Developing and enabling the cultural shift needed in the new SAM business model

The COEs an emerging best practice and critical success factors that can be the catalyst to create the right mindset process and skillset while ensuring evolution and sustainability.

Disruption, although most times unwelcome, gives way to innovation. Could the mother of creativity and innovation be, in fact, disruption? 

This last year has certainly proven this saying in our customer-centric aspirations.

1: Having one! Making the decision and investment to have a dedicated Center of Excellence 

2: Having the COE reports directly to the executive team to ensure strategic impact 

3: Developing and enabling the cultural shift needed in the new SAM business model 

4: Customer centric curriculums 

5: Thinking globally and acting locally for enhanced customer intimacy


You can find an illustration of these critical success factors below: 


1: Having a dedicated Global Center of Excellence 

Each year, the Strategic Account Management Association (“SAMA”) issues awards for “Outstanding SAM Program of the Year.” Looking at the past 10 years winners, we see at least one thing nearly every winning company has in common: a dedicated COE. 

Is this a coincidence?  We think not. 

Establishing a COE is the number one most critical success factor for implementing an effective strategic account management business model. Despite this fact, only 10 percent of SAMA member companies have a COE, let alone an effective one. 

When I started my career as a commercial and SAM roadmap leader, you always had the commercial team and enabling functions working together to collaborate  in their day to day customer engagement. 

When we see the investment that some companies are making in pivoting their engagement model to be more strategic, customer-centric and value enabling; we are always surprised to see the enabling functions still being focused on supporting the more transactional model where the number of interactions is the metric -what we use to call in the pharma world the share-of-voice model. We continue to see the difficulty in shifting this  enabling structure to support to the SAM journey instead.


Establishing a COE is a step approach, and the structure needs to grow as the strategic account managers and strategic accounts are also growing in numbers and needs. Starting slow and evolving at the pace of our customer landscape changes is critical. 

Below we illustrate how a COE can be structured with a combination of full-time dedicated roles and part times roles that report back in their respective department.

The lighter boxes illustrate part time or connection to the department versus dedicated support. The above is an evolution and can be planned on a year-on-year evolution and aims at illustrating options. 


To be successful, people that compose the COE need to understand what strategic account management is and align on the fact that it is a business model, not a sale model and requires change management. One common role that the COE colleagues have is being a change agent and a champion for the journey. This should be part of every member role profile and mindset requirement in selecting the people to drive the COE structure, strategy and work.

It takes alignment for strategic account management to be successful and the COE is the guardian of this alignment.

2: Having the COE reporting to the executive team 

There is more than one way of doing this. Some organizations start this journey by creating a COE to support the SAM organization as a separate unit with a remit to test, iterate and pilot for speed. They then integrate this with the rest of the commercial group. Others will start with an already commercially integrated COE working across their business units. 

In both models, shifting the corporate focus from short-term goals and objectives to mid and long-term partnership is not an easy task. The corporate world has for generations been trained for generations to think inside out and sell products or services. In executing SAM transformations, we ask organizations to think outside-in, build trust and long-term objectives and focus on the customer objectives first in order  to generate growth and revenue for the customer and the organisation .  Although we know from the SAMA research that a strategic account will generate 2x the revenue of a regular account1, we also see that it does require our corporate minds to think differently by providing value beyond products and services, aligning to what matters to our customer (as opposed to our own internal organization)and providing value offerings that are customized to the accounts and customer needs. This has shown, time and time again, to be the best avenue for sustainable revenue generation.


Moving an organisation from a go-to-market strategy based on products and services to an outside-in thinking based on the customer’s customers unmet needs and what they care about requires to be part of the senior level agenda.  Creating customised solutions to respond to its customers’ and customers’ customers unmet needs require a cultural shift and mindset change. To drive a business transformation and cultural shift of this magnitude, two things must be present: This evolution must be among the company’s strategic imperatives and the COE must sit at the right organisational level. 

Reporting at the executive level enables the COE to having a broader view of the organization including its imperatives, goals, strategies and capabilities – as well as being peer to peer with business leaders who are necessary to the execution of the SAM roadmap.


3: Developing and enabling the cultural shift needed in the new SAM business model 

The COE is an essential unit for driving the cultural shift mentioned above. To do this they need to be the expert in the strategic account management world and dedicated to driving this journey. They are part of the strategy and lead the operational steps from outlining the vision/ mission to creating business processes, building the structure, outlining the desired competencies and equipping the SAMs. 

They should be instrumental in selecting the account team and extended teams as well as the departmental point of contact. These points of contact are technical expert providing part time support for specific topics. The COE team is the one responsible for identifying champions who understand the SAM journey and purpose and who have the right mindset and willingness to be part of the transformation. Being SAM experts, it is critical for members of the COE to work with groups like human resources and line managers to define role profile, competencies and traits needed to be successful in the role. Finding those individuals with the right mindset, passion, and the resiliency to drive change will be a catalyst for the Strategic account organization’s success. For strategic account management success, mindset, talent and traits are more important than past roles experience. It is a combination of mindsets, experience and skills that create the right SAM. 


Clients tell us that, in most cases, their internal organizations are more challenging to navigate than their customer organizations and often present sthe most significant barriers to action and partnership with strategic accounts. 

The COE can certainly help and be accountable to break these internal silos by providing an aligned business process and communication. They need to drive the Passion/resilience to think outside-in for revenue generation. Being a centralized expert group, they can work across units to align matrix and complex organizations to the strategic accounts that have been identified in providing change management, business process and strategic account toolbox for an aligned way of working.

In leading the cultural shift, the COE can then establish the mid to long term roadmap and next steps of the journey. They can prioritize what needs to be done, from aligning business leaders, upskilling the strategic account managers to providing an aligned integrated business process.  

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