Global account teams are common in large organizations. Often the best large or national account managers are moved into high profile global account management roles based on their ability to manage large national accounts.

But the move from NAM (National Account Manager) to IAM (International Account Manager) or GAM (Global Account Manager) is a significant step up in complexity.

Too often global account management or global account team training focuses on the sales elements of these roles and ignores the additional skills needed to deal with this new level of organizational complexity – both inside the global account team’s organization and inside their global customer.

It is, of course, vital for global account teams to create value with the client and to stimulate sales but establishing the  relationship necessary to do this can involve dealing with factors new to the inexperienced global account manager or global account team member.

In this series of posts we will look at some of the new skills needed by global account managers and their teams. In this post we look at managing corporate and national cultural differences.

A global account team has to be adept at diagnosing and working within the corporate culture of the client which will itself be influenced by their dominant national culture. At the same time account teams have to operate within their own corporate culture. This “cultural chameleon” role can be challenging.

Someone once said “I will sell to you in your language, but I will buy from you in my own language” which sums up the power in the sales and purchasing relationship. But language is only a small part of the capability.

Your own cultural profile can lead to  “selling preference” style and also some potential blind spots.

We worked with a global account team from a Japanese company who were attempting to build a relationship with a large US organization. The Japanese company was making great efforts to build relationships through corporate hospitality, visits etc.. (which worked well in the Asian markets they were more familiar with) and making very little progress. Unfortunately we discovered that the US company had a policy of not accepting hospitality and their preferred way of buying was blind Internet auction!

These gaps between cultures are often much less obvious than this, but differences in the way organizations manage deadlines, contracts, status, relationships and many other factors can make a huge difference to the quality of the relationships and cause major problems if misunderstood.

We use our “culture abacus” as a tool to help global account teams diagnose their own and their clients corporate and national cultures to create a “gap analysis” of critical areas to focus on. This also helps the account teams explain the differences systematically withing their own organizations (which can sometimes be an even greater challenge)

We then use a framework called the “Five choices” to generate options on what we can do about the differences – much of this depends on the relative power of the parties involved.

Experienced global account managers eventually work out these skills for themselves but the learning curve can be slow and mistakes with your most critical customers can be costly – having a systematic tool kit for mapping cultural differences and understanding and manging their implications for the global account relationship can help.

Listen to our podcast on Global Account Management

If you want to turn the ability of your global account teams to manage corporate and national cultural differences into a greater source of competitive advantage then contact us now

About the author:

Kevan Hall Kevan Hall is a CEO, author, speaker and trainer in matrix management, virtual teams and global working. He is the author of "Speed Lead - faster, simpler ways to manage people, projects and teams in complex companies, "Making the Matrix work - how matrix managers engage people and cut through complexity", and the "Life in a Matrix" podcasts, videos, cartoons and blog. He is CEO and founder of Global Integration. Company profile: .

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