In an earlier post, I explained why most companies should look first to existing customers when selecting ABM accounts. There are two main reasons for giving priority to existing customers. First, many B2B companies have a small group of customers that produce a large percentage of total revenue and are therefore critical to the company’s well-being. These customers merit the special attention that ABM provides. And second, companies have (or should have) rich “intelligence” regarding existing customers that can fuel effective ABM programs.

Account-focused business strategies are not new. Long before anyone had heard of “account-based marketing,” astute business leaders recognized the importance of giving special treatment to their most valuable customers. In the late 1950’s, larger B2B companies began implementing account management programs to strengthen relationships with their largest customers.

Over the past five-plus decades, the practice of strategic account management (also known as key account management) has grown and matured significantly. Many companies now have well-established account management programs that are led by dedicated key account managers. Several years ago, the Strategic Account Management Association said that about two out of three companies had SAM programs of some kind, and it’s highly unlikely that this number has gone down.

When account-based marketing, particularly Strategic ABM, is introduced in a company with an established account management program, the ABM effort must be fully integrated with the existing account management system. A well-conceived account plan for a strategic customer will provide a comprehensive description of the company’s strategy for growing its relationship with that customer, and it’s important to have a single, unified strategy for each key customer. ABM activities provide the marketing components of the company’s account management plan for each strategic customer.

To ensure that marketing activities are tightly integrated with the overall account plan, a marketer needs to be a member of each account management team. In A Practitioner’s Guide to Account-Based Marketing, Bev Burgess and Dave Munn highlight this point when they write:  “The most successful ABM-ers are seen as part of the account team:  participating in its meetings, collaborating on the account plan development and execution, sharing the trials and tribulations of service or delivery issues, working flat out on major bids and celebrating success with the team.”

If marketers want to be effective members of account teams, they will need to understand the fundamental principles and techniques of strategic account management. Fortunately, there is now a substantial body of knowledge regarding how to do strategic account management successfully, and there are many resources that marketers can use to learn the discipline. Here are two that I’ve found particularly useful.

The New Successful Large Account Management

The New Successful Large Account Management by Robert B. Miller and Stephen E. Heiman with Tad Tuleja is a revised and updated version of Successful Large Account Management, which was published in 1991. The revised version – published in 2011 – can no longer be called “new,” but it describes a methodology for managing strategic accounts that is just as valid today as it was six years ago.

Strategic Account Management Association

The Strategic Account Management Association is a professional association that was formed in 1964 to support and further develop account management principles, practices, and professional skills. The SAMA website contains a wealth of account management resources. Many of the resources are free for SAMA members, and some are also available to non-members at no charge.

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