is executing one play. You have to have 200. There are 200 countries in the world. There are 200 variations going on out there. The SAM program becomes more of a center of excellence where you say, “These are best practices.” You’re a little bit of both. You’re a global strategic accounts program, but you’re also providing local guidance and support to help them elevate their game, create relationships, and reach people. It wasn’t just, “This is what you should do. Go do it.”
We were looked at as mentors.
It’s like, “Let us help you. Let us get to the right people so you can start to develop the relationship you needed.”
In some territories, some folks would embrace the process and apply it to their regional accounts.
You got to a point in time when you’d had enough fun and decided that it was time to be your own bosses. You retired and decided to write this book. When you were writing it, how did you decide to organize it to help people that had never been through the process before? What did you think about that?
From my perspective, we wrote the book like we built the program. The first thing we needed to do was we decided for ourselves that we were going to create a program. We had a burning platform in that regard. We do write about a burning platform in the book. The first thing we thought we needed to do was decide what accounts were going to be part of the program. When we started in the oil and gas business, that was probably relatively easy.
Soon after that, the company reorganized again and all the processes and verticals were under our scope. It became much more difficult to select accounts. That’s when we put together the account selection process. We thought, “How are we going to find these people? Let’s put together a process related to finding an account manager.” We wrote the book based on sequentially the processes that we put together. Is that fair, Richard?
That is exactly how it happened. Once we selected the account managers, whether they were internal candidates or external candidates, because it was a global program, we had to identify those critical sites and who was going to cover them. Most critical sites contributed to the revenue base and the growth that was expected of us. One of the mandates that we applied to ourselves was that whatever the growth of the business was, our accounts were going to grow twice as much.
That was our goal. We were going to grow twice as much as the average rate of growth of the overall business. We accomplished that every single year. We needed to identify and make sure that we had those critical sites identified, and then we could start with the planning. Now that we had all of the people in place and we knew who the accounts were, we could start with the planning process. We wrote it as we built it.
We accomplished that goal every year we could get financial data. That was always a struggle.
If we didn’t have the data, we had to assume that we made it.
That was a challenge, being a global company with many ERP systems in some cases. When we got support from finance, it was great. We had numerous changes in upper management when we were going through this during the ten years. We had seven different leadership teams that changed. That means it’s changing every year and a half depending on who was in charge and the support we got from a finance standpoint.
It was a burden for them. We recognized that because at one point there were 32 ERP systems to be able to gather all the data from that. Thankfully, that got reduced quite a bit. It became a little easier for the finance folks to do it. If we didn’t have a commitment from the top and with some leadership, it was not as strong of a commitment as with other leadership teams that we dealt with. As a matter of fact, one of the things that Dave did was to make certain we had a good elevator speech so that we could immediately attack the new leadership team to make certain that they understood what we were doing and the value that we were bringing to the organization.
We did that impressively. We wouldn’t wait until a new leadership team would say, “What are these people doing flying around the world?” We went after them and prepared an elevator speech. What is Strategic Account Management? Why is it important for this business to have this program? We also felt that communication was important, not just the elevator speech, but communicating what we were doing to the organization. We communicated with our strategic accounts, but we needed to communicate what difference we were making on a regular basis.
We had a quarterly newsletter that was quite professional. It was done in conjunction with our marketing communications department that would talk about new contracts with customers, project wins, and new people coming on the team. Every month, the account leaders prepared a monthly report that we sent out to all the leadership in the organization, talking about what changes were happening and what progress we were making at the account. We thought that was important, especially when we had times when we weren’t able to get concrete financial information. We needed to make sure that people knew why we were there and what we were doing.
Coincidentally, when we didn’t get the financial information as readily as we needed it, normally it also matched the lower level of commitment that management had. That’s the reason why we didn’t get the numbers. It became paramount upon the program for the program’s health to make certain that the value that we were bringing was communicated appropriately and ready to make certain that people recognized what the program was doing, and that the investment being made was paying off.
It was clear that you had good acceptance by sales and sales leadership. Generally, I realize the world is a big place. The reason we all have jobs is that there are always problems but they were solvable. The internal organization is another aspect altogether, the business units, finance, and everybody that’s involvedin operations, services, and the whole group. It was important. What you’re saying is whether you’ve got the numbers or not, you better be communicating your value to those people at the leadership level and regional levels.
