We’re revisiting the topic of Strategic Account Management (SAM) today. The last time we visited this subject, we provided you a comprehensive, in-depth guide into what SAM is and some of the best practices to ensure a successful SAM program. In this edition, we’ll be looking at the inverse – the mistakes that will cause your strategic account management efforts to fail.
- You’re communicating too frequently (or not enough).
On the one hand, SAM is about maintaining regular contact and developing relationships with your most important or highest potential accounts. On the other hand, too much contact can make you seem like a bothersome pest. Where the line falls is going to vary from account to account – some will welcome frequent touches and others will only want sporadic check-ins or meetings.
The converse is true as well – you can get caught up with juggling so many accounts that one accidentally falls by the wayside and is needing some love and care. If this is an account that wants more attention, that can potentially put you at risk of losing it to a more active, engaged competitor.
There are a couple things you can do to avoid falling into the too much/too little trap. First, as we mentioned in our previous SAM blog, come up with a strategic account plan that sets the guidelines and timelines for contact at the start of the relationship and get customer approval for that plan. That way, everyone is clear on the expectations and you know when and how you should be communicating with them.
Secondly, take advantage of your various calendar/reminder technology applications (including task reminders within your CRM) to set notices for yourself on when to reach out to each account. When you have a mutually agreed strategic plan, you can sometimes set these notices weeks or even months in advance. Enter the scheduled contact appointments and methods as soon as you know when and what they are. Then you’ll see the reminders as those dates come up and you won’t forget.
- You’re so focused on growing the account, you get locked into a selling mindset.
The ultimate endgame result of SAM is, of course, to expand the revenue from the account and increase the monetary value of the business relationship. But sometimes – perhaps feeling the pressure of meeting a goal or needing to get a win if in a slump – strategic account managers switch to pushing the sell when it’s not the right time to do so, or, if it is the right time, approach it from an aggressive pitch standpoint rather than the consultative, contemplative strategy that yields the highest win rate and account satisfaction.
A corollary to this is spamming the account(s) with marketing content and collateral. Some marketing content – if it’s relevant to the account’s business situation – is good. Too much and it gives off the stench of selling.
Here’s the thing: As your company’s sales reps can tell you, your accounts know you want to grow the financial relationship with them. But focus on developing the human relationship with them first and let the revenue-generating opportunities arise organically out of the discussions about how the buyer is doing and growing themselves. Let it happen naturally and let your conversations and contacts with your accounts be fruitful, relevant, and relationship-building.
- You’re unaware of the organizational or structural changes in your accounts’ organizations.
The one constant in life is change. This is particularly true in the business world, as people change employers and roles. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruption in many industries, accelerating the rate of change. All of this means that the key influencers and stakeholders who are critical to developing relationships with your accounts might well be different from the ones you began with.
One of the most important duties as a strategic account manager is keeping updated on how the client organization has changed – whether new people in the roles you’re communicating with or a structural reorganization that results in a redistribution of job duties. If you don’t keep tabs on these fluctuations, you might find yourself talking to the wrong people or approaching the new people in the same way as the old.
The problems with the first are quite obvious – if you’re not cultivating relationships with the right influencers and decisionmakers, you won’t have the advocates necessary to successfully expand your business when the time comes. As for the second, remember that everyone has their own individual personality, communication style, and preferred touch cadence. So you might, for example, be used to Jan, who is an expressive communicator who enjoys frequent contacts. If Bob, who is a business-oriented person who prefers only the minimal necessary touches takes on Jan’s old role and you continue with the way you’ve engaged Jan, you run the risk of irritating Bob and damaging the relationship.
As a side note to this – make sure one of your relationships within the organization is someone at the C-Suite level, where there’s final approval/sign-off of decisions. Failure to have at least one crusader in the C-Suite can either slow down the sales process when an opportunity arises or even potentially kill the deal altogether.
- You don’t know the changes that are occurring in accounts’ business situations.
The prior point is about ignorance at the human level – where relationships are forged and the groundwork is laid to move forward with expansion opportunities when they arise. But that’s not the only area where ignorance can result in lost opportunities and damaged relations. Being unaware of how a client’s industry, processes, target markets, or any other aspect of an account’s business situation can be equally harmful.
