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Hi John,

We’ve just finished our annual major account planning and
review sessions for the top 3 accounts in the geography. It
is the usual routine in that I have worked with these
accounts for over five years, and we get a new salesperson
and sales manager every 18 months. Over those five years I
have built up a lot of relationships within the customers,
ranging from individuals up to several CxO’s.

As part of the account strategy the rep and sales
management wanted me to hand over my executive
relationships to the rep and just focus on the technicians. I,
and my SE Director, pushed back pretty hard on this
strategy and it has now escalated. We’ve been pulling lots
of business out of these accounts and it’s increasing year-
over-year, so it’s not like we are struggling for business.
What is your thought on who owns the executive


Hello Brianna

Thanks for the question. It is not that unusual a situation for
SE’s to find themselves in. My experience with most hi-
technology companies is that the average tenure (length of
service) of the SE organization is 2.8 – 3.5 times that of
Sales. Which means that the SE team has the institutional
memory and relationships that many reps don’t. So although
it is part of your duties to introduce new account managers
into their territory and set up meetings and enthusiastically
support their efforts , who owns the relationship is a far
more complex question.

My general rule is that, within a sales team, the person who
owns the executive relationship is the person who has the
best (and most effective) current relationship. That can be
the SE, the rep, the sales manager, a specialist SE, a
product manager or even one of your executives. The point
is that you “go with the flow” and only change if there is a
very good reason to make that change. In your case, after a
little more investigation, it seems that the primary reason to
change is a philosophy of “that’s the way sales and presales
should operate.” Your VP of Sales actually told the Sales
team to go build their own relationships in other parts of the
account. I think that was a great answer.

However, it is not always that clear. I have seen cases when
the SE was entrenched in the way things are and wasn’t
willing to make a change in order to significantly change the
entire vendor-customer-partner relationship. In those cases
the SE acts a brake on sales momentum and Sales has an
excellent case to change things around.

So – bottom line – if the relationship is functional, trusting,
and is growing business in a way that more than satisfies
your internal plan (i.e. exceeds quota) don’t change it just
for the sake of change and control. Do make sure you are
pushing back for the correct reason – which in your case
both you and your line management were entitled to do so.

Final bonus thought would be to keep selling (with subtlety)
the value of your relationships internally – so that whenever
you can set up an executive meeting, or get insider
coaching, or be introduced to a new opportunity – make
sure everyone knows how and why it happened.