SAMA Research Agenda 2014-2016

The Strategic Account Management Association and SAMA Research Advisory Council* have identified the following subject areas as the organization’s top research priorities for the 2014-2016 SAMA Research Calendar.

Customer-Supplier Value

At the interface of a strategic customer-supplier relationship is the mutual desire for value which results in business outcomes of growth, profitability, trust, loyalty, innovation and risk management.

Top research priorities in this area include:
  • Institutionalizing Co-Innovation with Customers

    Refers to an embedded process or processes for engaging a strategic customer in the co-development of specific innovations—whether through ideas for continuous improvement and productivity, new products and services, or new business models and joint ventures.

    SAMA Research has shown that having an institutionalized process for co-innovation with customers is closely correlated with strategic account growth, yet just 42% of our study respondents have a formal process for creating innovation with customers.i

  • Key questions surrounding co-innovation with customers include:
    • How do successful strategic suppliers systematically drive innovation with their customers, what are the methods and rules of engagement? Who are the executive and cross-functional stakeholders and what are their responsibilities?
    • How is “innovation” defined by suppliers and by customer firms and what are the key interactions and activities with a customer leading to innovations?
    • How important has “roadmap alignment” become (the two-way sharing of future product planning) and what are best practices?
    • How do companies gain the commitment of the customer to buy-in and invest in a joint innovation?
  • End-to-End Value Creation Process and Tools (CRM)

    Refers to the entire end-to-end process for creating and realizing value with a strategic customer, leveraging the entire value chain and ensuring alignment to the goals and metrics of customer and supplier.

    SAMA Research has shown that having a “defined process for creating customer value” is closely correlated to strategic account growth, yet over 40% of our study respondents do not have such a process in place.ii

  • Key questions surrounding the end-to-end value creation process include:
    • Is there a common framework for determining what creating value means to a company, and to a strategic account?
    • What are the essential value inputs and outputs that suppliers can standardize and embed within their CRM systems, such as value opportunity/fit, initial value solution, value quantification, customer validation, final solution delivered, joint value realization, customer feedback?
    • How is the initial co-discovery of needs and opportunities managed for optimal alignment and potential?
    • How do strategic suppliers quantify the value of customer-specific solutions, and how do they align their value quantification process to the customer metrics?
    • How is pricing for the delivered business value incorporated into the value creation process and what is the role of the strategic account manager in setting and managing it?
    • How do companies align SAM and their customer SRM (supplier relationship management programs) to define joint value?

Internal SAM Organization

As a corporate strategy for long-term growth, the management system for a strategic accounts program operates across an enterprise to create a customer-focused alignment of resources and capabilities, both vertically and horizontally. Having the right internal SAM capabilities enables the performance of strategic account managers, the extended SAM team and the SAM process.

Top research priorities in this area include:
  • Models for Structuring Strategic Accounts

    Customer accounts designated as strategic to a firm vary significantly in terms of their organizational characteristics and demands upon the supplier’s resources and capabilities. Variables such as industry, markets, size, geography, purchasing behavior, etc. may suggest or dictate differing organizational structure to ensure adequate account coverage and performance. There are currently numerous structures in use for strategic account management, and companies as well as SAMA and external experts have identified and variously labeled these SAM organizational structures according to such aspects as geographic scope, i.e. NAM, KAM, GAM, or by a customer’s strategic rank or requirements for “integrated” or “coordinated” coverage.

    While there is some literature on the subject, more can be done from an applied research perspective to understand the account management models best suited for certain types of customers and certain types of suppliers. Companies need more practical guidance and inputs based on proven and innovative models when structuring or restructuring their SAM organizations.

  • Key questions surrounding models for structuring strategic accounts include:
    • How do different types of suppliers (varying by industry, size, and geographic scope) structure their organizational system for efficient and effective management of strategic accounts, and why?
    • In what ways do customer characteristics and profile impact the way a strategic account is structured for management?
    • In what ways does a company’s historical organizational structure impact the way it structures its strategic accounts?
    • How does a SAM organization “fit” within the company’s structure as a whole? What is the hierarchy?
    • What does a strategic account designation mean in practical terms to the supplier, and how the internal organization is structured? What are the tangible requirements and benefits?
    • What does a strategic account designation mean in practical terms to the customer, with regard to how the internal organization is structured to engage? How does this align with the customer’s expectations of being a “customer of choice”?
    • What are the tools and process for selecting and deselecting strategic accounts? What does it take into consideration and what stakeholders are involved?
  • Strategic Account Manager (SAM) Selection Process

    Many SAMs are selected for being seasoned salespeople, or as a reward in the latter part of their career. But SAM is a corporate initiative rather than a sales strategy and, as such, the role requires a distinct set of skills and personal attributes. Through years of benchmarking and research, SAMA has been able to define skills and competencies associated with the responsibilities and key activities of a SAM—see SAMA’s SAM Competency Model and definition of a SAM. However, there remains a gap in understanding the requisite personality traits and characteristics of a successful SAM through sound research. Such research will greatly aid working professionals in identifying and selecting the right candidates for a SAM position.

  • Key questions surrounding the SAM selection process include:
    • How do companies currently identify and select SAM candidates, and from where are they recruited?
    • What identifiers do they rely upon most? What weight do different variables have, i.e. skills, personal attributes, background, key experiences?
    • What is the hiring sequence and process used to evaluate SAM candidates? What stakeholders are involved—influencing or deciding?
    • Beyond individual skills and abilities, what personal attributes are valued for the role of a SAM, and why? Which traits and values are associated with top-performing SAMs?
    • How should “softer” but critical SAM traits or skills be evaluated, such as leadership ability and trustworthiness/integrity?

External Factors & Competitive Pressures

One of the leading external factors pressuring strategic supplier organizations to remain competitive and attractive to customers is the integration of digital technologies into business operations and strategy. Companies wishing to be at the forefront of SAM management practices will need to expand their ability to leverage and integrate digital technologies for greater joint customer-supplier value.

The top research priority in this area is:
  • Integrating Digital Technologies for Strategic Accounts
    Key questions surrounding the integration of digital technologies for strategic accounts include:
    • What are the digital technologies currently utilized in strategic account management and for what purposes? What problems or needs are they solving? What competitive advantages are they intended to achieve?
    • What resources, functional capabilities and funding are required to install and/or implement these digital projects and solutions?
    • In what areas are suppliers weak in digitizing their business for and with strategic accounts? In what areas do they want to focus their future digitalization efforts?

New proposals from potential research partners on any of the above subjects are welcome and will be evaluated based on quality, relevance and priority.

For more information on our new SAMA Research Direction including how SAMA wants to partner on research and about submitting a proposal, please read here.


Elisabeth Cornell
SAMA Research General Manager

September 2014

i2014 Report on Current Trends & Practices in Strategic Account Management. (Strategic Account Management Association, 2014)

* SAMA Research Advisory Council

Volkhard Bregulla, VP Global Accounts Germany & Central Eastern Europe, HP

Noel Capon, Chairman Marketing Dept., Columbia University

John Gardner, Senior VP - Global Strategic Accounts, Emerson Process Management

Jonathan Hughes, Partner, Vantage Partners

Jeff Marr, Vice President, Solutions Development, Walker

Mike Moorman, Principal, ZS Associates

Atlee Valentine Pope, President & CEO, Blue Canyon Partners

Bernard Quancard, President & CEO, SAMA

Kaj Storbacka, Professor, Markets and Strategy, The University of Auckland Business School

Vartan Vartanian, President SKF Industrial Market, Regional Sales and Service, SKF