Adrian, tell us about your journey as a strategic consultant and how you found a niche in helping companies achieve growth through focusing on their strategic client relationships?
When I founded Whetstone Inc. fourteen years ago, I initially focused our efforts on sales effectiveness. It didn’t take me long to realize that one of the things that differentiated us from other sales consultants was our ability to help organizations sell to C-level executives. It was our knowledge of corporate strategy, combined with the sales process; that enabled us to carve out this niche. We then found that the customers we were helping our clients acquire had greater value to the organization than others. Bringing corporate sales strategy into the sales conversation helped me see that suppliers could achieve significant growth if their strategies were aligned with their customers’ strategies. Eventually, our focus shifted to helping our customers partner more deeply with existing key accounts.
When is the right time for businesses to start looking at their client relationships in the more strategic manner?
Ideally, at the very foundation. Unfortunately, most entrepreneur’s are so desperate for cash that they are happy to acquire any and every customer that they can. Eventually, this works against them as
- They do not become known as specialists in any particular niche;
- Their disparate customer base makes demands of them that pull them in multiple directions resulting in them compromising their value every segment.
Practically speaking, the issue of strategic customer selection usually doesn’t become a priority until organizations begin to struggle with declining profitability. Declining profitability leads them to reevaluate the how they create value. As value is a moving target, they must come to the realization that increased profit margins will only come when key customers acknowledge the economic impact they have on the customers’ business.
What are the biggest obstacles you see businesses face toward becoming more oriented toward servicing & acquiring a deeper understanding of their strategic accounts?
The biggest obstacle is how companies are structured. Since the Industrial Age, companies have found it advantageous to structure themselves around their products and the geographic markets they are pursuing. This leads to the development of product experts who are really good at educating the customer on the virtues of what the company sells. Becoming a strategic partner today is less about being an expert in your product and more about becoming an expert in the customer’s challenges and opportunities. Shifting to a structure that truly supports the servicing of a handful of strategic accounts is extremely difficult. This is why most companies fail at providing the level of cross-functional transparency required to excel.
The software is eating the world & account management couldn’t escape! Do you feel there is a need of having specialized platforms or software for strategic account management?
Yes, and the software must be specialized. Unlike most of the other problems, software is developed to address, Key Account Management software is not simply about automating processes. What is really required are platforms that support and enable strategic thinking.
Will such tech platforms become a must have for account managers and their leadership or do you feel it constitutes a nice to have the capability?
They are already becoming must-have capabilities. We are in a race for value and suppliers that cannot provide strategic value on a global basis will find themselves increasingly irrelevant and shut out as customers seek to consolidate the number of suppliers they do business with.
What is your one mantra for growing strategic client relationships?
Context before content! This means we must understand the customer’s business realities before we try to help the customer understand the details of our product offerings.
You can also also read our blog about Insight Selling – The Key to good Strategic Account Management