Solution engineers, technical consultants, solutions consultants—whatever you choose to call the technical expert on your sales team—they play a significant role in the sales and account-development process.
In our research, Top Performance in Strategic Account Management, we analyzed data from 397 executives, strategic account managers, and sales professionals to learn what sets the companies that are best at growing their strategic accounts—Top Performers—apart from The Rest.
Overall, we assessed 32 skills comprising six roles strategic account managers play: Results Driver, Project Manager, Technical Expert, Innovator, Collaborator, and Relationship Lead.
For our Top Performance in Strategic Account Management Benchmark Report, we studied two specific processes for driving value with accounts.
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.
Why are some companies able to consistently grow their strategic accounts and maximize value while others struggle? This is a question that confounds many a sales leader.
Some think it is largely related to the strength of product and service offerings. The companies that grow their accounts the most must have superior offerings that keep customers coming back for more, right?
Leaders at nearly every company we speak to agree that there is significant opportunity to grow their accounts, and they are looking for ways to capitalize on this opportunity.
In fact, growing your accounts is one of the fastest and most profitable ways to grow sales. The first and most basic step to growing accounts is reaching out to them to proactively create new sales opportunities.
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."
As part of our research this year, we have learned:
In our Top-Performing Sales Organization research, the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research assessed what the Top Performers—those with the best sales results—do differently than the Rest. We analyzed data from 472 sellers and executives representing companies with sales forces between 10 and 5,000-plus sellers.
You know you need to differentiate yourself from your competition. And having a strong value proposition can help you do so. But sometimes buyers might consider your services to be the same as those from other providers. What do you do in that situation? It actually comes down to the relationship-whether the buyer likes you-says RAIN Group President Mike Schultz.
Sellers that win big sales go over-and-above to win them. When the impact for you is potentially huge, you want to do everything possible to get the win. Anything less and you essentially serve up the win to your competition.
When you need to win and win big, you need a Big Play.
In studying, researching, and practicing in the field of strategic account management, we've found 6 areas can almost universally be improved.
Ask most people about the strength of their core client relationships and they'll say, "Great. Rock solid."
Yet these comments usually refer to how much rapport or trust sellers feel they have with the client. They don't answer the question through the lens of business value the client receives from them.
Retaining current customers costs 6-7x less than acquiring news ones,1 and improving customer retention rates by a mere 5% can increase profit per customer by 25%-95%.2 So it makes sense that top companies focus on building relationships, increasing loyalty, and selling more to current customers as a growth strategy.
When it comes to growing accounts, challenges abound. In our Benchmark Report on High Performance in Strategic Account Management, we asked:
Consider the challenges your company faces in strategic account management. For each factor indicate how challenging it is to your company's SAM efforts.
Companies take lots of actions to grow accounts. Some work better than others.
However, none of them work very well if you don't take care of one important action up front.
One of the biggest untapped opportunities to increasing sales and profit is growing your existing accounts. Consider:
In The Benchmark Report on High Performance in Strategic Account Management, we analyzed data from over 370 companies that engage in formal strategic account management. We asked about the top challenges that limit account growth and found the number one difference between high performers and the rest is: having an effective strategic account planning tool.
Only 19% of high performers reported having an effective account planning tool as challenging compared to 53% of everyone else (see graph below).
The challenge of having an effective tool does not, however, exist in a vacuum.
Bringing in new customers is expensive. According to research by Fred Reichheld of Bain & Company, it costs 6 to 7x more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing customer.
In our own work, we regularly find companies have significant, untapped opportunities for growing existing accounts.
In the Benchmark Report on High Performance in Strategic Account Management, we studied more than 370 companies that engage in formal strategic account management. We looked at what sets High Performers apart from the rest, and what you need to do to become a high-performing organization.
Ask a group of professional services providers how much of their business comes from existing clients and the answers usually will be 60%, 70%, 80%, or even more. Then ask them how much time they put into nurturing those same clients and the answers will be a little, not much, or none. Finally, ask why they spend so little time building relationships when there is potential for so much new business and the answers will be:
"Don't want to be a pest."
"Don’t have the time."
"I am not sure what to do to keep in touch."
"I feel like a stalker."
Obviously, doing great work is the first step in keeping in the best graces of your clients. But client loyalty can be fleeting and is not something you should take for granted.
In our Benchmark Report on High Performance in Strategic Account Management research study, we learned that high performers—those companies that had much greater revenue and profit growth in their strategic accounts than the rest—were 2.8 times more likely to have an effective process for planning ways to add value to accounts.
Most people think of prospecting as reaching out to people they don’t know, with an over-the-top approach, to interest them in buying something they’re not thinking about. This isn’t the only way to generate more leads.
Prospecting isn’t just a cold activity, and you don’t need a sledgehammer approach to make it work.
Imagine for a minute you sold everything you should be selling across all of your firm’s capabilities to your existing clients. If all the buying centers bought all of the capabilities they should be buying, how much would your key account sales increase?
When people spend time analyzing this carefully, they find the potential to expand sales to existing clients is huge.
Given the great potential for growth, many companies give proactive key account sales quite the effort, but few achieve the results they should. The problem is they can’t, or for some reason simply don’t, create their own opportunities.
In our white paper Why Strategic Account Management Fails, we noted that high performers in strategic account management were significantly less likely to face 16 of 19 common challenges in Strategic Account Management. We didn’t, however, have space to go into much detail in this specific area. Since publishing the white paper, we’ve been asked quite a bit for more detail on the specific challenges faced by companies that engage in formal strategic account management, and the differences between high performers and average / below-average performers.
Though access to the full Benchmark Report on High Performance in Strategic Account Management is reserved for one-on-one interactions and for our work with clients, we are happy to share this more in-depth look at some of the challenges that stood out to us.
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:
Nice list, but not unique to strategic account management.