Account managers and salespeople play two important but different roles in the customer acquisition and retention life cycle. But at some organizations, you can’t tell the difference. Most of the training that organizations provide their sales functions is centered around front line selling techniques, product knowledge, features and benefits. Increasing a salesperson’s ability to immediately impact sales dollars is obviously an important objective to drive. In some industries, it’s the most important objective.
The water gets murkier when an industry is highly complex and heavily regulated. In the Fall 2015 issue of LTEN’s Focus magazine, Wendy Heckelman, Ph.D. described the challenge life science and medical device companies face:
Life science companies can no longer rely on the “one-to-one” or “sales representative to physician” model to drive growth. Treatment decisions are often made by various stakeholders across large and complex healthcare and government institutions. They face the challenge of improving patient outcomes while simultaneously reducing associated costs. Therefore, decision-makers need solutions that address quality patient care and broader healthcare outcomes.
Key Account Management (KAM) requires a different set of competencies and behaviors than that of the traditional sales rep. When the selling process within an industry changes from a one-to-one sale (such as sales rep to doctor) to an account-level sale (such as an account manager selling to the C-suite of a health system), the type of training and coaching required to equip learners also changes.
The ideal solution to this problem is often a blended learning curriculum that helps your Key Account Managers take the long view and differentiate their roles from that of frontline sales reps. Here are three areas of focus to consider:
1. Realign core competencies
“Selling” in a traditional sense is only one small piece of the strategic account management life cycle. The selling skills, product knowledge and features and benefits you previously focused on in training do not build the competencies a key account manager needs to build long-term, mutual value with a customer’s organization. Before you re-design training, a sound analysis should be conducted to assess needs and find the gap between existing competencies and desired competencies.
2. Redefine the Launch or POA meeting
For the organizations we work with, the product launch meeting, national sales meeting or POA (plan of action) meeting is usually the key event that will (allegedly) prepare sales reps and account managers to sell the “right” products the “right” way. Once you have re-aligned your core competencies to include key account management and selling, the learning solutions included in these meetings will also change. Consider blending online pre-work with interactive live events that incorporate gaming and roleplay. The learning content should focus less on features and benefits and more on identifying ways to create long-term value for an account and articulating that value proposition as a compelling story.
3. Extend the Learning
Because Key Account Management is a highly complex discipline, ongoing coaching and performance support is essential. Include in your plans a way to reinforce key learning objectives and remind learners to apply the behaviors they learned regularly. A mobile reinforcement app such as Knowledge Guru can be used to embed the most common customer stories into long-term memory.
Start at the Beginning
If your organization has been equating selling with strategic account management, you’ll need to realign your core competencies and behaviors before you jump to the solution. Dr.Heckelman’s article includes a chart with some example competencies and behaviors, and these are a great starting point. Our recorded webinar on analysis describes how to conduct an audience analysis and task analysis, two steps that can help identify what your competencies need to be and how to close the skills gap.