IBM Storage makes giant magnetic resistive recording heads (GMR heads) for computer hard drives. Jan Hildebrandt, the 3M account manager for IBM Storage, first worked to gain an in-depth relationship with the firm so she could understand its business challenges. She established multiple relationships—from executive VP to procurement—at IBM Storage's design centers in San Jose, California and Fujisawa, Japan, and at IBM corporate, where she began to understand more clearly how IBM Storage fit into IBM's global marketing strategy.
By working closely with IBM's design and manufacturing teams in California and Japan, Hildebrandt identified one of IBM Storage's largest business problems: GMR heads are extremely sensitive to electrostatic discharge created during the manufacturing process, which can result in up to 25 to 30 percent product loss. Hildebrandt brought in 3M's Technology Group, which helped redesign the GMR head manufacturing process with less static-sensitive materials. Through those efforts, 3M reduced IBM Storage's GMR product-yield loss by 10 percent, which translates to several million dollars annually. Hildebrandt coordinated the various 3M resources required at the San Jose IBM design facility.
The GMR effort was so successful that IBM Storage came to consider Jan Hildebrandt and the 15 3M technology organizations she represented (electrostatic, filtration, adhesion, etc.) as critical resources and strategic partners, particularly when IBM encountered customized-production problems.
When IBM Storage identified such a problem, it came to Hildebrandt in the early stages to see if 3M resources could help. 3M found itself modifying some of its existing products or combining existing technologies to create new products to support IBM's needs.
3M sales to IBM Storage increased 300 percent in two years—or more than $10 million in incremental dollars. When the IBM executives with whom she had established relationships saw the results she had delivered, 3M was very well positioned for further partnering efforts. Sales increased more than 25 percent in 2001, partially through three new partnering opportunities that Hildebrandt helped identify.
She had developed executive relationships at corporate and at the various sites, she identified problems that her 3M technology partners could solve, and she coordinated those projects to ensure IBM received the value-added.
In both these cases, the SAM started by developing multiple relationships with her customer. By asking questions and listening well, both account managers learned of challenges their customer was facing and with which they could help. They learned their accounts' business problems and set up performance-measurement systems. The account managers' assistance resulted in increased sales and, more critically, even deeper account relationships. The customers began seeing the suppliers—U.S. West and 3M—not as vendors but as resources, strategic partners.