We suggest starting with the Introduction, which provides our approach and general thesis. After that, here is a listing, with abstracts, of the book's eight remaining chapters. The abstracts will help readers get right to the issues that concern them most.
The Introduction defines strategic account management and contains a high-level look at its particular rewards and challenges.
Key 1: Define strategic account management as a business rather than a sales initiative. If a firm tries to implement strategic account management purely as a sales initiative, chances are good that only sales will "own" the account. This means that the sales team will have to spend at least half its time internally marketing to functions that may feel no special urgency to meet the needs of strategic accounts. Cross-functional executives need to align the entire organization—from other executives down—in owning the strategic account relationships. In our experience, that is the fastest way to optimal performance in strategic account programs.
Key 2: Create firm alignment and commitment to meet strategic accounts' needs and expectations. Everyone in the organization needs to understand why strategic accounts are so critical and how they can best serve those customers. Strategic account management can fail when one or two departments remain embedded in the status quo. Unless all departments and all employees are committed to supporting the strategic accounts' needs and expectations, account management will always be one customer phone call away from disappointment. Lacking commitment, the firm will find it very difficult to gain the momentum needed to shift from an internal focus to a business strategy.
Key 3: Start with the right number of the right strategic accounts. Firms are sometimes tempted to start big—by simply declaring their 65 largest revenue producers "strategic accounts" (whether or not they are profitable). If a supplier starts with its 65 largest customers, aggressively promoting the customer management program's improved service levels, it will very likely find broken processes and systems early in the journey. These may require months to fix and, while they are being fixed, customers are not receiving their promised service levels. Starting with too many customers makes it difficult for the program to demonstrate success and leverage its initial investments. Starting with the wrong customers is almost as bad. If a supplier doesn't do some sort of portfolio analysis of potential strategic accounts, it can find itself making large investments for little or no return.
Key 4: Create human resources support for strategic account managers. Questions firms need to answer while developing a customer management program include: (1) How do we find account managers? (2) How do we develop account managers? (3) How do we assign account managers? and (4) How do we pay account managers?
Key 5: Create firmwide relationships at multiple levels of relationships between the firm and its most critical accounts. We have often seen account managers developing and maintaining strong relationships with the tactical customer employees such as technicians or purchasing people. While it is important to develop such relationships, the account manager has additional tasks: (1) developing deep and multilevel relationships within the account—from executives down; (2) determining the strategic account's various buyer influences; and (3) identifying, within their own firms, those who could best help manage relationships within the strategic account. The goal here is to establish a firmwide relationship, based on ongoing parallel linkages between supplier and customer.
Key 6: Regularly quantify and communicate the value received from and delivered to strategic accounts. To succeed, strategic account management requires solid returns on its investments. The program's executive sponsors and those serving the account, perhaps working with the finance people, should determine the customer's long-term relationship asset value and its replacement cost. They should also be able to quantify the value delivered to customers. Without continually quantifying and communicating value, there is no way to justify relationship investments internally or to justify a premium price externally.
Key 7: Use technology judiciously. There is a difference between being technology-driven and technology-supported. The technology-driven company, occasionally without determining its overall needs, invests in the "latest and greatest" technological breakthrough. The technology-supported company determines what it needs and then finds the best tools to support its strategic ends. We have seen that a technology-driven approach to strategic accounts can be a very expensive bandwagon to hop on. Technological caution can save a firm millions of dollars.
Conclusion: From Analysis to Action. This chapter will review the keys and benefits of strategic account management, provide a high-level implementation roadmap, and offer some next steps.
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