By Nicolas Zimmerman, Editor-in-chief, SAMA
Whether you’re struggling to survive the pandemic or thriving and experiencing unprecedented growth, one thing is clear: We are experiencing radical shifts in how we conduct business with our most strategic customers. As conveners of the largest community in the world dedicated to strategic and key account management, one of SAMA’s foundational purposes is to help our community both adapt to what’s happening right now and prepare for what may happen next.
At the 2020 SAMA Annual Conference (held virtually Nov. 9-11, 2020), we pulled together a group of the smartest, most sophisticated observers, students and practitioners of strategic account management for a conversation on “The Future of SAM.” Highlights are presented below, and the full panel is available on demand by registering for the virtual conference here.
Moderator: Jim Ford, Chief Commercial Officer, Solecta, and Chairman, SAMA Board of Directors
Panelists: Jennifer Stanley, Partner, McKinsey & Co.; Dino Bertani, Executive Director, International Strategic Account Management, Allergan Aesthetics; Harvey Dunham, Managing Director, Strategy and Marketing, SAMA; Tom Hablitzel, Senior VP, Enterprise Clients, Sherwin-Williams Company; Jim O’Leary, Global Practice Chair, Corporate Affairs, Edelman
#1. Shifting from focus on shareholder value only to stakeholder value as well – and a broadening understanding of what stakeholder value means.
O’Leary shared takeaways from Edelman’s most recent Business Roundtable, which highlighted the growing emphasis placed on a company’s role in society – from environmental impact to social justice and diversity/inclusion. Non-traditional sources of value will play a growing role in how stakeholders evaluate the impact of companies and their strategic accounts efforts.
#2. Sales and account management – no longer an expense but an investment.
While firms once viewed sales as an expense, in this environment it’s clearly an investment. O’Leary’s advice: Projects with the best “story” will be funded and resourced first. His other advice:
- Expand whom you interact with at your customers
- Focus more than ever on active listening. Only by making astute observations will you uncover potential new sources of value.
- Make sure your internal stakeholders understand the value your program brings to customers and, through them, to the firm. If they don’t grasp it, you may become the target of cost cutting and/or restructuring.
#3. Centralized beats diffused.
When companies shift their programs into the regions or business units, Bertani says, you risk adding inefficiencies, redundancies and opportunities for misalignment. You also risk sacrificing a common strategy, methodology and customer experience.
#4. SAM will become (if it isn’t already) the standard bearer for all sales.
From Stanley’s perspective, SAM already serves as a beacon for what it means to be a sales professional–particularly when it comes to the rigor SAMs bring to account planning, solutions co-creation with customers and articulation of unique value propositions.
#5. Centers of Excellence (CoE).
Bertani says these centralized groups of SAM experts can and should be leveraged as the catalyst for instilling the mindset, skill set and processes for distinctive go-to-market and customer-centric engagement models.
#6. Agility is the new stability.
In disruptive times, leaders need to increase their organizations’ agility by focusing on what really matters and making much faster decisions. Bertani recommends trading perfection for simplicity. “I’d rather be approximately right,” he says, “than exactly wrong.”
#7. Those who have the data, and use it wisely, will control the playing field.
If you’re accumulating data on your customers and even your customers’ customers, how are you using it to develop insights that lead to innovative value propositions? How are you linking it to your core business strategy?
#8. In just a few months, COVID accelerated digital adoption as much as 10 years.
What this means is a vast proliferation of data on customer behavior. Those companies that both control the data and utilize it most effectively to glean customer insights will be the ones who will control the playing field. Stanley predicts that digital adoption will spare SAMs from much of the day-to-day “firefighting” of the job, freeing them to look into all this new data and distill it back into insights about their customers.
#9. The profile of strategic account teams will shift dramatically.
New and different skills will be needed to analyze all this new data and make use of it, leading to teams that include not only data scientists but also behavioral scientists and others with non-traditional sales skills. Teams will also need to become flatter, less hierarchical, in order to move quickly and with agility.
#10. Customers will reward suppliers who successfully blend a great digital experience with the human touch.
When McKinsey surveyed B2B buyers to see whether they prefer to buy digitally or from people, the answer, overwhelmingly, was “it depends.” Turns out customers are much more likely to reward suppliers with sole-source contracts when they excel in both areas and know which channel is right for which kinds of interactions.
Want more? A recording of the discussion, more than two-dozen breakout sessions and keynote presentations is available for unlimited, on-demand purchase. See what you missed here.