Here, the negative consequences can be missed opportunities, mistimed efforts at asking for more business, and providing information or advice that isn’t applicable to an account’s current reality. At the most extreme, this exposes you to potentially losing the account because you seem inattentive or oblivious. Remember what we said earlier – the one constant in life is change. That applies to situations as much as it does people.
To prevent this from occurring, become an expert in your accounts’ industries and stay current on the changes within them – both on an industry-wide level and on a geographic one – for example, monitoring how regulatory changes in a geographical region might impact a client there, even if those same changes in business environment aren’t occurring in other locations the client operates.
Also, as part of your outreach cadence, make sure to factor in asking about how the organization’s situation has changed – both positively and negatively. This is especially important if your touch rate is low and limited to essential communications only – you won’t have as many opportunities to find out what exactly is going on internally.
- You focus too much on the short-term, rather than adopting a long-range view.
One of the most common mistakes made by strategic account managers – particularly those who may have been promoted or transferred from sales – is paying too close attention to short-term goals and scenarios. This can lead to the aforementioned problem of being in selling mode or not being able to distinguish between when to simply further develop the personal relationship and when a genuine expansion opportunity has arisen.
Remember, while strategic account management does involve a sales component, most of your time will be spent building relationships and servicing your accounts. This is a long-term process – one that can sometimes take literal years before an opportunity for growth arises. Patience is more than virtue when you’re an account manager – it’s a necessity. And if this isn’t a personality trait you’ve developed previously, it’s one you’ll need to acquire. This is about the long game. Be flexible enough to respond to the short-term when it’s required, but always keep in mind that you are planting seeds that will bear fruit later.
- Your organization hasn’t provided you enough support.
As a strategic account manager, you’re a rockstar at dealing with numerous accounts and people. You’re well-organized, know who to talk to and how to communicate with them, and are able to cultivate and capitalize on opportunities to grow the business. But you can still fail if your organization hasn’t provided you the support you need to carry out your mission.
The reality is, supporting strategic accounts isn’t a siloed, solo effort if you want to be successful. After all, your expertise is in relationship development. If a customer has an issue or request with your service or product, there’s a strong chance it’s something that you won’t be able to unilaterally fix. You’ll need the help of other departments in your organization. But if the processes aren’t in place for you to be able to quickly touch base, get a response, and just as swiftly follow up with resolving that issue or filling that request, your clients can feel left twisting in the wind due to the delays and lag in answering their needs.
In most organizations, it’s neither realistic nor feasible to expect, for example, dedicated service technicians to report directly to a strategic account manager. The usage rate simply isn’t high enough or frequent enough for that to make sense. But you do need the clear expectations and processes established and understood by everyone in the organization so that when you do need to call on, say, the service technicians, that they’re able to swiftly link up with you and get that key account serviced.
- In expansion negotiations, you or your organization gets bogged down in the small details.
You’ve identified or created the opportunity to expand the portfolio with an account. They’re amenable, have realized the value of deepening the business relationship, and are ready to proceed… until you get to the negotiating table to hash out the final agreement. There’s small things that crop up which imperil the deal – comparatively minor in terms of the bigger picture of the relationship, but you or the organization are now in transactional mode.
Remember you’ve spent weeks, months, even years cultivating the relationships and been patient. It’s natural by force of habit to switch to transactional thinking when it’s time to negotiate the deal, but keep in mind the bigger picture. This is a key account – the most important thing is extending the customer lifetime value and creating a win-win situation that benefits both parties. Years of work can be thrown away in a single moment of contentious debate.
So while you’re negotiating, remember this isn’t a one-off deal. This is the culmination and payoff of untold amounts of resource investment – one that will continue to be profitable and worthy ROI if you maintain the relationship and the account on the same cordial terms that led you to this moment.
Any of these seven costly errors can harm or even completely derail a relationship. Now that you’re aware of them and know how to avoid them, you’re on your way to successfully managing these strategic accounts that are so vital to your organization’s long-term success.