The items in the "Results" column are critical support issues, such as having developed account and account manager selection criteria, account planning requirements, appropriate compensation and training plans, specifications for a strategic account management information system, and an initial way to quantify the value you receive from and deliver to strategic accounts.
The next two columns in the graphic provide another iteration of steps and results, all of which lead to increased customer retention, growth, and profitability. As we have said, this roadmap is not intended to be a definitive implementation plan. It does, however, deal with issues that, if the supplier does not face them, can quickly turn into the costly implementation errors presented throughout this book.
We know a consultant who says that, in the next 10 years, selling will evolve into either strategic account management or Internet auctions, with few offerings in between. We think that statement goes too far. But many firms in many markets have started to differentiate themselves through their strategic account management programs. This differentiation puts competitors in a bind: they either move to some form of strategic account management or they are forced to compete on price. If they do the former, the firm they are following has a huge first-mover advantage, with alignment and delivery processes up and running. If they choose to compete on price, they create a downward margin spiral.
To summarize, strategic account management:
Creates a sustainable competitive advantage.
Creates greater account loyalty.
Provides greater account profitability.
Strategic account management does these things by being more relationship-oriented and more flexible and innovative than the competition, by providing quantified value, and by meeting and raising its customers' expectations. Assuming its buying orientation is strategic, a customer will respond to strategic account management—sometimes so strongly that the supplier feels almost immediately justified in investing more resources in the account management program. The more value the supplier provides, the more value the account can provide. The relationship thus becomes a highly profitable closed loop, with competitors, forced out of the equation, knocking at the customers' doors but not necessarily getting in (as we saw with Hardin Chemical in the story that introduced this part). We have seen this happen locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.
If you are thinking about moving to strategic account management or refining your current program, consider what you want to accomplish, determine the executive help you are going to need, and then start moving forward. This book provides what we believe are the keys—and inversely the pitfalls—to implementing a strategic account management program, as well as describes firms that have overcome those pitfalls.
You are now armed with a mission and an initial high-level implementation plan. You are poised to start the challenging and rewarding job of aligning your firm with accounts' expectations. Move systematically, thoughtfully, include all stakeholders and, while success is never guaranteed, you will at least have a greater opportunity to do it right the first time. Good luck and good results.