International account manager: a bridge between different global markets

Oct 28, 2020

Part salesperson, part customer-service rep, an International Account Manager is all about doing whatever it takes to get the job done.
Nowadays, the business environment takes on a global perspective for many business-to-business organizations, so the area of International Account Management (IAM) has become an increasingly hot topic.
An Account Manager is a person who manages business arrangements with clients in order to achieve goals provided by the Company Board or even by the Account himself. In Pharmaceutical fields, his main duties are to develop and implement business plans that deliver the sales and uptake of drugs, food supplements, and/or medical devices, across a designated group of key accounts or Regions – supporting other Company departments with a bit of brand management, a broad spectrum overview of the international markets (including regulatory, legal and logistic aspects of every Region). After all, to be an advocate in the development of new strategies and budget management, thrown in! He also needs to be an expert in his local NHS area if we talk about a National Account Manager.

It is 40 years since the marketing scientist David Ford suggested that in managing long-term business-to-business relationships there is a clear role for a relationship manager who is the major “contact man” for the client company and who takes responsibility for the successful development of the relationship with the client. It should be “someone of sufficient status to co-ordinate all aspects of the company’s relationships with major clients at the operational level” (Ford 1980).

The idea of the relationship manager promulgated by Ford (1980) has materialized during the 1980s and 1990s. Often referred to as the National Account Manager, Major Account Manager and, more latterly in the UK and France, Key Account Manager, this specialised form of managing Customers is gaining increasing importance in business-to-business markets. A newer form of this specialisation is now emerging in response to increasing globalisation: the International Account Manager.

International Account Management (IAM) is a relatively new concept. It has emerged as a way of managing global customers that are of strategic importance to selling Companies. The globalization of business is making IAM an increasingly important issue for many multinational companies who are operating in a global environment. However, this is not simply a supplier-led concept with many customers and relationship management initiatives. International Account Manager are also typically multinational customers who themselves have an expectation of being supplied and serviced worldwide in a consistent and coordinated way. Multinational companies have begun to buy on a centralized or co-ordinated basis and in so doing have become global customers. They seek suppliers who can treat them as a single entity and can provide consistent and seamless service across countries.

However, the “global” dimension of IAM compared to the National Account Manager adds several fundamentally different aspects. These include, surely, cross-cultural issues, global versus local issues, and conflict these are obviously only examples because naturally, the competences change in favor of one as well as the other due to the diversity of management of the company’s duties. And here in this article, we will highlight the importance of IAM in Lo.Li. Pharma International, a pharmaceutical company based in Rome and present in more than 62 countries and here below a brief Role of what everyday life looks like as an International Account Manager in Lo.Li. Pharma International:

“Sales roles in long-term relationships, negotiator, consultant, interpreter of customer needs/values, mediator, customer’s an advocate/friend, information broker; facilitating multi-level, multi-functional exchange processes; co-ordination and tailoring the seller’s total offering to key accounts; promoting the KAM concept within their own company; responsibility for sales/profit growth of one or more key accounts, consistent with the business objectives of the seller’s total portfolio of key accounts”.

While the buyer-salesperson interaction may lie at the heart of the relationship, other key players are also involved, making complex interactions between people. Indeed, a selling center is defined as “inter-functional decision units of selling organization members who are involved in initiating and maintaining exchange relationships with industrial customers”.

Peter Drucker, one of Modern Management founders, once said “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”. Being an Account Manager also means you have to “listen to numbers” or, rather, you have to let numbers talk to you. Surely, you must be a good listener! Also, you have to choose wisely which data to observe, so as to prevent sinking among the huge amounts of data you have at your disposal.  On this, an AM can rely on the so-called “KPIs”, that is to say, “Key Performance Indicators”. Those letters are strictly connected to the Company’s objectives and strategies, they help going through decision-making processes and give AMs power to enforce the effectiveness of their actions. Generally speaking, we could say as an Account Manager you have to focus both on the Company’s activities (i.e. activity metrics) and their impact on the Market (i.e. impact metrics).

But how can we effectively choose which indicator to consider?

Step 1. Find out which needs they respond to. By way of example, let’s say we need to check if we are growing or not in a certain Country, we analyze the sales trend over the years.

Step 2. You should be able to match indicators to the Company’s objectives and strategies. E.g. You look for a 10% increase in sales during the next year. You will have to choose an indicator that will help you identify your success factors and enforce your future strategies.

Step 3. Indicators must be able to provide action plans. That is to say by measuring your progress in relation to your objectives helps you sharing information and aligning everyone’s goals.

These indicators can also become a good way to evaluate an employee’s work quality. They represent, therefore, a strong opportunity to support your team in achieving the next goals! Besides, as anticipated before, please pay attention to the amount of data you are managing at the same time. We often have a tendency to multiply the number of indicators needed. Many reports and presentations can easily be overloaded with unnecessary data, and sometimes people can find it really hard to focus on each analysis. Please always remember simplicity is good, less is more! Every time we set up a reporting file, we need to ask first: “Are all of these indicators really crucial?”, and you will see you will get far more chances to keep everybody’s attention. All the above said, please never forget these KPIs are just a way of making the right decision quickly. always take time to consider if and how to use them, and to benefit from the lessons you learned through your past strategies. In addition to the roles outlined above, it is worth exploring the personal contact model promulgated by Cunningham and Turnbull (1982) in the context of International Account Management. In managing the buyer-seller interface, interpersonal contact is of prime importance. Personal contact is described by Cunningham and Turnbull (1982) as the means by which inter-company relationships are established and maintained. Looking at personal contact from the dyadic perspective (based on a case study approach) they suggest that the roles of the personal interactions at the buyer-seller interface are: an information exchange role, which encompasses the transfer of “hard” and soft “data”; an assessment role: the assessment of a supplier’s competence or a customer’s suitability frequently involves personal judgments as well as objective facts; these judgments are improved through interacting with the other party in both formal and informal situations; a negotiation and adaptation role: negotiation will generally take place over a wide range of topics with personal contacts being the normal means of persuasion and negotiation.

In conclusion, personal contact is helpful as it can contribute to understanding the types of roles that International Account Managers may need to adopt if they are to successfully manage long-term relationships in a global environment. What is interesting, is that for International account management, the personal contact between the two parties is likely to have a significant virtual element. The importance of IAM is widely recognized in the trade journals (e.g., McKinsey Quarterly, Velocity). For example, in the 2005 McKinsey Customer and Channel Management Survey of 29 leading North American consumer goods makers, 81% of respondents acknowledged that their companies have been restructured to focus on key customers in the past 3 years. Despite efforts by these companies to improve relationships with key customers, only eight succeeded in achieving higher sales and lower costs hus managers are interested in knowing which account management strategies are more likely to impact performance and relationship quality.


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