It’s across the enterprise.
Was that part of the SAM’s responsibility then if I’m a Strategic Account Manager for global oil company X?
Because I was one of the contributors, I handled ExxonMobil and British Petroleum, BP. It was my obligation and duty to provide articles for the newsletter, for example, to make certain that what was happening at BP and ExxonMobil was communicated appropriately. Co-creation activities and things that are not necessarily measurable by the numbers, but that would create long-term value and increase revenue for the company like big project wins would be reported.
We didn’t only report the wins. We reported activity that was quite diverse. I mentioned co-creation activities, relationship-building activities, the share of wallet, information, new product development, the growth of a new product that had been introduced into the market within the account, normally, the growth that would exceed the growth of the new product growth overall. Such would be reported in these newsletters. The newsletter made it to the C-level all the way down to the janitor.
Did I get you right? Was it quarterly?
The newsletter was quarterly, but the monthly reports were monthly. The newsletter was a production. In the monthly reports, we had a template. They were fairly simple, but they were as important. We were looking for people who were business people for these roles. We had some SAMs that were great elephant hunters, but when it came to reporting, they were not very good. That was a problem for us because we needed it to be timely and consistent.
If we had ten SAMs, we had to have ten monthly reports that I could send out every month at the same time. It became a problem if somebody was great at selling but couldn’t handle the administrative aspects of their job. It was a requirement and that was part of their job description to contribute to the communication program that we had within the SAM program.
The monthly reports were sent to the leadership team. it was not something that would go to Dave and Dave would read and file them. These made it all the way up to the top.
I did a spell check on them. We changed them depending on how we were organized. When we reorganized by business unit, we would ask the SAMs to report their activity by business unit. When we sent them out, if I was in business unit A, I only needed to read this stuff in business unit A that happened if I didn’t want to go through the entire report. We tried to make it easy for the business leaders, however we were organized, to get the information that they needed.
I remember an old saying about salespeople, “You should always be selling not just with customers but internally too.”
It’s a shame to say that but you have to do that. We had to do that. Sometimes you think, “They should look at what I’m doing and see the merits of me.” You have to sell internally.
There was one thing that you pointed out in the book that you talk about. It was, “What are some of the common mistakes that cut into profits?” Two things captured my attention because a lot of times, salespeople were worried about revenue. Profit is somebody else’s problem. Clearly, it wasn’t from your perspective. It’s not something that comes up. We all know it when we feel it. Usually, we start worrying about that after it happens. Something happens to the profits, people start screaming, and then you have to reactively go in. What kinds of common mistakes are preventable if you take the right corrective action?
There are a couple. To me, it has to do with not spending the money wisely. We had these positions called program managers. Many times, a lot of these folks came from our project management organization. Richard can go into more detail about how much help they provided to the Strategic Account Manager. My point is that these people allowed us to make significant progress on these accounts. Depending on who was in power and who we had to convince that we needed these positions would depend on how many of those positions we had.
We made much more progress and did much better with our strategic accounts when we had those positions. If the organization was looking at cutting costs, maybe they wouldn’t allow us to have more than 1 or 2 program managers. It hindered our ability to make money. Therefore, it cut into our profits. The other thing that I would say in that same regard is we had some people suggesting that we have Strategic Account Managers that did two jobs. They were a regional salesperson, but then a Strategic Account Manager. We did that in a couple of cases. It never worked because that person would always lean towards that job of month-to-month sales and put little effort into the strategic account piece of it.
We had to have dedicated SAMs. That costs money, but in the long run, it improved profit because we were closer to the accounts. We knew them better. We did more business there. We were able to sell more profitable products. It’s the way it worked out. From my perspective, that’s how you can cut into profits. It’s by not investing the way you should in the program.
Prior to the program being put in place, we had issues. Every company has issues with deliveries and product defects. We had those, thankfully, not very often, but we had those. Those can be killers as far as profitability and growth are concerned. Once the Strategic Account Management program was in place and running, it became a whole lot more visible. We became aware of these issues at the central location faster.
