I recently returned from attending the SAMA Annual Conference in Orlando. The theme of this year’s conference was “Excellence in SAM Execution: The Journey from Best Practice to Next Practice.” SAMA did an excellent job with the conference, organizing relevant content and fostering great engagement amongst the attendees.
As I reflect on both the conference sessions and my discussions with colleagues throughout, several consistent themes emerged from the week:
The Journey towards Excellence is Ongoing
There are many companies and SAM teams doing great work, developing robust programs, and creating significant value for both customers and their own organizations. Several of these organizations were on hand sharing their stories, and many are seeing impressive results.
But it is also abundantly clear that there are many more companies, teams and individuals still early in their journeys with much work ahead. Strategic Account Programs require significant commitment, effort and focus to deliver better customer engagement and growth. Companies are getting much smarter about this work, but there is still much to do.
So if you are early in your own SAM/KAM journey or feel you still haven’t achieved the full potential, don’t feel alone. You have company with many other organizations out there. And there is a vast and valuable network of resources and colleagues working on these challenges every day and helping one another in the journey.
Desperately Seeking Supplier Collaboration
In the words of SAMA themselves, “The customer ecosystem is changing: customers ACTUALLY want to collaborate with suppliers.” This emerging trend was echoed throughout the conference – more frequently customers are initiating the collaboration efforts with suppliers. Customers also expect more from suppliers. They are seeking partners that challenge their thinking and bring new and innovative ideas and solutions that can help them be more successful in the market. In some cases, organizations are even driving competing vendors to collaborate amongst themselves to better align and work together for a common cause – solving customer challenges.
One Procurement Manager captured a critical point here, “Products themselves do not deliver value. It is only once they are implemented, in place, and working that value can be created and realized.” This is a critical component of collaboration. Concepts like co-creation and joint innovation are invaluable or identifying value opportunities. But collaboration must persist all the way through execution to ensure the value is realized. Customers know this all too well and increasingly prefer to do business with suppliers that they believe are committed to reliable, ongoing alignment and execution.
At Valkre we see this same dynamic playing out daily as we work with our own customers helping them improve customer collaboration. Customers across all industries are yearning for suppliers that listen, understand and then proactively collaborate to solve problems. And they are delighted when it happens. This is the new norm in B2B relationships.
Consider the implications of this for your own business for a moment. The door is open to engage customers, but are you ready? Others are embracing this trend and moving aggressively to seize upon the opportunity. Those who don’t will quickly be left behind.
SAMs have incredibly tough jobs!
So much of the burden of success of SAM Programs still falls squarely onto the shoulders of the individual SAM. Success or failure often comes down to the capabilities of a single individual. SAMs are expected to manage a variety of complex activities…often without much help from their organizations. This complexity emerged throughout the conference along the three pillars of customer engagement:
- Defining, Measuring and Articulating Value
Communicating value to customers is a necessity today. This is not a new concept, yet it is still elusive and challenging for most! Customers want to understand how your solutions address specific challenges and see the corresponding value expressed in terms of their business. Most SAMs still need help here. Companies need to do a better job of helping SAMs put the company’s solutions into the ‘context’ of their customers business so SAMs can have the value conversations customers demand.
- Understanding Customer Needs
SAM’s must understand customer priorities and strategies and ensure those are relayed back into the organization. As one presenter noted, “We have gaps in our understanding of the health of the relationship all the time. But customers don't come tell you. They just start doing business with someone else.” This is true…and so frightening. If your SAM doesn’t have their hand on the pulse of the customer you are blind. The results in this area are still mixed due to the reliance on the acumen and skills of individuals. There is much attention and focus here…and still much more room for improvement.
- Coordinating and Managing Complexity
Unfortunately, SAMs still spend the majority of their time coordinating internal teams and navigating across silos to build consensus, alignment and ensure the organization executes. “I spend more time internally trying to get internal buy-in than I do with my customers!” was a common refrain throughout the conference. The challenge of complexity is unavoidable. But organizations have got to figure out how to empower SAMs with better tools and internal processes so they can minimize this internal tactical time and shift more time to customer-facing strategic activities.
When you think about these activities, it is not unreasonable to consider SAMs as modern day heroes carrying the hopes and dreams of their organization into the market. But as with any other hero embarking upon The Hero’s Journey, it continues to be evident that they cannot succeed alone…we must arm our SAMs with the right tools to navigate the complex world that awaits them.
Technology is a Critical Enabler
This is an area of growing focus within SAMA…and of course a topic near and dear to our hearts here at Valkre. The discussion on technology enablement focused on two key stakeholders:
- SAMs. As I said above, SAMs have complex jobs! And they won’t be able to keep up for much longer without the right technology tools. CRM can support sales activities, but it falls short on execution and value creation – two activities essential to SAM success. SAMs need tools that help them in their daily jobs. And they need help to bridge their organizations and customer organizations to enable more seamless, efficient, and value-oriented collaboration between both sides.
- SAM Program Leaders. While SAMs need help with their individual account activities, their Program Leaders need even more help to maintain visibility across entire account portfolios. SAM Program Leaders must be empowered with tools that give them broad visibility and faster and deeper insights. Many critical activities are still managed with Excel and PowerPoint, fundamentally limiting visibility, accountability and follow through.
SAMA has indicated that technology will be a larger area of focus at next year’s conference. We applaud SAMA for their leadership here and we look forward to being a part of that ongoing journey.
Are you a SAM or SAM Leader dealing with these issues? Tell us what you think…we’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences as well.