Customer Advocacy -- Can it be overdone?

To some it may sound like heresy, but I think you can advocate too strongly for your customer. Years ago at a certain business services company, the scuttlebutt regarding one of the most senior and otherwise respected SAMs (including at high levels) was, "Has Ralph (not real name) forgotten who he works for?" Perhaps that's the point where advocacy has crossed a line -- when colleagues indicate you are asking too much for your customer, or your company is simply not yet ready to give all you are seeking, or both. 

That's why I really like the term, "Balanced advocate" in describing successful strategic account managers. The "balanced" description cuts at least a couple of different ways. First, the SAM instigates good practices on both sides of the relationship -- with groups and individuals in his own company as well as with contacts and user groups within the customer account. Secondly, the SAM is balanced in the asking --  able to strongly advocate for the customer and acknowledge the situation and goals of the supplier company.

When the Strategic Account Management Association's annual Standards and Practices Survey recently asked SAMs and strategic account program managers for the traits and behaviors that most contribute to SAM success, the notion of balanced advocacy came out as one type of critical practice. But the three other essential practices implied the importance of working well on both sides of the customer relationship. 

Four SAM behaviors most contributing to success

1. Be the balanced advocate for the customer -- but don't forget who you work for! Align resources to achieve the customer's desired outcomes.

2. Build the team on your side and manage it effectively -- this ideally includes a mix of direct reports for core contacts and responsibilities but a host of supporting contributors from other functions and regions.

3. Guide your company to contribute according to the customer's most important priorities. The SAM knows the customer's business and how they make money from your products and solutions. the SAM knows their top challenges and plans and where your company fits in.

4. Build up trust with the customer -- build relationships, collaborative planning of solutions and initiatives, and prove out the value being delivered in order to seal the trust.

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