In the latest edition of Brand Quarterly author Melonie Dodaro wrote:
“Social selling… or as I like to refer to it “relationship building” has become a necessary tool for sales professionals, but to do it right is a bit of an art form:
Now I really like this way of seeing the process of selling in B2B and managing key accounts.
Her article Amplify Your Social Selling Strategy And Increase ROI also reminds us that selling and account management is about interacting with people rather than objectifying customers as organisations.
I agree with Melonie not only because this resonates with my commercial experience but because it connects directly with the findings of my doctoral research.
One of the things I was interested in understanding was how key account managers explained the value they brought to customer interactions.
What became clear to me was that sales and marketing professionals see their distinctiveness in terms of artistry rather than technical skills. In particular the ability to interact and communicate in socially skilful ways.
This gave me a steer on how to elaborate and add details to what academics Vargo and Lusch call the idea of the ‘value proposing actor’ which is the person or entity that makes the offer or value proposition to the customer.
One conclusion from my research was the proposal of an explanatory model that defined the arts of the value proposing actor. This is the excerpt from my thesis that describes the model:
‘Three arts of the value proposing actor are proposed; acting, speaking and seeing.
Acting means that the value proposing actor is socially aware of the social context of interaction and produces a [social] performance that suits [the norms values and expected behaviours] in the context.
Actors show a capability for holding in mind and balancing competing ideas without being locked into dogmatic perspectives.
Instinctively they produce a [personal] display that is designed to allow the customer space to make judgements and respects their decisions.
When they speak actors put effort into making interactions seem like an easy conversation. Attention is given to understanding what the customer means and the actor appreciates the ambiguity of meaning in communication and seeks to make things clear. It is what the actor sees that makes a difference. They are conceptual thinkers and create images in mind. In that sense they have vision. Not in the eulogising sense often given in the corporate strategy literature but in the more temperate sense of seeing possibilities and connections, showing the customer how things might be.’
So there is a direct link to acting here. As actors skilled key account managers show their artistry by implicitly asking the Shakespeareanesque questions ‘what might be and what might not be?’ As artful practioners key account managers invite the audience to think of possibilities, to explore, to examine to wonder what might be.
In this way they create the inter personal space necessary to consider the relevence of proposals rather than brow beat with so called product and service benefits that are simply too good to miss.
Do I think there is an art to key account management? My answer is a definite ‘yes’!