8 Strategic Account Management Roles Every Company Needs to Know About
Is your account team playing all the right roles?
Ask leaders at companies how much more they believe they could be selling to their strategic accounts and you don’t hear 5%, 10%, or 20%.
It’s usually more like, “We should be selling 2 times…3 times…even more.”
Ask what’s in their way, you’ll often get this answer, “Our strategic account managers just aren’t doing what they need to do to penetrate the account, cross-sell, and keep the competition out so we can truly grow our accounts to their potential.”
The reasons vary why this is the case. But when it comes to the strategic account management team, eight of the reasons are predictable. There are eight distinct roles that must be played for strategic account management initiatives to deliver at peak potential.
Few companies define the roles and play all eight well.
The first step to changing this is to know what these roles are. So here you go.
8 Strategic Account Management Roles:
The Big 3:
- Relationship Lead
Rounding out the great 8:
- Project Manager
Before you read on, note that, for the most part, these roles aren’t played by eight distinct people on a strategic account team. The strategic account manager often plays several roles, and members of their team play multiple roles as well.
Here are examples of the common roadblocks to successful strategic account management, and the role that needs to be played to turn each one around.
Strategic Account Management Roadblock #1: "There are so many people at this account that we need to strengthen our relationships with. There are so many we don’t even know! Because of this, too often we miss opportunities when they come up, we miss the opportunity to shape opportunities, and we’re vulnerable to competitors."
Role Needed – Relationship Lead:
The Relationship Lead is the embedded player (or players) in the account who creates and strengthens relationships. The Relationship Lead defends against competitor inroads. At larger companies, the Relationship Lead can be the manager of a sizeable internal team that lead individual relationships with stakeholders at accounts.
At most companies, if the strategic account management is playing a role well already (but certainly not always), it’s the Relationship Lead.
Tip: Most Relationship Leads are either good at creating relationships (a.k.a. prospecting) or strengthening relationships, but less often both. If you want to penetrate more deeply into strategic accounts, you need both.
Strategic Account Management Roadblock #2: We can’t get our strategic account managers to focus on growing the accounts. They don’t seem to have the fire in the belly to make things happen."
Role Needed – Entrepreneur:
Also known as the Driver, the Entrepreneur leads the charge for maximizing business inside of the “market” of the account. The Entrepreneur is itchy for growth. Wakes up antsy to push things forward. You don’t have to light the fire in the belly of the Entrepreneur. If you, yourself, don’t bring up maximizing account growth, she will.
Tip: Many companies think their Relationship Leads can be molded into Entrepreneurs. One person can certainly play both of these roles, but too many companies try to force their Relationship Leads into the role of the Entrepreneur when it doesn’t fit.
Guess what? It doesn’t work.
Strategic Account Management Roadblock #3: "There’s so much more value we can create for our strategic accounts, but it takes us forever to get them introduced to, and using, our new products, services, and capabilities – sometimes it doesn’t happen at all . And, for sure, we aren’t engaging high enough."
Role Needed – Innovator:
Also called the Value Creator and the Visionary, the Innovator sees ways to increase value delivered to the account that others often don’t. Tell an Innovator about a new company capability and he “gets it” and its value right away. The Innovator is often an internal evangelist for the breakthrough change your company can create for clients, and value you can co-create with clients. Innovators synthesize information and can communicate the big picture to executive-level clients. They also tend to be instrumental in facilitating idea exchanges in collaboration with clients.
Tip: Executive-level clients – the elusive “enterprise buyers” – need the kind of vision and energy delivered by Innovators in interactions with your company otherwise they lose interest. Then you end up working a level, or two, or six lower in their organizations. It’s more difficult to co-create value with clients when your key contacts are not in the position to make major decisions and lead change initiatives.
The reason these are the “Big 3” Strategic Account Management roles is because virtually every company needs them in place for every account. It’s rare to find a strategic account manager – one person – that plays all three well at an account without collaboration from others on their team.
Depending on your company size, culture, and goals for your strategic accounts, you’ll likely need some mix of the rest of the “Great 8” roles played as well. As you read along, ask yourself which ones you think might need strengthening at your company.
Strategic Account Management Roadblock #4: Our team needs to work together better internally if we want to maximize the value we can bring to our strategic accounts, but it just doesn’t happen."
Role Needed – Collaborator:
The Collaborator is the internal team builder that keeps processes moving forward, builds internal bridges and trust, gets the right people involved at the right times to produce the best outcomess.
Tip: Assuming the systems, processes, and culture don’t thwart the Collaborator’s efforts, this role can – especially at larger, multi-divisional organizations – make a huge difference.
Strategic Account Management Roadblock #5: "The meeting with the account was going fine until their technical folks and naysayers threw in a bunch of ‘that won’t work here’ monkey wrenches."
Role Needed – Consultant:
Consultant is a word that can mean different things to different people. In this sense, we mean the consultant as the combination of 1) specialist / analyst / technician who has the relevant depth of knowledge, and 2) the ability to solve problems and facilitate discussion.
Technical buyers are often more prone to shooting down ideas than helping new ideas grow wings and fly. Having your Consultant in the game can help get past this, especially when your offerings are new either in general or new to the client.
Tip: Sometimes the technical evaluators come right out and say why something might not work, but more often it happens behind the scenes. You need your Consultant role in place and on the strategic account management team working proactively to make sure this doesn’t happen.
Strategic Account Management Roadblock #6: "I don't know."
Role Needed – Researcher:
The Researcher is the detective on the account team who finds out (or leads the process to find out) information critical for maximizing the business within an account.
Researchers can be the key to finding out virtually anything– from what competitors the account is using, what trends are going on in the client, what key people have changed, where the other buying centers are, or any issue where lack of knowledge is getting in the way of your strategic account management success.
Researchers often fall into two categories: behind the scenes and with the client. Getting behind the scenes Researchers in place is typically a matter of resources. Figure out what you need and then garner the resources to get it
The other type of Researcher finds things out from the client. This Researcher role could be the Relationship Lead, the Consultant, or anyone on the client team who has the ability to find things out that you need to know.
Strategic Account Management Roadblock #7: "We didn’t get to that yet. Who’s supposed to do that? Does anyone have a progress report? Why haven’t we had a strategic account management meeting in months?"
Role Needed – Project Manager:
The Project Manager is the organizer of the process of capturing revenue from the account. The Project Manager:
- Gets necessary resources in place.
- Formulates (or helps formulate) an actionable, appropriately thorough account plan.
- Tracks actions and outcomes.
Strategic Account Management Roadblock #8: "We were just too optimistic in the plan. We spent a lot of energy and effort and haven’t gotten back what we hoped."
Role Needed – Skeptic:
The Skeptic is the foil, the reality checker, the devil’s advocate, for all the big ideas your team comes up with for maximizing your account success. The Skeptic makes sure assumptions are questioned, strategies and plans are tested and vetted (and thus strengthened), and only the most promising opportunities move forward.
As you consider the 8 Strategic Account Management roles, keep in mind that they can be played by any number of people (one, two, five, eight, more, etc.) but they should all be played to some extent.
That is, only if you want to be a top performer and ensure you create and deliver all the value you should to your strategic accounts – and generate the revenue, profit, and account retention you know is possible.
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