Competencies of Top-Performing Strategic Account Managers
Everyone knows it’s much easier to grow existing accounts than it is to find new ones. According to a new strategic account management benchmark report, some companies are much better at growing their accounts than others. This study of 397 respondents from companies with formal strategic account management organizations reveals that top performers operate very differently than others to achieve much stronger results and has important implications for sales training organizations.
Top performers are defined by factors including (a) revenue growth in strategic accounts, (b) profit growth in strategic accounts and (c) year-over-year client satisfaction improvement. In other words, top performers sell more and satisfy customers more.
Top Performers in Strategic Account Management Compared to the Rest
Indeed, top performers in strategic account management have drastically better account growth. According to the study, they were 3.1 times more likely to have grown revenue by 20 percent or more in their strategic accounts, 3.4 times more likely to have grown profit by 20 percent or more in their strategic accounts, and 4.5 times more likely to have experienced significant year-over-year client satisfaction improvement.
These top performers are different from the rest in several ways:
- They are more process-focused in building account plans and driving new sales opportunities at accounts.
- They are disciplined about execution.
- They hold teams accountable.
In addition, one of the greatest areas of difference is that top performers have the right teams with the right skills and competencies. Here, we take a look in detail at those competencies and their implications for training and development.
The study analyzed strategic account managers using the competencies established in RAIN Group’s Strategic Account Manager Competency Model. For both top performers and the rest, the competencies that are most commonly performed well are, in order:
- Technical Expert: Technical experts know the company’s products and services inside and out and can apply the right ones to the right situations.
- Relationship Lead: The relationship lead is the embedded player (or players) in the account who creates and strengthens relationships. The relationship lead defends against competitor inroads. At larger companies, they can be the manager of a sizeable internal team that leads individual relationships with stakeholders at accounts. Along with the technical expert, it’s the relationship lead who tends to do a lot of what’s viewed as “selling” at the account.
- Collaborator: The collaborator is the internal team builder who builds internal bridges and trust and gets the right people involved at the right times to produce the best outcomes.
- Results Driver: The results driver leads the charge for maximizing business inside the “market” of the account. The results driver’s will is bent on growth, and they are impatient to push things forward. You don’t have to light the fire in the belly of the results driver. If you don’t bring up maximizing account growth, they will.
- Innovator: The innovator sees ways to increase value delivered to the account that others often don’t. The innovator is often an internal evangelist for the breakthrough change your company can create for clients and the value you can co-create with clients. Innovators synthesize information and can communicate the big picture to executive-level clients.
- Project Manager: The project manager organizes the process of growing revenue and maintaining loyalty at the account. They organize the plan and the team and, essentially, make sure everything gets done.
What’s more interesting, however, is to look at the roles with the greatest competency gaps between top performers and the rest – that is, the degree to which these roles are played well by each of these groups. Note that the ranking is completely flipped upside down when compared with the most common competencies across organizations overall.
In other words, the competencies separating top performers from the rest are the exact opposite of the most commonly found competencies.
Here’s the key takeaway for learning and development: The technical expert, relationship lead and collaborator competencies must obtain a seat at the table and opportunities to drive conversations and sales. Without developing and applying these competencies well, companies will be disqualified from competing. They are the price of entry. However, they don’t get you to the promised land.
If you want to drive the greatest account growth, make sure you develop your team’s project manager, innovator and results driver competencies. When you do, you’ll create compelling strategic account plans and use those plans as guides to execute and drive results with hustle, passion, intensity and accountability.
Mike Schultz is president of RAIN Group, director of the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research, and bestselling author of “Rainmaking Conversations” and “Insight Selling.” He and RAIN Group have worked with clients such as Hitachi, BNY Mellon, Lowes, Aon Hewitt, SAP, Deloitte and hundreds of others to unleash sales potential.