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6 Strategic Account Management Roles Every Company Needs to Know About

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 and 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, six of the reasons are predictable. There are six distinct roles that must be played for strategic account management initiatives to deliver at peak potential.

Few companies define the roles and play all six well.

The first step to changing this is to know what these roles are. So here you go.

6 Strategic Account Management Roles:

The 6 strategic account management roles include:

  1. Results Driver
  2. Relationship Lead
  3. Innovator
  4. Collaborator
  5. Technical Expert
  6. Project Manager

Before you read on, note that, for the most part, these roles aren't played by six distinct people on a strategic account team. The strategic account manager often plays several roles, and other members of their team play multiple roles as well.

Read: Competencies of Strategic Account Managers

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: "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 – Results Driver:

The Results Driver leads the charge for maximizing business inside of the "market" of the account. The Results Driver wants growth. Wakes up anxious to push things forward. You don't have to light the fire in the belly of the Results Driver. If you, yourself, don't bring up maximizing account growth, she will.

Tip: Many companies think their Relationship Lead can be molded into a Results Driver. One person can certainly play both of these roles, but too many companies try to force their Relationship Leads into the role of the Results Driver when it doesn't fit.

Guess what? It doesn't work.

Strategic Account Management Roadblock #2: "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 leads individual relationships with stakeholders at accounts.

At most companies, if the strategic account manager is playing a role well already, it's typically the Relationship Lead. (However, our research shows that even though Relationship Leads often have strong connections with existing contacts, Top Performers are much better at creating relationships at the enterprise level, and driving relationships with new stakeholders beyond existing contacts.)

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. Too often it doesn't happen at all. And, for sure, we aren’t engaging high enough level decision makers."

Role Needed – Innovator:

Also called the Value Creator or 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.

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 builds internal bridges and trust, and gets the right people involved at the right times to produce the best outcomes. We've heard time and again, especially at larger organizations, that a major factor preventing the expansion of accounts is lack of cooperation and collaboration among the various groups at a company.

In fact, nearly one-third of all respondents to our Top Performance in Strategic Account Management report reported lack of internal collaboration as challenging or very challenging. We also hear that lack of alignment in processes or operations make it difficult for different groups to collaborate—in fact, 39% of respondents find this challenging or very challenging—but in our experience, the right person can break down these barriers and drive growth.

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 – Technical Expert:

A technical expert is the 1) specialist / analyst / technician who has the relevant depth of knowledge, and 2) the ability to solve problems and facilitate deep-dive discussions.

Technical buyers are often more prone to shooting down ideas than helping new ideas grow wings and fly. Having your technical expert 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 technical expert role in place and on the strategic account management team working proactively to make sure this doesn't happen.

Strategic Account Management Roadblock #6: "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? Why is our strategic account plan only half finished, and there are no next action steps?"

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.

You might think, "This role is important, but let's not focus here first." However, the role that most separates Top Performers from The Rest in our strategic account management research is the Project Manager. Top Performers are significantly better here.

As you consider the 6 Strategic Account Management roles, keep in mind that they can be played by any number of people (one, two, five, 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.

Additional Reading
[New Research] Benchmark Report on Top Performance in Strategic Account Management

When we studied strategic account management in 2012, 59% of sales leaders believed there was greater than 25% revenue growth potential in their existing accounts.

In a separate, more recent research initiative, we found that the #1 priority for sales leaders in the year ahead is to increase business with existing accounts. We also discovered that Top Performers are nearly 2x more likely to be effective at maximizing sales to their existing accounts.

The Holy Grail of Strategic Account Management

For our Top Performance in Strategic Account Management Benchmark Report, we studied two specific processes for driving value with accounts.

Achieve This Year's #1 Sales Priority

Ridiculous Upside is the name of a well-known blog that covers up-and-coming basketball players that could make the NBA, but need further development to reach their potential. Too bad that the basketball bloggers took the name, because ridiculous upside is a great way to describe the untapped potential hiding in most every company's existing accounts.

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