Why Strategic Account Programs Fail
While many large companies maintain strategic account programs, most fail to deliver substantial results. And the reasons are both common and avoidable.
Investment and Results Timeline
Many companies invest in strategic account programs and expect immediate returns. When those returns don't materialize quickly, the program is de-emphasized and defunded.
Lone Wolf as Team Lead
The strategic account manager (SAM) role is positioned as an opportunity for career advancement, and many SAMs are promoted from the field. They bring little or no team management experience and are challenged to lead reps that don't work for them. They are challenged to let go of their previous role of driving sales of a specific product and may not embrace the newly required focus of relationship development, management and advocacy versus selling/closing.
Account Plan or Planning Process?
The Strategic Account Management Association (
) found that, even within their membership, a mere 11% of account plans are "effectively executed." Clearly, account teams need some assistance in building...and following...good account plans (and planning processes).
In many organizations account planning is an annual event, fulfilling a corporate requirement and filling a shelf with unread documents.
In others the account planning process is an ongoing activity, with new information feeding into activity planning on an ongoing basis. Experienced facilitators drive the planning process, leverage detailed customer, competitor and industry analysis, and work with the SAM to ensure effective ongoing plan execution and team governance.
Most organizations find it difficult...or even threatening...to involve their customer in the account planning process. When the primary stakeholder -- the customer -- participates in the process, the account team can focus on high value customer initiatives and occasionally will identify new opportunities that otherwise would have remained invisible to them.
I've driven strategic planning for accounts generating $50 to $100 million in annual revenue, some of it regularly conducted in our customers' executive boardrooms, with their active participation. For other accounts, we needed to invest in the relationship, to move from secondary to strategic vendor and eventually to trusted advisor, before the customer would provide this level of access and investment.
Customer participation is a key ingredient for success. Garnering their active and ongoing participation requires ongoing focus on
Strategic Account Management As Team Sport
Few strategic account teams are truly aligned, with common goals, messaging and joint activities. Most reps have their own quotas to cover and separate management teams driving occasionally competing objectives.
The "simple" and basic tactic of creating and sharing unified account messaging quickly falls apart once the planning session adjourns. Each rep reverts back to their individual product-focused messaging, leaving the account confused.
To address this fundamental challenge, we're exploring a new approach to managing individual sales rep activity and messaging, with the goal of better alignment, information sharing and team governance.