Increased complexity and the rapid changes that occur in global and local markets require companies to adapt their account management to suit their customers better. Consequently, a significant number of businesses are making SAM part of their pillar strategy for customer development and account management process. Over time, account management has evolved to take on a new more sophisticated meaning. SAM (Strategic Account Management) encompasses joint decision-making and problem-solving, collaborative business processes and is used to ensure the long-term development and retention of customers. It’s important to note that SAM is distinguishable from account management (AM) as it entails a deeper understanding of your client’s business and looks to deploy a holistic strategy for long-term success. Here are just a few of the best practices to keep in mind as you formulate your game plan:
Create a Clear Customer Profile
The account manager must fully commit to understanding the client’s business. It’s important to note that you are looking to become an insider and provide value on a consultative basis. Take time to have a clear vision on long-term goals, short-term goals and the financial position of the client. It’s also helpful to understand who makes decisions within the organization and how they perceive you as a partner. More often than not, there are indirect decision makers and influencers within an organization that have a significant impact on business decisions, makes sure you understand the hierarchy.
Working closely with the client, identify strengths within their organization and yours that you can leverage to get ahead of your competition. This analysis will help you identify strategic requirements to achieve success. Review these key findings and come up with specific areas where you can use your strengths to overcome weaknesses and look at untapped opportunities you can exploit.
Set Proper Expectations
Look at your resources and evaluate if you are confident you will be able to deliver the level of support that is needed and expected. It’s key to understand a client’s basic requirements and which needs are not being met. The ultimate goal in SAM is to delight and retain customers, but it’s important not to go beyond the scope of your abilities.
Establish Specific Business Objectives
Come up with specific long-term goals, then focus on short-term goals that tie into your long-term strategy. Think of the short-term objectives as benchmarks you must achieve to be successful with long-term goals. The best objectives are always quantifiable: i.e.: increase sales from new customers by 25% in 3 months. A good rule of thumb is to go by the acronym SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Keep these things in mind when formulating strategy and communicating with clients.
Coordinated Action Plans
Once you determine goals and strategies, you can start to implement specific tasks. It’s a good idea to setup a matrix: Specific Task (What?), Owner (Who?), Timing (When?), Resources Needed, Dates, etc. to organize your team. Providing visibility to your team on all deliverables and tasks will ensure that everyone understand their role in the partnership.
If you set up goals using the SMART methodology, you should have no problem assessing the success and progress of your objectives. Outline and monitor value-adding KPIs on an ongoing basis and strive for a full cost measuring system.
Other Questions to Think About:
- Are we as integrated as we could be with the client? Why would they want to work with us on other levels?
- How will you provide value-added capabilities to set yourself apart from the competition?
- What are some needs that the client will likely have in the future?
Developing a long-term partnership that is mutually beneficial requires careful planning and ongoing organization. In today’s highly competitive market, it’s imperative that you ask yourself what initiatives you can improve to meet your client’s needs better to stay ahead of the competition. Think of SAM as a cycle and continuous process. Plans need to be reviewed and revised consistently to ensure proper alignment of a client’s goals. Always remember, success in SAM comes in large part, if not entirely, by the personal commitment of the account manager to drive strategy, grow the relationship and exceed expectations.