This first key is the most critical. Embrace strategic account management as a way to improve your firm's overall business performance. When a supplier, as is common, defines strategic account management primarily as a sales initiative, the returns are limited. Everyone, not just sales, needs to own the strategic account. If other departments see account management only as a sales initiative, salespeople are likely to have an unrewarding, uphill battle.
The Federated story that precedes this chapter shows what can happen when sales alone owns the relationship, and other departments focus on their own issues. The other departments need to be on board because sales almost never delivers the offering; it depends on other functions' committed and coordinated efforts to create and deliver value. We have too often seen sales ask other departments to expend a great deal of effort—with no reward and possible penalties—to meet the strategic accounts' needs. When those departments have not been a part of creating the strategic account program or its goals, they may resist or even refuse sales' requests. In such cases, neither the customer nor the supplier wins. But both can win if strategic account management starts as a business rather than a sales initiative.
Doing so requires taking three important steps, which we will examine:
Create cross-functional executive leadership.
Understand and align around accounts' business challenges.
Start strategic account management programs as business initiatives.