Strategic Account Management (SAM) is a concept the vast majority of sales organizations embrace as something that is mission critical or very important to their success. Yet for all the attention SAM gets today, very few companies actually excel at this aspect of selling.
We discovered this when we asked the 600-plus firms that recently participated in CSO Insights' annual Sales Management Optimization study to rate their performance at creating and implementing SAM.
What we regularly see when we are looking at firms in the "Needs Improvement" category (57.9 percent of those surveyed) is that they employ a very random approach to SAM. Reps are left to their own devices to determine what to include in plans. The end work product is often a hodgepodge of Word documents and PowerPoint slides, which, after being shared with the rep's manager, may not see the light of day until the next year.
Contrast that with what we see in companies in the "Exceeds Expectations" category (which only 5.3 percent of companies fall into). These sales organizations are increasingly leveraging a new breed of CRM 2.0 solutions being offered by providers such as Mindjet, Pipeline Manager, Revegy, etc. Their approach to SAM is more structured and dynamic. Their typical SAM scenario looks like this:
As a rep signs into a SAM CRM application, he or she has access to predefined templates for creating an account plan. These templates represent the best thinking for how the vendor should effectively align with its customers. Based on the case at hand, a rep can then easily tailor the plan for the specific account on which he or she is focusing.
As the rep starts to fill in the plan, the SAM CRM application assists in the process. It pulls key contact information from the core CRM application, imports details on past dealings with that account from ERP and customer service applications, surfs social media sites and brings significant news on the account and insights to key stakeholders, etc. The end result is a more consistent, complete, and effectively created plan.
SAM CRM then supports the actual implementation of the account plan. It does this by understanding the sequence of events the sales teams need to take the customer through. The application then serves as a "coach" to the teams, prompting them to complete the right tasks in the right order and recording their progress. The status of all the tasks conducted by the individuals working on that account is easily accessible to all team members.
SAM CRM applications also help the sales management team more effectively utilize their time. If the system detects that a given account plan is stalled or appears to be going off track, it can notify the appropriate sales manager. The manager, in turn, can easily see which sales teams need what type of help on which deals, and proactively reach out to the reps managing those accounts.
The results we are seeing from companies that are taking a technology-enabled approach to SAM include higher win rates, larger deal sizes, improved margins, and shorter sell cycles. These results make a compelling business case for investing the time to learn how enhancing your CRM platform to include tools designed to specifically optimize the SAM process will improve your organization’s ability to manage key accounts.
Jim Dickie is a partner with CSO Insights, a research firm that specializes in benchmarking CRM and sales effectiveness initiatives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.