“Most companies are too lazy to do this work and most account managers are too caught up in their day-to-day activities…But when you do it right, it makes all the difference in the world.”
This blog is based around ideas from a podcast interview of Jeremie Bacon, Co-founder & CEO, Synap Software Labs, in which he discusses the three main activities for a Strategic Account Management (SAM) to ensure their key accounts views them as a strategic partner. The first is old-fashioned account management. The second comes down to an extension of account planning called customer market mapping. The third is tenacious business reviews. We also review the three “X’s” of SAM.
Creating a customer-centric business is critical for success in a world where customer experience is a key differentiator. The question is how can customer success or account management teams best drive customer centricity? Implementing SAM isn’t as easy as assigning someone to the role. Authors Gary Peacock and Stephen Kozicki indicate there are typically five major hurdles when implementing SAM(1):
To handle all these hurdles, it is important to bringing different company departments together to plan for customer success and/or SAM. This effort will be such a big change to the organization that it should be treated with typical change management actions. But more importantly, a strategic account management strategy must be built on top of the company culture. More than a plan, customer centricity alignment is driven by the culture that starts at the top. The right culture naturally encourages all teams and their people to stay in sync. But if your culture keeps internal teams from communicating, the result will be misaligned about why the business exists or how to service the customer. This is when SAM initiatives fail.
Internal staff across every department should know and be able to articulate the roles and responsibilities outside their department and the relationship dependencies between departments as it relates to providing the service promised to strategic accounts. Understanding the incentives and the reward structures is important because it allows the SAMs/CSMs to better implement solutions for their strategic accounts that also align with internal team incentives. Anything an organization can do to minimize internal friction and improve service to the strategic account is a positive thing.
The next step is deciding to make strategic account management a central focus of company strategy. It requires buy-in from the very highest level. True customer-centric organizations rarely struggle to get the c-suite behind strategic account management. But often companies stop short of putting a program in place that really drives the strategic relationship forward. Companies talked about the importance of focusing on their biggest and best account, but there’s a difference between saying this and putting a team together. Even if they create a SAM team, is easier to hire people than rally the company around the program and deal with the five organizational challenges listed earlier. Because of this, CSMs/SAMs often don’t do the costly work required for real strategic account management. Instead CSM’s end up focusing on the seventy or eighty percent of customers that generate only 20 to 30% of the business’ profit.
Real SAM Requires a SWOT
When assigned a new key account, the SAM should study the business to create an account plan and then perform a market mapping exercise. This involves studying the customer’s business inside and out, understanding the economic environment for that company and for the industry. The SAM should look at the market, look at the competition, and complete a full SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis.
SAMs should look at the business and economic environment that are driving the general business and then dig deep into the marketplace. Consider the market size, growth trends, political and social issues, and characteristics of products that are being sold by the company and its competitors. Understand pricing and distribution channels, who the customers and segments are, the major players and their market share. The result of this analysis should be a 25-40+ page report for the strategic account. This level of understanding and research is one reason Strategic Account Managers (SAMs) are often hired out of the industry of the key account.
The initial account plan and SWOT draft should be reviewed with the strategic account to solicit feedback and make corrections. This substantial and thorough report will make an incredible impression when you review it with your account. However, impressing your client is a side benefit to truly understanding their business.
Why is this level of research and work required?
The reason this level of work is required is because senior executives in key accounts hear every day from vendors that they can help grow revenue or reduce costs. Often those vendors don’t understand the account’s business well enough to make such statements. To counter this, a SAM must work to understand their customer’s business priorities, issues, and constraints so they can articulate real value to them instead of vague promises. Once you have established yourself as a strategic partner, you can elevate the conversations beyond just what your product/service does to a strategic conversation about how you can solve their business challenges.
As the relationship develops, make business reviews a joint affair to update the account plan for the next 12 to 36 months. Sit down with a key account and go through the process to get them where they want to go strategically. To remain a long-term vendor of choice, keep a solid account plan always in place and deliver results. The quarterly business review is important for reporting on progress toward goals and the value received from using your service. Ultimately you want to make the champion at your customer look great to their boss.
There are many other aspects of the quarterly and annual business reviews. If you are a SaaS company, some of those involved understanding usage, training, adoption, characteristics of the day-to-day involvement and interaction between the customer organization and your organization. Understanding and tracking progress on your promises and key performance metrics is critically important.
One of the biggest and best things that relationship managers, account managers, success managers can do for their customers is to bring this deeper relationship value that at the end of the day, truly differentiates their service from everyone else. Most companies are too lazy to do this work and most account managers are too caught up in their day-to-day activities of answering emails and making connections to be able to do this. But when you do it right, it makes all the difference in the world.
Until recently, a software platform for SAMs/CSMs to do these critical functions didn’t exist. Historically it was difficult to build an account plan, manage quarterly review templates, keep track of your market mapping activity, consolidate email dialogue between everyone inside my company and the customer, centralize sales opportunities, track customer support tickets, and all account related information.
Very large companies spend millions of dollars trying to build this from scratch or trying to use one of the gigantic enterprise-class tools. They spend years on the effort. Historically this approach never quite works the way that it should. On the flip side, you end up in situations where each team is using the tool that works best for them based on how they work and their individual process. But those tools don’t talk to each other so the CSMs/SAMs might have to use four, five, six, or eight different applications to consolidate information about the account.
What that means is that account information comes in the form of spreadsheets, Word documents, project plans, PowerPoint, financials, and more. This is very ineffective, time-consuming, and not indexable. This challenge is solved by companies like Synap. Account management software exists to help people tie all the different data about an account together. Instead of taking years and millions of dollars to build, account management software like Synap can be deployed and running in a day.
About Synap Software
Synap is a Relationship Management software company helping companies to guide and grow their customer relationships. Our easy-to-use platform enables customer success and account management professionals to build and execute their strategic plans, automatically organize important customer touchpoints in one place to increase transparency, and drive revenue growth. Unlike traditional CRM systems that only focus on closing new sales, Synap brings together information and interactions from all the teams who work with customers throughout their entire lifecycle. Synap helps you to coordinate across teams, create happy customers, and grow your business.
Jeremie Bacon has been building SaaS companies since the early 2000s. When not at work, he can be found hanging out with his wife and 4 children, reading, or eating piles of donuts to power his ultramarathons and other endurance races. Find him on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jjonbac or jeremiebacon.me.
Reference 1: “Managing B2B Customers You Can’t Afford to Lose”, Gary Peacock, Stephen Kozicki, Bennelong Publishing Pty Ltd, 2016