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Old Dogs Big Dogs

One of the things that amazes me these days is that there continue to be so many things that amaze me within the world of CRM. Most of the things on this list are those topics that never seem to go away, and the majority of these perpetual topics seem to cycle around the CRM sub universe I prefer to label sales force excellence. My engagements over the last few weeks have gone far to reinforce this for me.

At the center of this is the whole issue of being able to teach old dogs new tricks. More specifically is the problem of big dogs who are unwilling to even consider the possibility of new tricks. You know what I am alluding to – those tenured and successful sales reps who stand unwaveringly at the epicenter of your change management problems.

Within the CRM specialty of sales force automation an emerging trend is the increasing need to bring best practices and the corresponding enabling technology to support the growing focus on strategic account management. More and more senior-level sales reps are being assigned to complex umbrella accounts that span geographies, markets, or industries, and require coordination of a broad team of sales professionals who drive business within the local account affiliates. This role is not new, but it is growing and demanding increasing attention from the CRM program. SFA is not just for the traditional account rep any longer.

For those of us who are tasked to satisfy this new demand, the challenge lies in the elite nature of the sales personnel assigned to these uber-critical accounts. This is the crème-de-la-crème of the sales gene pool – these people are true rock stars. And, they need to lean on SFA just like their mere-mortal sales cousins, but they don’t all necessarily see it that way.

Here is an example of the challenge. Very recently while wrapping up a two-day session that had gathered together the A List strategic account reps for a client, I encountered a demonstration of this resistance head on. Our task during the session was to identify what was working with regard to their management of these complex accounts to better enable us to export those best practices to an expanded elite flying squadron in more geographies. The final topic of the meeting was a focus on the use of tools, primarily SFA, to support the pursuit of strategic opportunities. We defined the tool requirements without a hitch and the group appeared pumped that we would be rolling out the tool shortly in the next phase of the program.

But, when going around the room to gather feedback on perceptions of the meeting effectiveness, the alpha dog in the pack stated casually, “Just so you know, I would never use this tool – I absolutely don’t need it to manage my accounts!” The room went silent.

Poop Permit

After scraping my jaw off the table, and doing my best to maintain composure, I asked the rest of the group for their reaction. The ensuing conversation proceeded along the lines of who actually would adopt the proposed tool and who might choose to pull rank and drive tool free. Old big dogs don’t like to be asked to perform new tricks. So there is the challenge. We don’t want to roll over either, pun intended. SAMs that don’t play nice in the sandbox hurt their teams. They reduce the value of the data captured within the tool, which requires more 90’s era e-mail communication, and results in less understanding of the customer. Marketing has less intelligence regarding what messaging helps to drive big deals. Forecasting suffers. Ultimately we sub-optimize the investment.

We need the big dogs on board.

I think the answer is about adaptation. On the surface, strategic account management looks similar to traditional account management. Most likely you go through similar if not the same sales stages. But the complexity is the difference. Account management is like a game of chess. Strategic account management is like playing 19 games of chess simultaneously. You need to adapt your SFA to account for the complexity. The SAM needs to get something back from using the tool, just like any other sales rep. You need to find what that is for your strategic account managers – it may not be always obvious or the same from company to company.

I think you can win over the big dogs. You need to let them maintain their alpha status in the pack, but you also need to show them how you will help them excel in that alpha role. That may take a bit of research on your part – but the big dogs will play.

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