Back in 1995 I worked with my client Peter Barlow then VP Global Account Management and Major Projects for APV (Food Process Engineering Company) on developing a Major Account Management System. Now over 15 years on I ask:
What’s changed in Key Account Management 15 years on?
Building and maintaining profitable relationships with your most important customers is more challenging than ever. The stakes are even higher of investing reduced resources on a few customers (accounts) with that nagging doubt of “backing the wrong horse”
“… (Managers) often don’t realize or understand how markets change and believe sales to be just how it was fifteen years ago.” (TACK Sales Leadership Survey 2011)
“Doing business with and actually making money from your largest strategic ‘partners’ has never been more difficult….Only a few corporations are getting it right.” (Richard Ilsley, SMCG 2010)
This blog takes a hard look at strategic, key or major accounts (KAM) and why many senior executives remain concerned 15+ years on. To do this retrospective I have drawn on several current experts in the field including a paper by Richard Ilsley of SMCG, TACK International and Mercuri.
Sound weird, doesn’t it? Truth is . . . being tied to one training methodology simply isn’t productive.
There’s no “perfect training methodology” – whether it be focused on selling, managing or coaching. Any training should Advance Competence while Advancing Sales. Complex sales organizations need methodological purpose rather than one methodology piled on top of existing methodologies.
Additionally, people have been trained a lot in their lives. It seems obvious that we should also give them credit for the concepts, processes, and skills they have already learned. Adding methodologies (no matter how good they are) risks creating indifference. We know indifference does not change behaviors! Conversely, building commitment relies on giving your people and managers credit for what they already know, while at the same time changing behaviors that do not work.
Regular readers will remember I was talking about how many change projects started in response to the worsening economy yet almost half of the respondents said that a significant amount of change projects failed to meet their stated goals.
This month’s topic looks at Competitive Differentiation in the Professional Services Sector. This sector typically includes accountants, lawyers, bankers and financial services, like planners etc. All these professionals offer very similar services due in part to regulations, certifications, disintermediation and the power of technology.
Go to any law firm’s web site like Varnum and Clark Hill, or large consulting firms and they look the same. They apparently have the same mouse trap.
Why did you choose your….attorney, accountant, financial planner etc?
So, how do professionals differentiate themselves?
On the basis of their expertise and their ability to develop Trusted Adviserstatus. David Meister asks: What benefits would you obtain if your clients trusted you more? For example, the more they will:
Treat you as you wish to be treated
Lower the level of stress in your interactions
Be comfortable and allow you to be comfortable
Involve you early on when their issues begin to form, rather than later (Open up)Share more information that helps you to help them, and improves the quality of the service you provide
Be inclined to accept and act on your recommendations
Bring you in on more advanced, complex, strategic issues ( Your are in the board room not waiting in the corridor awaiting instructions)
Refer you to their friends and business acquaintances
What characteristics would you look for in selecting your trusted adviser
Here are some of David Meister’s traits that Trusted Advisers have in common. Clients say they:
Make us feel comfortable and casual personally (but take the issues seriously)
Seem to understand us, effortlessly, and like us
Act like a person, not someone in a role
Are reliably on our side, and always seem to have our interests at heart
Don’t try to force things on us
Help us think things through (but emphasize that it’s our decision)
Criticize and correct us gently, lovingly
Don’t pull their punches: we can rely on them to tell us the truth
Are in it for the long haul (the relationship is more important than the current issue)
Give us reasoning (to help us think), not just their conclusions
Give us options, increase our understanding of those options, give us their recommendation and let us choose.
Are always honorable: they don’t gossip about others (we trust their values)
Help us put our issues in context, often through the use of metaphors, stories and anecdotes (they recognize that few problems are completely unique)
You said he listed “traits” as in a person’s character? So for example the adviser who is not honorable can’t be trained to be more honorable, right?
It’s a good point, in last month’s blog I made the distinction. Candidly, Meister’s list is mixture of Competencies and Traits. “So what?” you must be thinking,” I said, “Bottom line, you hire traits and develop competencies! Remember:
Competency : “The ability to do something successfully or efficiently.” ”Having the necessary ability, knowledge, or skill to do something successfully:” Trait: “A characteristic or quality of a person.” (They are wired that way
For all intent and purposes professional advisers reading this should focus on what they can learn and develop to be competitive differentiated trusted advisers. But, here is the rub. Developing trust is not well defined. For example, research I did with Linda Marsh into Mortgage Loan Advisers we found that the customers trusted those who used more “Transitional Structuring” WHAT! (Some people call it sign posting). Like,
“We have now covered David’s Trusted Adviser traits and we are now looking at Adviser Competencies…
We and others have identified observable and trainable behaviors that impact those traits that David mentioned like making the client “feel comfortable”. Now, here’s the fundamental point about developing trusted adviser status:
How do you balance helping potential clients feel understood while ensuring they understand the issues and options available?