Our organization became more aware of the fact that if there were an issue with a strategic account, it needs to be brought to the SAM immediately. That allowed us to mitigate these risks of losing business. As a matter of fact, in most cases, they were turned into opportunities. As you address swiftly an issue with the customer and you resolve it, you gain a tremendous amount of credibility with him or her. This becomes personal, not organizational. This person will always be indebted to you.
That translates into more orders and elevates you to a higher status from a relationship standpoint, and gets you closer to that trusted advisor level that you want to be because you’ve mitigated risk to them. It’s their risk, not so much our risk. There is a risk for your organization. You can lose their business, but you solve their problem that you initiated swiftly, mitigating any risk that they have in terms of production, safety, productivity yields, what have you. That is crucial.
All of our SAMs, earlier in their career, had a good reputation within the company. If they were calling an operations leader for a problem, it got addressed more rapidly than if a regional or a salesperson was calling somebody from operations. We could jump on those issues that Richard brings up and quickly take care of the problem for the customer. That could cut into profits. You lose that business.
Especially when the strategic account director or when Dave was reporting to the president, as opposed to reporting to the sales by VP, because it elevated the status of the program and the whole function. It gave us a greater level of credibility internally as well with operations services or what have you.
I remember one of my favorite sayings was, “We don’t have problems. We have opportunities.” Every time a customer has a problem, it’s an opportunity to fail. It’s also an opportunity to succeed. It’s black or white. There’s no middle ground. You either win or lose, but it can be the thing that takes you to the next level if you handle it correctly.Could you summarize your top lessons learned in all of this?
We do have some lessons learned. We do a chapter on lessons learned in the book. There are a couple that sticks out to me. We address this in the book. It is this logistical issue that I talked about earlier. We had a SAM in Singapore calling on a strategic account in France. That was dumb. If we quickly learned that, we didn’t make any progress with that account. First of all, culturally, it didn’t fit. Logistically, it didn’t fit.
We started to get smarter about hiring people in the right area and with the right culture. We tried to find them. We typically did find people internally. We promoted most of the people into the SAM program instead of going outside and hiring. We realized that Richard could be in California and fly to Houston, but you can’t handle an account in Europe from California. It’s too far. I’m talking about the headquarters.
It’s also the cultural issue, which is crucial.
That’s a lesson that we learned early on. Maybe it was like, “Duh,” but we didn’t know when we started the program. The other thing was that our program was most successful and we got the most support when we reported to the president of the organization rather than to the sales leader. It has nothing to do with people being good or bad.
It’s just that the sales leader, like the rest of the organization, was concerned about month-in, month-out numbers. We did not always get the support that we needed or wanted as opposed to when we reported to the president of the organization. When we started this program, we did report to the president of the oil and gas organization. It was effective. Those are the two big lessons that come to my mind.
We had a Strategic Account Manager who was a great salesperson, and a great relationship manager as well, but struggled at communicating and relating internally. It was difficult because he was effective as a salesperson. Internally, he rubbed people the wrong way. That deterred us from maintaining the level of commitment that we required internally. Dave had to maneuver that to a point where we maintained and got the results that the elephant hunter provided. At the same time, it shielded him from politics that is required with the leadership team.
People are people. This person just didn’t like doing that stuff. We said, “That’s fine. You’re great. You keep those relationships going. We’re going to put Mr. XYZ in charge of doing that stuff for that account.” It worked out well. It was the best for managing that account.
It goes back to selecting the right SAM for each account. The criteria should not only be focused on the account management piece. It’s also managing the management team internally. It requires some business savvy and political savvy for the position.
That’s interesting because I was not a taskmaster by any stretch of the imagination as a director of our account program. What I did try to talk to the team about at times is we got to make sure we’re traveling around the globe and we’re representing the strategic account organization. We need to make sure that we do that at the highest and most professional level possible because we’re running into people at different levels all over the organization all over the world. Maybe a couple of times, I got reports that I didn’t like about somebody who traveled.
There were a few issues, but generally speaking, I got wonderful reports on our folks when they went into different regions. That was always gratifying to me. It was a tremendous group. I’m sure strategic account directors in many companies feel the same way. I was blessed to have to work with the talent that I worked with for ten years. They were all so different, but they were all so effective. Everybody got along and tried to help each other. It was a special situation and certainly a special part of my career.
