Account “ownership” has been an issue in partner sales relationships for generations. A fundamental change in customer behavior with sellers in current times has changed the way sales managers should think about this issue. We now know that multiple stakeholders both inside and outside of the company, jointly “own” the account strategy.
Buyers in today’s market determine and dictate what they want, whom they want to work with, and when they are ready to engage with sellers. The account strategy developed by sales must attempt to respond to, influence, or re-direct this basic paradigm shift in the vendor-customer relationship. In this new paradigm, a partner may be key to effective implementation of account strategies.
An individual sales person no longer “owns” an account. Instead, an Account Manager “owns” the responsibility for developing and leading an account strategy that incorporates all stakeholders in the achievement of jointly agreed upon objectives.
What is the role of the partner in the account strategy?
The partner is likely to have an important and unique role in the account strategy. The role of the partner can be significant if they have a strong, or long term relationship with the end customer/account. The buyer will want a known, trusted partner to participate in the interaction with the vendor, that may operate independently of the assumed plan developed by the vendor’s Account Manager. Additionally, the partner’s capacity to support, service, and implement the vendor’s account strategy is important. Their willingness to apply resources to the account strategy will be determined by the ROI/benefit calculus the partner believes he will receive from the successful execution of the account strategy at this customer.
The Account Manager must carefully consider the role and value-add of the partner in achieving success at the account when developing his account strategy. The partner must be one of the stakeholders who agrees to and supports the account strategy. The Account Manager must “own” the support given to the on-going engagement that the partner will have in the account strategy.
In the technology industry fast moving changes in markets, applications, and customer needs will require adjusting account strategies to address the impact of such changes. The role of the partner and their support for the account strategy similarly may change. A commitment to partner involvement in the account strategy, even when those strategies change, is an essential responsibility of the Account Manager.
If the partner is used as a tool or opportunistically employed by the Account Manager or he represents that the partner does not have an integral role in the account strategy, there is a risk that the partner will change his commitment to the account strategy. In so doing, the partner may become an impediment to the success of the account strategy. Alternatively, when the partner is integrated into the account strategy, they can bring significant advantage to the vendor with this account.
The partner has many obligations that must be considered or interests they must protect if the changing account strategy is no longer beneficial to them. The perception of the end customer is paramount in their decisions on account strategy support. This has the potential to overshadow the obligation they have to their vendor partner. Other vendors that they represent also must be protected. The Account Strategy must “protect” the partner even as it evolves.
The partner role in account strategies is critical to define. A commitment to the partner relationship must be an essential element of the account strategy when a partner has a significant role in its implementation. The Account Manager must take responsibility for keeping the partner as a key stakeholder. Customers can dictate to the vendor which partner or how the partner will be involved in working with them. The partner arrangement with the customer therefore, must be an important element in any account strategy.
Account strategies that have not fully considered the role of the partner will be deficient and ultimately limited in its success. Account Managers who have not embraced a partner’s role in the account are destined to fall short of their goals.