That’s difficult because if they don’t feel understood they aren’t really going to retain what they are told AND won’t likely see you as a trusted advisor. It takes me back to the most fundamental process of when people make a decision to change. They have to be sufficiently disturbed or concerned about their current condition that they look for a solution that enables them to resolve their negative condition. If Advisors, don’t know how to locate where a client is in this process and help them through at their pace any residual trust will be eroded.
What competencies have you and PDS identified to help develop competitive advisers?
In the world of Professional Services regulations dictate levels of certification – so the expertise playing field is level, for the new client looking for an adviser. So, we at PDS isolate “Competitive Competencies” which:
Make a disproportionate contribution to customer’s perceived value
Are “competitively unique” or superior
Are extendible: providing “gateways to tomorrow’s markets”
The Value of Effective Competencies
Greater objectivity – less biased by the manager’s interpretations of what happened but what actually happened
More Useful – less dependent on the manager’s judgment, more on the Adviser assessment (crucial if they are to learn)
More focus – less overwhelming as it encourages managers to match the feedback to the Adviser’s ability and their willingness to receive it
More quantifiable - greater understanding what of works and what doesn’t under defined conditions and allows people to compare themselves against a standard
It suggests that Advisers needs someone to coach them?
Yes, it is essential. All those firms we have worked with try to get people effective coaching to secure and retain clients from their competition, like, Ernst & Young, who I helped develop their Relationship Management Program, Watson Wyatt, Royal Bank of Canada, JP Morgan Chase
In your experience, what traps do advisory firms fall into?
To put our recent study in context, most professionals we work with love to do a great job. As one senior adviser said to me“I treat my clients as my children…”
But, being a trusted adviser today is not enough. We surveyed advisers to see how they were competitively differentiating themselves. In summary.
1. Most do not truly understand what a competitive Client strategy is.
2. People don’t understand the difference between Competitive Value Discovery and Differentiation.
3. They do not understand the difference between preparation and planning.
4. They do not understand the difference between offense and defense
5. Because any strategic plans were not common amongst the troops, the plan is not maintained or advanced.
Can you explain the difference between Competitive Value Discovery and Differentiation?
Competitive Value Discovery helps you increase value potential. The idea of finding value that Client’s had never thought of before is competitively differentiating. So, we can introduce clients to ideas they may never have thought of and help them see the competition as “not on the ball”. Whether it’s your client or you are trying to secure a new client, they always weigh your value against the competition. What we have more more control over is what they weigh, how they weigh it. Additionally, we need to plant what the competition plants in the client’s mind. Then, we have far better intel and a better sense of the client’s changing priorities to influence their Decision Guidelines both offensely and defensively – Competitive Differentiation.
“Given the same amount of intelligence… timidity will do a thousand times more damage than audacity” “The best form of defense is attack.” Karl von Clausewitz
What else did you find out?
1. Their language is predominately about reacting to clients’ needs with no language of competitiveness.
2. No sense of doing things in a relational way but with competitive intent.
3. They see the activity of competing as separate from looking after the client.
4. The idea of decision guidelines and working to putting value behind them is a language that is foreign to them.
5. They don’t have a competitively strategic context for their day to day client interactions.
6. Largely, they have a passive position without having a strategy to extend the services they offer outsourcing.
What did you say to them about these findings?
How much profit are you leaving on the table because you are not managing our relationships with competitive intent?
So why are you not purposely discovering client value that will allow us to “Differentiate the Firm?”
This is probably the first thing on your mind after reading this Blog. How about asking us? The first call is free! Just email me to set it up. Don’t wait, get The Crispian Advantage working for you!. If our conversation leaves you needing more, we offer at a reasonable fee telephone and video coaching improve bottom line results. If that still doesn’t do it, we’ll work with you on a solution.
_________________________________________________________________________ For Help in Getting Your People on the Same Page Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage
The focus of this blog is the first of two on Improving Sales Effectiveness. The first is the Quality of Sales Managers Matters. It is based on findings from the Conference Executive Board, PDS Groups and Huthwaite Research Group studies on sales management and coaching. All three agree on 5 Main Factors: (Listen to the Radio Show)
#1 High-performing sales manager’s impact reps engagement and financial performance. Reps reporting to great managers report high job satisfaction with four timesmore revenue than those working for poor managers.
#2 Coaching Is King—The manager activity most linked with sales rep success is coaching. However, their coaching ability to coach individual sales reps is the weakest.
#3 Who they coach is selective— Coaching low or star performers does not statistically improve performance. Core performers, the 60% center of the performance Bell Curve make significant improvements with coaching.