One of Dave’s competencies is team building. He created a tremendous team that was in sync and diverse for obvious reasons. A global organization will by default be a diverse organization but one that was incredibly effective and their camaraderie was tremendous.
They were not good at top golf, pretty bad.
He’s talking about me. I’m not a good golfer.
We wouldn’t have any good golfers on the team, Richard. I don’t think so. They were working too hard. They weren’t on the golf course talking.
Gentlemen, I can’t thank you enough for sharing the wisdom that you’ve shared with us about this experience, and the fact that you’ve written a book about it is even better. When we send out the notification to our audience about this, we’ll make sure that people know where to find it if they’re interested. Thank you for your kind words for SAMA. We did our job. We exposed you to what best practice looks like. It’s pretty easy to tell somebody what they ought to do. The hard part is doing it, and you did it. Congratulations.
It has been so great to meet you both and follow you on your journey a little bit here. I hope that this isn’t the last time we talk. I hope it’s the first.
Author and experienced executive with a demonstrated history of working in the process control, mechanical and industrial engineering segments.. Skilled in Sales, Marketing, Negotiation, Petroleum, Gas, Process Control, and Operations Management. Strong business development professional with a BS focused in Chemistry from California State University-Los Angeles.
About David Hughes
Experienced, Results Oriented Sales Executive. Created global strategic account program for Tyco Flow Control and led strategic account team for ten years at Tyco, Pentair and finally Emerson Automation Solutions. Previously managed P&L for large (500 member) sales team.
By Tania Lennon, Global Space Lead, Talent Assessment and Leadership at ZS and Jennifer Stanley, Partner, North America Lead, Sales & Channel Practice, McKinsey & Company
SAMA is proud to offer this 4th article in the 4-part series on the importance of SAM / KAM leadership. In this series we explore the key capabilities that drive the success of great KAMs and KAM Leaders. Using the experiences of four amazing KAM leaders underpinned by research into KAM leader capabilities for success from ZS, this series of four articles illuminates the foundations of high performance in KAM leadership roles. In addition, this panel of four leaders will be featured at our Annual Conference, May 23-25 in New Orleans. Register here to join us.
In the previous articles, we have explored some of the critical capabilities demonstrated by great KAM leaders. These capabilities enable them to develop deep insight into customers, to harness the complementary talents of others to shape and propose innovative solutions and provide strengths-based leadership and coaching to the account team. Outstanding KAM leaders also demonstrate more complex and sophisticated influencing strategies that enable them to gain the commitment of customers. Jennifer Stanley tells us what she has learned through her thought leadership and experiences with shaping customer thinking and engagement.
“My first job was in customer service – I really enjoyed it because it was the first opportunity I had to explore how I can help customers solve their problems. It was also where I first realized that I could do more to help them when I challenged them around what they may really need rather than simply what they are saying that they want. It is a fine line but an important one, since it requires listening deeply to the customer’s desires, how market dynamics impact them, and integrating their answers – not ignoring them – into a more comprehensive answer. That same mindset of engaging customers by respectfully and thoughtfully challenging them is at the heart of successful strategic account management.” Jennifer’s insight about challenging customers echoes the literature on consultative selling as a driver of effectiveness in strategic account management. Consultative selling enables SAMs to uncover underlying buyer needs through skillful questioning and deep listening (1). The process also yields a significant positive impact on customer empowerment and their overall satisfaction (2). That in turn enables sellers and customers to build an increased level of trust in pursuit of mutual success. “I discovered that a high level of openness and radical transparency with customers enables me to deepen customer relationships and open them up to broader solutions that support their growth agendas,” says Jennifer. Successful B2B sellers also leverage consultative selling as a way to manage the increasing complexity of the commercial environment due to greater information availability across multiple interaction channels and consolidation within customers themselves (3). Great account managers use consultative selling to manage the essential paradox in strategic accounts today: a requirement for consistent high-quality delivery of bespoke and innovative customer solutions. The capabilities linked to success with consultative selling include connecting, shaping solutions and collaborating, areas in which research suggests that women form a significant part of the talent pool (4).
