Dr. Fred Kiel, co-founder of KRW International, a global leadership consulting firm and Kelly Garramone, CEO of KRW and Executive Director of the KRW Research Institute, prove that character “isn’t kumbaya.” Kiel is often referred to as a sage in the field of character science. He and his team have a large practice working with C-suite leaders across the nation. In 1993, Fortune magazine did a feature story on Kiel using for the first time the “coach” metaphor that is frequently used in business literature today.
Character may sound like a soft topic but Kiel and Garramone’s research shows that character is a critical component of leadership that delivers bottom line results. We can also argue that character is essential for SAMs whose reputations define their brand and whose brands determine their career.
Tough Leadership ≠ Good Leadership
The dominant view held through the 20th century was that tough leadership generates results. Leaders believed that the “soft stuff” was nice but unimportant as it does not bring value to the bottom line. Only the hard driving person who tells the truth and is brutal delivers results.
This same belief rang true in the world of sales training. In the past, sales has done a disservice by being in the business of creating human doings not human beings. The philosophy existed that if you “do this and do that” you will create results.
Today, we see that who you are matters as much or more than what you do. We have seen too many examples of Harvard MBAs who are sitting in jail because of their misbehavior.
I recently came across an article in the January 2018 McKinsey Quarterly titled “Introducing Customer Success 2.0: The New Growth Engine.” I am pleased to say that McKinsey & Co.’s view of managing customers differently completely aligns with SAMA’s view of strategic account management. Welcome aboard!
McKinsey reports that companies — especially in the software industry — are increasingly turning to so-called customer success managers (CSMs) to be their companies’ most powerful assets in coordinating internal resources to make their customers successful and fuel organic growth.
The CSM role is not new. As the McKinsey article details, software companies established the function in the mid-2000s to take a more proactive approach to customer retention as they moved to a more subscription-based business model. What IS new, according to McKinsey, is that many high-tech companies are now looking to their CSMs not only to reduce customer churn but also to be a catalyst for growth.
“By artfully drawing on a CSM’s intimate customer knowledge,” the piece states, “companies can surface opportunities to provide relevant solutions and expand customer value.”
This sounds an awful lot like the animating principle of strategic account management.
The similarities don’t stop here. McKinsey proposes five critical elements of “customer success 2.0,” which you can see in this chart below:
These are all critical components of SAMA’s organizational enablers, which our work with hundreds of the world’s most sophisticated SAM companies identifies as the most critical components of a successful SAM initiative. Again, I am happy to see SAMA’s work validated by the business management experts at McKinsey.
Although SAMA has focused the bulk of its efforts on perfecting a process for co-creating value with a company’s most strategic customers, we also push the idea of imbuing the entire organization with the principals of customer-centricity. One way of doing this is by leveraging the SAM mindset by taking best practices that originate there and migrating them to customers outside the SAM program.
For just one example of this, read my interview with former Zurich Insurance Global Corporate CEO Thomas Hurlimann, under whose watch Zurich built a program to leverage best practices developed inside the SAM program. Zurich created a new segment, just below strategic accounts, of large and/or important accounts and assigned a “part-time SAM” to service them. These part-timers came from the ranks of Zurich’s absolute best product people, who volunteered to service one or two accounts in this segment in addition to their day jobs.
The initiative, Hurlimann told me, has been a huge success — in part because it injects the philosophy of customer-centricity into the larger organization. “In their day jobs doing a product job, these people realize, ‘Wow, I actually need to change the way I work and always have the customer in mind,” Hurlimann said. “When they play the SAM role, they realize how important it is to work as a team.”
McKinsey devotes a great deal of ink to both the importance and difficulty of identifying the right talent to fill the role of customer success manager. They talk about knowledge of advanced analytics and digital tools, but, more importantly, they identify the criticality of having the ability to derive, from deep strategic customer understanding, the critical insights that will co-create value for both parties.
“Both an attribute and a skill, strategic thinking is essential in account planning and many other SAM activities in order to connect the dots between knowledge of the customer and knowledge of one’s own company. Strategic thinking may be the most important asset to a SAM, though one of the least understood.”
Is McKinsey passing off as new thought leadership wisdom that’s been known to the SAMA community for the past 20 years? Is your company leveraging learning developed in the SAM initiative and deploying it across your entire organization? I would love to hear your thoughts, either in the comments or in SAMA’s LinkedIn group.