#4 Bottom-Line Impacts—Effective coaching hits the bottom line. Core sales reps receiving great coaching reach on average 102% of goal in contrast to sales people reporting poor coaching who achieve only 83% of goal. Good coaching can improve core performance by 19%. This is lower than with PDS’s and Huthwaite’s sales productivity projects (18%-30% sales increases)
#5 Great Coaching Is a Learned Skill—Quantitative analysis shows that five elements account for 77% of coaching effectiveness. Armed with this information, we can develop great coaches by focusing them on specific activities such as emphasizing the importance of targeting the best opportunities and spending at least three, but no more than five, hours coaching each rep per month.
What difficulties do firms face in getting Sales Managers coaching to impact results?
The really effective sales organization has a number of characteristics, for example:
Skills and strategies suited to their market outstanding products or services
In-depth understanding of how these products can solve customer problems
Appropriate rewards and performance measures
Sales support system which actually helps to sell, not just administer
An ability and willingness to learn
Full effectiveness, however, can be achieved only if everyone:
Has a clear and shared vision of where the company is heading
Understands the strategy for getting there and their part in the process
Is rewarded for playing their part
Focuses obsessively on the customer
Some barriers to effectiveness are obvious – if the products are poor then no amount of sales skill can compensate sufficiently to build success. Many barriers are more subtle, and can sap the strength of the company over a long period without being tackled. Such problems usually fall under one the following three headings:
Feels like a bad back
There are many ways in which Misalignment is introduced into organization structures and processes; at best they generate unhelpful tensions and frustrations, at worst they lead to departmental rifts and sabotage. Common examples are:
Poor alignment of individuals’ expectations, departments and the company as a whole
E.g. the sales force seeks job interest by selling bespoke solutions, while the company is trying to standardize its offerings
Incentives for interdependent departments or people are not congruent
E.g. Sales force targeted on increased volume, administration targeted on decreased costs performance management process runs counter to company strategy
Sales management sets 30 day revenue targets, while company exhorts the salespeople to develop major accounts for the long-term
Salespeople are expected to cross-sell for other Divisions or countries, but are not rewarded for so doing
Sales management is “do as I say, not as I do”
E.g. Managers use a hard ‘push’ style, while advocating a ‘pull’ or consultative style with their people
Doing what we’ve always done what is going to be needed due to changing technology, markets and competition
E.g. When a monopoly supplier meets competition for the first time so the products no longer ‘sell themselves’
When new products address a different market – for example, printer sales force find themselves selling systems not peripherals
Gaps between stated values and actual values
E.g. “Our customers are our greatest asset ” while salespeople refer to them as “Buyers are liars”
“Our employees are our greatest asset”, while managers show little concern and even less investment
Many markets are now more turbulent and unpredictable than ever before, and success comes only to those who are ‘quick on their feet’. Unfortunately many players suffer from at least one of the following:
Their sales organization structure and roles don’t match those of the customer
E.g. they offer multipoint direct contact with sales, service, technical support, while the customer wants single point contact
Geographical location of functions and authority doesn’t match the customer’s
Their organization is inherently unresponsive to change
E.g. in rapidly evolving markets, companies operating a traditional hierarchical and functional structure find it hard to compete with those successfully using a cross-functional team approach
• Their people are resistant to change
E.g. Salespeople who have been adequately successful for years have become “order takers”, and the entertaining approach to account development
Managers who find it hard to let go of their traditional, power-oriented style and allow staff the space and authority to really contribute
Technical people who are unwilling to take on the sales role and don’t believe in the new technology
True customer focus involves a lot more than ‘customer service training’; it means that no aspect of the organization should be free from an all-pervading concern with delivering what the customer wants, and a bit more. It means taking your cue from the customer in areas which traditionally have been internally focused, for example:
Company and/ or departmental structure
E.g. Split on arbitrary product/technical grounds, so that several sellers approach the same individual
E.g. Call rates, scrap rates, production volumes, instead of response times, satisfaction ratings, service call-outs
Perception of what is being sold
E.g. In terms of a product rather than the results of using it – a security system rather than peace of mind, a training course rather than increased sales effectiveness
There is no one best sales organization structure, incentive scheme, or strategic approach. If there were, we would not see the huge diversity which exists in the real world, and change would anyway render it obsolete.
The effective organization is never complacent, and audits itself rigorously and constantly, seeking out and remedying any instances of inconsistency, inflexibility and internal focus. It also never fools itself into believing that change=progress;. change follows cycles of learning of what works and what doesn’t, not from a fear of stagnation.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ For Help in Getting Your People on the Same Page
Contact: Nick Anderson, Senior Partner, PDS Group LTD E-mail I Web I Linkedin