Resilience and grit So KAMs and KAM leaders need both sophisticated consultative selling skills AND a strong focus on driving to deliver. For Jennifer, that meant developing her resilience and willingness to take risks. “I have had some formative experiences throughout my career where I realized I had more grit than I thought I had. I made a few mistakes and thought, well, that’s it for me! But I had some strong support around me, including seasoned sponsors and mentors, that helped me to bounce back and use mistakes as growth experiences. I aim to provide the same support for others when I see them making mistakes. That’s a theme I’ve also noticed about great strategic account leaders – they combine resilience and grit with active listening and they have worked out how to be human in the moment. They help others thrive, both customers and team members.” As Jennifer points out, this supports strategic account leaders to take risks. “Courage is required because sometimes risks can be irrecoverable – and sometimes they are the lever that enables you to transform the customer relationship to truly become a trusted and strategic advisor.”
Staying the course Part of the courage required to be a great SAM leader is about taking a longer view. “You need to be in a mindset of service for the customer, in it for the long-term and on the journey with them,” says Jennifer. However, Jennifer highlights that this is not always easy. “Some public companies in particular can have a short-term orientation. The challenge for the SAMs is to manage on a parallel track: deliver to the promises already made and help the customer succeed with their near-term goals while engaging them around the vision for the future supported by constant innovation. That’s where the account team’s capabilities and mindsets are really important. I build teams that I trust implicitly to deliver to customer relationships, which means I can focus on the more strategic and future-focused lens. That way we bridge the inherent paradox in strategic account management and operate as a cohesive team across the parallel tracks.” In addition to forming talented teams who are hyper-focused on the customer, Jennifer has also learned to build robust networks that enable her to draw on the strengths of an even wider group of talent. “I think strategic accounts leaders can intentionally cultivate communities outside their own organization that include a diverse range of voices, whether through non-profit and local community service or informal groups based on common interests outside of work. Communities and networks can be a powerful source of ideas and information. Being curious to learn about others’ perspectives by asking lots of questions and listening closely can enable you to uncover new ideas, break down barriers and work more effectively across organizational silos.”
Influencing to build commitment These same skills are also important for creating value for customers. Outstanding SAMs identify and solve problems, align and integrate resources and communicate value propositions (5). As the commercial environment has become more complex and dynamic, outstanding SAMs have moved beyond this to demonstrate three additional behaviours. They disrupt the customer’s current view of what is needed using the ‘respectful challenge’ that Jennifer described; they provide support and reassurance during times of uncertainty and volatility; and they make themselves available and demonstrate their dedication to the success of the customer through ‘small acts of devotion.’ Jennifer encapsulates these three elements in her piece of advice to SAM leaders: “be curious, ask for help and offer help!”
Tania Lennon is Global Space Lead, Talent Assessment and Leadership at ZS. You can find her on LinkedIn. Jennifer Stanley, Partner, North America Lead, Sales & Channel Practice at McKinsey & Company. You can find her on LinkedIn. You can hear from this panel of four leaders at our Annual Conference, May 23-25 in New Orleans.
1. Graziano, J. E., & Flanagan, P. J. (2005). Explore the art of consultative selling. Journal of Accountancy, 199(1), 34. 2. Castillo, J., & George, B. (2018). Customer empowerment and satisfaction through the consultative selling process in the retail industry. International Journal of Customer Relationship Marketing and Management (IJCRMM), 9(3), 34-49. 3. Cuevas, J.M. (2018) The transformation of professional selling: Implications for leading the modern sales organization. Industrial Marketing Management, 69, 198-208. 4. Zoltners, A. A., Sinha, P. K., Lorimer, S. E., Lennon, T., & Alexander, E. (2020). Why women are the future of B2B sales. Harvard Business Review. 5. Terho, H., Haas, A., Eggert, A., & Ulaga, W. (2012). ‘It’s almost like taking the sales out of selling’: Towards a conceptualization of value-based selling in business markets. Industrial Marketing Management, 41(1), 174-185. 6. Hohenschwart, L. & Geiger, S. (2015). Interpersonal influence strategies in complex B2B sales and the socio-cognitive construction of relationship value. Industrial Marketing Management, 49, 139-150. 7. Fernández-Martín, F. D., Arco-Tirado, J. L., & Hervás-Torres, M. (2020). Grit as a predictor and outcome of educational, professional and personal success: A systematic review. Psicología Educativa, 26(2), 163-173.