The Real Difference Between SMB and Strategic Accounts

smb strategic accounts

For the first hour of my flight home I was engrossed in a conversation with a senior account executive from a technology company. It was, at least for a while, a rather pleasant conversation.

We discussed the rise of Apple (both of us carried iPads and iPhones), the economy, travel, summer plans, kids and shared overviews of our respective careers. We had some laughs about our early days in sales and lamented about the passing of "the good old days."

A Chat about Sales Methodologies

Then our conversation turned to sales methodology. My fellow traveler mentioned that though he had been through some pretty miserable experiences with traditional sales training, he always seemed to find at least one valuable tidbit of information from each.

Then he said that in his current role as a "strategic account manager," most of what he learned no longer applied. He submitted that sales methodologies designed for sellers in the small to medium business market simply didn't apply in his role. "Oh, really? What makes your new environment so different?" I asked.

His reply, "There are lots of different people involved, complex business problems and solutions, politics, pricing sensitivity, aggressive service level agreements and you're just dealing with a whole different type of organization."

"So I'm curious. It sounds like the differences aren't a matter of differences at all, but a matter of more." My response caused my fellow traveler to gaze out at the puffy white clouds rolling by below us. "Ok, what do you mean a difference of more?"

"Small to medium size businesses have people, business problems and solutions, politics, pricing sensitivity, and service expectations, right?" "Right," was his quick reply. "So why would your process change? Organizations don't make decisions, people do. When you are dealing with larger organizations, your information objectives don't change, there's just a whole lot more information to collect and manage. I'm submitting that if your process for selling in an SMB was fundamentally sound, the same principles apply in strategic accounts."

The Similarities between SMB, Major & Strategic Accounts

"True." Ah, how I love to hear that word. The truth is, SMB accounts as well as major and strategic accounts are all concerned about the same things. They all have business issues. They all have people involved in making decisions. They all have decision histories, existing solutions, alternatives, favored alternatives, decision criteria, and decision stages.

The ONLY difference is a matter of "more". There is simply a larger amount of information to manage. It's that simple. Given that a more complex environment requires us to gather, assimilate and evaluate significantly more of the same information we would gather from an SMB, we don't need a different way of engaging the buyers.

What we need is a framework by which we can effectively manage, share and analyze all this additional information so that it helps us build more effective strategies that allow us to win more business.


We concluded the conversation in agreement. My travel companion and newfound friend admitted he had forgotten to apply many of the same principles he had taken ownership of and used successfully when selling to SMB customers. He also admitted his failure to apply these principles may have cost him more in his new environment than he would have thought.

So, Strategic Account Managers, if you think your customers are different, think again. Don't forget the basic principles that got you where you are. It turns out the only true difference is "more".

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Bob Nicols

Bob Nicols has 34 years of experience in sales, sales management, executive management and sales force development. He founded Burton Training Group, now AXIOM Sales Force Development, in 1990 after being a top and highly recognized performer in sales, sales management and executive positions within the technology sector. He has managed and mentored thousands of sales people, sales managers and senior managers and been responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. For more than 21 years he has developed and delivered sales programs that have become the standard for many Fortune 100 companies including AT&T, BellSouth, Disney Enterprises, Alltel, Verizon and ESPN. AXIOM programs have been implemented in over 30 countries including Japan, the UK, Germany, Dubai, Brazil, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, China, Mexico, Canada, South Korea, Slovakia, Sweden, and The Netherlands. Bob's highly energetic and insightful lectures and workshops have resulted in invitations to be a featured presenter at dozens of national and international sales meetings and conferences. He is a trusted advisor to the presidents and senior managers of multiple organizations, both large and small and has been a board member of a national technology company. Bob is the developer of AXIOM's “Selling Sciences ProgramTM” and co-author of the “Selling Sciences” CD series.

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