Brian, tell us about your journey as a Key Account Management Professional and how do you help companies achieve growth through focusing on their strategic partnership with the key account?
I built the first national account organization for Marriott International as VP – National Sales. At the time we had no account management program and the approach was virtually non-existent in the travel industry. I leaned heavily on peers that were running successful National Account Programs at other companies. I met most of these contacts through Strategic Account Management Association. Over 15 years ago I founded a consulting firm focused on enabling account teams to compete. Since then we’ve consulted in over 45 countries.
When is the right time for businesses to start looking at their client relationships in the more strategic manner?
I would say for any company that relies on certain accounts that drive higher revenue and profit than others. Regardless of their size, any firm that derives a high % of their income from a relatively small # of accounts should immediately begin thinking more strategically about those relationships.
What are the biggest obstacles you see businesses face toward becoming more oriented toward servicing & acquiring a deeper understanding of their strategic accounts?
This is the key question! The obstacles that exist today are so different than those that existed just a few years ago. We call it Selling at The Speed of Change. Driven by the digital revolution everything required to strategically manage customer relationships is shifting at lightning speed. We see four areas of knowledge needed to manage accounts successfully:
- Customer Needs
- Your value proposition
- Your competitor value proposition
- Corporate strategies that are executed at the account team level
The reason this is so important is that over the last 20 years we’ve executed over $20b in win/loss analysis for our customers. If we look across all those key account wins and losses we can state one fact:
“Winners win when they show customers how they meet their goals at higher confidence and lower risk than competing alternatives”
Conversely they lose when this doesn’t happen.
We executed a global survey with cross functional leaders and sales and asked them if they had the information they needed to win. 85% said they do not.
The reason is that due to acquisitions, divestitures, new product and service rollouts their value proposition is shifting real time. The same is happening for your competitors. Customer needs are shifting due to issues like regulatory changes, geopolitical events, changes in strategy. Given all these changes corporate strategies that are connected to and executed by account managers are also shifting.
Recently we performed analysis for a Fortune 100 Logistics and Supply chain management company to look at shifts happening in the four areas above and found 37 changes that had occurred in the last 60 days. When we asked how those changes were synthesized and communicated to account teams so they could effectively compete, there was not a good answer.
This is such a different challenge than has ever existed before for account teams. What they know is now as important as what they sell. In order to “win” account teams need real-time market knowledge to prove, one opportunity at a time how they meet customer needs at higher confidence and lower risk than competing alternatives.
The days of annual planning given a static set of customers needs, your value, competitive value and strategy are over given the real-time shifts in the market. One executive recently told us that the equivalent of annual planning now happens quarterly!
Software is eating the world & account management could not escape! Do you feel there is a need of having specialized platforms or software for strategic account management?
It has been reported recently that 74% of organizations do not feel they are getting a high level of adoption for their CRM.
We believe the reason for this is quite simple.CRM has never fulfilled the promise of making account managers more competitive. This is because most platforms are a tax on salespeople, they are required to fill out forms that roll up to management and for sure provide a service in terms of pipeline management and forecasting but still don’t help us win.
CRM has never fulfilled the promise of making account managers more competitive. This is because most platforms are a tax on salespeople, they are required to fill out forms that roll up to management and for sure provide a service in terms of pipeline management and forecasting but still don’t help us win.
What these platforms need to do is be turned upside down. In addition to pushing data up to leadership, they must also be a tool to provide account managers with the real time market knowledge they need to compete and win. In essence, it needs to be the connection to communicate strategy in a rapidly shifting, digitally enabled marketplace.
Will such tech platforms become ‘a must have’ for account managers and their leadership or do you feel it constitutes ‘a nice to have’ capability?
If these platforms are used to collect and distribute real-time market knowledge TO account teams vs. as a reporting tool to collect information FROM them, then Yes.
There is just no way to compete and win anymore without this knowledge. Marketing has been tasked with this in the past. American Marketing Association just reported that over 90% of what marketing gives account managers is not being used. The reason is that marketing is not giving account managers what they need to win.
What is your one mantra for growing strategic client relationships?
For me, it’s all about winning the right kind of deals. To do that we need to understand customer needs, how our value aligns, how we do that at higher confidence and lower risk than alternatives. Given that these are all shifting rapidly and to quote Jim Dickie of Chief Sales Officer Insights “ knowledge is the new oil for salespeople”.
Would you like to share an interesting business book you have recently read and what was the key takeaway for you?
Columbia Professor Rita McGrath recently published a book entitled ‘The End of Competitive Advantage’.
What she argues is that due to the digital revolution we now need to learn to compete on a series of short-term competitive advantages. Software platforms should be used to synthesize and distribute these transient advantages, changing competitors value and customer needs as well as changes in corporate selling strategies such as pricing shifts, etc.
If you liked this blog, you can also read our blog – B2B Sales is a Funnel. No, It’s an Hourglass aka Damru! or download a Whitepaper on – Hype and Art of KAM.