Once you have carefully selected a strategic account manager, how can you continue to develop that person's skills? How does someone learn to be a better SAM? As we saw above, some firms believe that little if any training is required if the person has sales skills. At the other extreme, though, are some firms with an unshakable belief that training alone will produce an account manager. This is the "training-as-silver-bullet" approach to developing account managers. But to assume that a few training programs alone (no matter how skillfully taught) will transform salespeople into account managers can be a very wasteful approach—especially if the firm is not making other investments in human-resource support.
Professional development is critical to creating skills and developing a strategic account manager's competencies. But in our experience, the most effective way to create and develop SAMs is for a firm to use high-performance selection criteria that mesh with the needs of the critical accounts. Some of the best of those suppliers actually have the customers interview the final two or three potential candidates to manage the customers' relationships. After the company hires account managers, they combine training, account assignment, compensation, and other human-resource support to drive behaviors that align with what the supplier needs and the accounts expect. Below is an example of a world-class organization wrestling with how to transition field salespeople into SAMs—a particularly thorny issue.