In this chapter we focus on creating and managing interfirm relationships with strategic accounts. We will be discussing:
Mapping strategic account relationships.
The strategic account loss cycle.
Preventing the strategic account loss cycle.
Often sellers focus on developing and maintaining strong relationships with tactical customer employees, such as purchasing people and technicians. While it is important to develop such relationships, the strategic account manager (SAM) should develop firmwide relationships—ongoing parallel linkages between functional areas of the supplier and account. We like to call it "covering the bases." Unless the relationship is firmwide, with the account manager acting as a liaison between customer needs and supplier resources, savvy competitors will have a great opportunity to woo away critical decision makers.
For example, a key account salesperson was promoted to strategic account manager because he had successfully worked with the customer for seven years and had an excellent relationship with the purchasing manager. They had golfed and hunted together. But on a quarterly call, the new SAM arrived to find a very unhappy friend. The purchasing manager told him that a competitor had been in, had scheduled, and had made several presentations to three executives. The executives found the competitor's overall value compelling and had simply told the purchasing person to start buying from the new supplier. The account manager, who had seen little reason to speak with these executives, was stunned—as were the executives to whom he reported.
Unless the relationship is firmwide, with the account manager acting as a liaison between customer needs and supplier resources, savvy competitors will have a great opportunity to woo away critical decision makers.
The account manager's hardwon lesson was that he needed to create and manage multiple and multilevel relationships in each strategic account. If your strategic account management efforts do not include identifying and managing influencers in the buying group, you may be playing customer roulette.
Basic selling know-how is the key to initiating a firmwide relationship. Covering the bases, understanding the buying process and decision makers (or as we like to call them, "buying influences") requires: (1) identifying all of the influences for a given opportunity, (2) understanding each influence's role, and (3) pinpointing his or her degree of influence over the decision.
At a high level, these are the sorts of roles you are looking for:
Economic Buyers can give final approval to buy. They can say "yes" when everyone else has said "no," as well as veto a deal that everyone else has approved.
User Buyers use or supervise the use of your product or service. Their personal success typically is tied to the success of your solution.
Technical Buyers judge the measurable, quantifiable aspects of your proposal. They may act as gatekeepers and can say "no" to a proposal based on specs or technical issues.
Coaches want your solution for a particular opportunity and act as a guide by providing information you need to position yourself effectively with each buying influence, and ultimately close business. Coaches must be proactively identified and developed. 
Figure 6-1 shows a model of a buying influence group map, superimposed over an organizational chart
Figure 6-1: Buying Influence Group (BIG) Map
Understanding and mapping the buying influences may at first seem fairly simple, but that may be misleading if the account manager has missed or misinterpreted a role. We recall a gifted national account manager for a truck-component manufacturer who was selling to a large fleet for more than seven months. His experience told him the economic buyer had to be the fleet's VP of sales or VP of marketing. One day the VP of sales asked him why he was pushing the benefits to him when the VP of purchasing was the decision maker. This was news to him. Had he known the VP of purchasing's role earlier, he could have more effectively leveraged his selling time. After he verified the group's roles, he was able to complete a huge sale in several months. But he had never seen a VP of purchasing who acted as an economic decision maker.
Optimized time, though, is only one of the benefits of a buying-influence group map. The map is also a communication tool—a roadmap to the relationship structure that enables even a new account manager to figure out where to start. In our experience, too many strategic account managers either don't have a handle on the customer's buying influences or they do not share that account knowledge (a huge asset) with others. Such unshared information almost always negatively impacts the customer relationship.
Another key point here. We are not saying that the account manager will herself manage all these relationships, which in some cases can number several dozen. A good strategic account manager may initiate these relationships, but managing them day-to-day may be a task for appropriate supplier executives/managers—one of the parallel linkages mentioned earlier. These executives/managers need to know the customers' respective account plans cold and must develop personal objectives based on the supplier's goals for the accounts. The SAM can step in as a resource when needed but the executives/managers will ideally manage that personal relationship. To manage this many relationships, the firm will ideally create an easily accessible repository of ongoing contact information from previous customer communication. This repository might even include an executive's parenthetical comments about the call, which can signal a huge opportunity to another member of the supplier account team. The wider and deeper the chain of effectively managed relationships, the higher the account's emotional costs of switching to another supplier.
The wider and deeper the chain of effectively managed relationships, the higher the account's emotional costs of switching to another supplier.
So, after mapping the buying influences, we suggest that account managers validate their information. On the next two pages we present tools for SAMs to think more deeply about customers they have identified in the buying influence group.
 Miller Heiman, Inc.