Alleviating Key Account Management pain with Salesforce
How do you feel this time of the year with Yuletide and the New Year's around the corner? “Mixed emotions.” If you are a Key Account Manager, I can perhaps understand your answer. It isn’t so much about the pressure of time than the complexity of doing key account management in perfect detail.
DemandFarm, in its many posts, has dealt with the issue of complexity in key account management. Here is a short recap. The complexity stems from two broad factors:
- Strategic - Key account managers confront the tough job of thinking clearly and unambiguously on two business fronts. One, about the client’s business challenges or growth opportunities. Two, understanding one’s product and service offerings, to offer a credible solution to the client.
- Operational - On top of the strategic ambiguity, there is a long list of operational hassles account managers have to deal with. Account plans siloed across systems - many powerpoints, word documents, meeting minutes and emails. Ineffective activity management thanks to multiple excel sessions which becomes unwieldy quickly. Managing meetings with stakeholders both internal and external. Plus the added trouble of managing CRM applications across many devices.
To address the above challenges and the complexity associated with it, businesses the world overturned to CRM applications, particularly Salesforce. For businesses, it was to instill a new way of working on Leads, Contacts, and Accounts. Well, almost !!!
Everybody loves Salesforce
The world’s favorite CRM should not sound like an exaggeration when it comes to Salesforce. “Salesforce is to businesses what the iPhone is to consumers,” said someone. This statement may sound too casual, but reflects the inherent power of the Salesforce.com CRM system.
The latest Salesforce study from Bluewolf - an IBM global Salesforce consulting agency - is a strong testimony to the power of this CRM system. 86% of the surveyed 1800 Salesforce customers believe they can use Salesforce to drive innovation in their business. The survey goes on to highlight that 83% of the IT function believe the same.
It is indeed noteworthy that Salesforce has been able to get vehement buy-in from one of the most challenging user segments, in this change management exercise. Such is the power of Salesforce. Salesforce faces challenges, nevertheless.
The single biggest risk to a Salesforce implementation remains - Change Management. Because it is a new way of doing sales, business development, customer experience. Yes, it is about changing the culture, capturing data, maintaining activity logs, getting rid of spreadsheets, putting rigor into doing and documenting sales meetings. Yes, it is not easy. Organizations and teams who look beyond the ease, find the rewards.
Fundamentally, Salesforce isn’t built for Key Account Management. It is built for opportunity management. It keeps sales teams focused on what needs to be achieved. It does by providing them with a ready-to-access dashboard that documents every day how sales teams are going about their planned goals.
Given the structural difference in how Salesforce is built, it does not ‘naturally’ address the necessities of key account management. Account management and sales leaders address this gap, through Salesforce customization requests and applications from the Salesforce App Exchange. A good bunch also learns to live with the inherent account management limitations of Salesforce.
In most cases, DemandFarm finds that account management is done outside of Salesforce. Consulting firms assist businesses in doing account planning. These account plans reside in distributed documents - powerpoint, excel, notes and word documents. We are yet to fully understand why?
If you are an account management professional and see this happen in your organization, I request you to document your perspective in the comments section. So how do strategic account management teams address limitations with Salesforce?
1) Strategic One - View of Key Accounts
This is a fundamental issue faced by many strategic account managers. The Salesforce system’s inability to present a single view of the overall account plan. Not all the reasons are directly related to Salesforce.
- Scattered & Siloed Data - During the planning process, account plans tend to get distributed. Multiple versions of the same file tend to exist, creating confusion and wasting precious key account manager time.
- Non-standard approach - Many variations exist in account plans thanks to the lack of a standard approach in capturing data and checking its quality.
- Account Planning outside Salesforce - It is ironical but true. All accounts data and information are within Salesforce, but all the planning actions happen outside of it. In many cases, the carefully drafted plans also remain outside of salesforce, thus unable to impact the accounts to the maximum.
KAMs lack a central view of account plans. This compromises insights. Thus, resulting in improper forecasting and inefficient allocation of resources for maximum impact. Account structuring also takes a knock because of this issue causing ineffective account management initiatives.
User experience is an important driver to usage and adoption. A lack of ease of use is a deal-killer. It is not an issue that is discussed too often in the context of key account management. It is not difficult to figure out why this is important. Just look around. Every human on the earth is using cutting-edge web and mobile apps on the latest smartphones.
Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Amazon shopping, LinkedIn and the list is endless. So, how would their expectations be about using digital applications? As good as it gets, right? Usability of Salesforce account planning is not cutting-edge, yet. Salesforce Lightning has been a welcome surprise, but there is more ground to be covered. The platform nature of Salesforce also contributes to ‘wanting’ usability.
IT Teams and CIOs love Salesforce since its ‘platform’ nature allows them to make, break, make, break and remake. This customization flexibility comes at the cost of UI and UX, not something that IT teams prioritize during their development stages. The result is usually a compromise for the user. In this case, the key account managers.
3) KAM Enablement is missing
Successful strategic account management needs more than a single view of key accounts and usability. There are many success factors, not limited to the following. Here are a few that straddle the spectrum from ‘nice to have’ to the “most desired’.
- Collaboration - Businesses with a strong key account management strategy are inherently complex with multiple products and services lines. Building strong account plans calls for powerful collaboration across multiple internal teams. Though Salesforce provides the chatter tool for collaboration, it is more suited for messaging than collaboration. A system that enables active collaboration is indispensable for KAMs. Else many man-hours are at stake sending collaboration requests, setting up meetings, conducting them and then taking decisions.
- Account Intelligence - Account related intelligence related to the market and various corporate actions is found wanting in Salesforce. Account plans built at the beginning of the year depreciate without regular updates for market factors and many corporate actions that happen within the account. Strategic account managers have to manually update and modify account plans for such changes. It is only seldom that this manual update hits the account plans. Salesforce provides Radian to monitor relevant social activity and news, but it is at best a real-time feed service. To include the Radian feed automatically into account plans would be something that KAMs might love.
- Cocreate with Customers - SAMA (Strategic Account Management Association) has been making a strong case for co-creating account plans directly with customers. It is a ‘moonshot’ but speaks about the direction is which strategic account management is headed. How will sales systems like Salesforce keep up to facilitate this? There is a lot of work to be done.
Salesforce KAM Enablement
Salesforce wasn’t built for strategic account management. But to give Salesforce its due, it has provided the necessary infrastructure, to address the requirements of key accounts driven businesses. Salesforce is making its infrastructure in the following manner.
- Salesforce Appexchange - Much older than the Apple App Store and the Google Play Android store, the Salesforce Appexchange gives you enough options to customize Salesforce the way you want. Over 3,400 applications across sales, marketing, productivity, market intelligence almost always solve a problem, not addressed directly by Salesforce. (Disclosure: The DemandFarm App is listed as an Account Planning application on the AppExchange)
- Force.com Platform - The force.com platform as a service offering provides users the option to design and develop custom applications. Thus, teams also have the ‘tough’ option.
Native strategic account management abilities within Salesforce would be a sure shot win for teams with a clear key account management strategy and process. But, is life ‘really’ fair? Till then, lets just Salesforce.