Delivered at SAMA’s 2017 Annual Conference in National Harbor, Md., watch as Francis Gouillart, President and Co-Founder of Experience Co-Creation Partnership (ECC Partnership) lays out five bold predictions for the future of SAMs and the SAM profession.
Outside of C-level engagement and account selection/deselection, it is probably fair to say that talent management has the biggest impact on the success or failure of a SAM initiative. In the words of SAMA’s President & CEO Bernard Quancard, “Talent is a war.” The difference between a superstar SAM and a run-of-the-mill one is like the difference between an NBA player and that guy who puts up 30 points a game in your Sunday night rec league.
So when it comes to finding those “1 percenter” SAMs — the best of the best – where should you be looking? SAMA research has shown, again and again, that the best SAMs do not necessarily come from the sales organization. A person with the magical combination of listening skills, financial acumen and leadership abilities could be a senior buyer, product manager, plan manager or technical expert. While this is all fine and good, you still have to go out there and actually FIND those people. Here are a few tips on the search for SAM talent in “unusual” places.
1. Boomerang employees
While re-hiring a former employee may have been frowned upon once, in this age of job hopping, companies have started to look more favorably bringing back past top performers. Why? For starters, they’re already familiar with (and presumably attuned to) the company culture. And secondly, their time in another company or even industry has inevitably left them with new experiences, new skills, new contacts and new a fresh point of view.
2. Employee referrals
This should probably be the first thing you do when you’re looking to hire a new SAM. It’s cheaper, and it’s faster and – most importantly by far – more often than not it leads to a better hire. Recruiting SAMs through existing employees also creates “stickiness” – both the referrer and the referral tend to stay at their companies longer than outside hires.
The social media platform allows you to proactively create a larger network than you ever could in real life. You can do a keyword search for key skills and attributes you’re looking for in SAMs, filter by current or past employers and also seek out referrals from among your LinkedIn network. The key is to work on building these relationships, whether virtual or face-to-face, proactively — not just when you have a need to fill. And when you come across someone with great skills and experience, start building the relationship – even if you don’t have a job to fill at the moment.
Since your SAMs function like the CEO of the customer relationship, doesn’t it make sense to ask for your customer’s input when you hire a SAM? In rare cases, your customer might actually recommend someone from the account team, like a functional expert or another key cog. While that might be asking too much, your customer can certainly let you know what specific skills, attributes and working style they value in the person who’s going to serve as their most important liaison with your company.
5. “Meet now, hire later”
We touched on this in point #3, but whenever you run into someone with qualifications you value – at an industry conference, professional development event or the gym – give them a card and start building a relationship…even if you don’t have a job to offer them at the moment. It’ll come in handy when you are looking to bring someone in.
Remember: None of these tips has any value if your organization doesn’t have a very good idea of what you’re looking for in your SAMs. (SAMA can help with that!) But assuming you’ve got that part of the equation sewn up, it will behoove you to spend some of your time hunting for talent in more out-of-the-way places.
It is challenge enough for a supplier organization to successfully locate and select the best talent to manage strategic, key or global accounts. Hiring or promoting the wrong talent is expensive, can be detrimental to your office environment and is time-consuming. A good SAM placement, on the other hand, elevates your work environment and further promotes the key account management role to the rest of your organization. How do you get on the path to making the right selection? Here are some ideas:
1. Define the strategic account manager (SAM) role within your organization
SAMA’s research shows that, in many firms, the role and purpose of a SAM are misunderstood within the company. If people within your own organization don’t understand the role of the SAM, that’s a huge impediment in searching and attracting the right talent.
2. Legitimize, standardize and publicize the SAM role
Once the profession of the SAM is defined and standardized for your organization, HR will have an easier time distinguishing SAM from general sales and selecting the best talent available. A standardized job description will embolden HR to better use their capabilities and tools in developing or recruiting the best SAMs, including aligning performance and promotion policies and developing and managing a long-term career funnel program for SAMs and potential SAMs.
3. Categorize job profiles
Different types of SAMs have different levels of job scope, complexity and accountability. Aim for accuracy and consistency or, even more strategically, assign job profiles to specific customer segments.
4. Get more people involved in recruitment and selection
On average, three to four stakeholders are involved in the recruiting and selection of new SAMs. But this may not be enough to identify the best candidates, either internally or externally. Directly involving certain key stakeholders outside of the core group, from the start, could produce more sources for candidate referrals as well as more inputs into candidate screenings, evaluations and recommendations.
5. Formalize internal processes for sourcing and selecting SAM talent
Relying too heavily on informal evaluation methods raises the risk for inconsistent decision-making. Incorporating a formal SAM competency model and assessment can remove bias from the process and improve both the hiring process and the quality of the hire.
6. Consider screening for desired personality traits and softer skills
SAM competencies extend far beyond hard skills to include such skills as strategic thinking, interpersonal relationship skills and communication/influence skills — skills identified in our research as being the most difficult to teach or train. Prior to a complete evaluation, consider making SAM-specific personality traits/attributes the top qualifier when screening SAM candidates.
Without the right people serving in the SAM role, it won’t matter how good your products or service offerings are. And if you aren’t following these six steps, you’re making it that much harder to find the right people for the job.
For more information about selecting and nurturing the right SAM talent, make sure you attend SAMA’s Pan-European (3/9-10, Prague) or Annual Conference (5/23-25, Maryland) where we offer sessions specifically for the SAM Training & Development professional.