Ask the question, “What needs to happen at your company to maximize your success with your strategic accounts?” and you’re likely to get answers like this:
- Account managers need to know about the value we can bring them besides what we’re doing for them right now.
- We need to penetrate different divisions of the accounts.
- Our relationships need to be deeper if we want to keep competitors out.
- We need to work directly with decision makers at the enterprise level.
Nice list, but not unique to strategic account management.
Indeed, the answers tend to be the same as those to the question, “What would you like your salespeople to do more of?"
Company leaders often ask the question, look at this list, and decide, “Okay – looks like we need sales training. Let’s put something on the agenda.”
This is a mistake.
While on their face, many of the outcomes of strategic account management and sales are the same (e.g. higher revenue, higher margins, longer contracts, deeper penetration, more mindshare, stronger relationships) and some of the concepts are the same, the paths to get there can be quite different. Before we get into these differences, let's define account management.
What is Account Management?
Account Management Defined: Strategic account management is a systematic approach to managing and growing a named set of an organization's most important customers to maximize mutual value and achieve mutually beneficial goals.
5 Ways Account Management and Sales Are Different
There are 5 areas where the differences between account management and sales stand out.
- Connotation in the minds of buyers
|Category||Sales||Strategic Account Management (SAM)|
|1. Strategy||Narrow focus on creating and capturing specific opportunities||
Pressure to focus on shorter-term
|Focus on longer-term|
Typically individuals or smaller teams form ad hoc to win opportunities
|Mix of dedicated strategic account managers and fluid extended teams focus on execution of account strategy|
Similar concepts are often labeled differently:
|5. Connotation in Minds of Buyer||
Buyers can be defensive and wary when dealing with sales; sellers must overcome
|Buyers often more open to trust quickly, share openly, and work collaboratively|
Indeed, while they can share similar measures and language, if you look closely at selling and strategic account management, they’re not the same.
Consider these questions that company leaders might ask themselves:
- If we were to invest time and energy into working with our clients to collaborate on their success and the value we can create together, what might that yield?
- Where are the pockets of opportunity for creating and delivering more value at this strategic account with our current buyers?
- Where are the pockets of opportunity for creating and delivering more value at this strategic account with new buying centers?
- What are the resources we need, and what do we need to do, to unseat a competitor vying for our business in this account?
- Are we as embedded as we could be in this account? What would it look like if we were? Why would the customer want us to work with them even more deeply?
- What should we do over the next 18 months to strengthen our standing in the account?
- What should our goals be for this account?
- Along with delivering the maximum value to this account, how can we make sure they see that value in its entirety?
- Are we sure our account plan is as strong and as tight as it should be? What are we missing?
While some of these questions are not dissimilar to selling, there’s quite a different skill set required to make sure these questions are answered, and answered properly, by strategic account management teams.
And this is just a brief list of example questions for working with a single account.
Other questions must be answered to maximize the success of strategic account management as a system and part of the culture at your company.
- What constitutes a strategic account?
- What should our strategic account management priorities be?
- What do we need to change at our company to ensure the success of strategic account management implementation?
At most organizations, even if the sales team is in charge of strategic account management, answering these big picture questions properly requires augmentation of the typical sales strategy and execution skill sets.
While it doesn’t happen everywhere, it happens often enough that companies equate “strategic account management” with “selling.” When they do, they don’t ask the right questions, and don’t build the right skills.
And they don’t get the results they should.