Managers or trainers of strategic account managers (SAMs) all look for certain traits needed by a prospective SAM because the job has unique challenges. SAMs must not only build business relationships within complex, global customer organizations, they must become influential in their own company to marshal cooperation and resources for their customer(s).
In helping the Strategic Account Management Association analyze results from their 2010 Standards and Practices Study, we were surprised that SAMs and managers focused on just four topics when writing in suggestions regarding traits that contribute most toward successful strategic account managers.
1. Strategic thinker with a business mind-set — Visionary. Have financial acumen. Able to learn the customer business model quickly, not only in terms how they make money, but also how the supplier solution(s) help them do so. Confident working with senior executives on both sides of the business relationship between the customer and supplier.
2. Persistent with the drive to succeed and lead — have the inner fortitude it takes to wade through obstacles and time required to build the business relationships. Many SAMs fight their biggest battles internally, such as when a local sales group won’t adhere to a global approach desired by the customer. New SAMs are expected to stay in the job at least five or so years.
3. Communicator and relationship builder — Great listener. SAMs must be willing to be up front and visible to their own colleagues as well as to decision makers in business units of the customer. Many customer relationships are salvaged because the SAM ramps up the visibility of his company solving problems with and for the customers.
4. Honest and sincere — Ethical. Trustworthy and reliable. SAMs are seasoned business people given enormous latitude by the employer as well as the customer, and wind up responsible for a critical amount of business as the relationship grows. By definition the SAM works fairly independently and have influence over extensive resources. They simply must be worthy of trust.
The vast majority of recommended traits for SAM success from the voice of actual practitioners fit into these four buckets. This implies making these four areas the foundation for recruiting and developing SAMs.