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“Green Eggs and Ham” – A Support Parable?

by Rob Addy  |  April 2, 2012  |  2 Comments

Dr Seuss’s story of “Sam I am” and his reluctant friend’s aversion to trying new things is a cautionary tale for the support industry. In it, Sam attempts to convince his “friend” of the merits of Green Eggs and Ham over and over again. Eventually, after the friend has tried everything they can to avoid it, they give in, cautiously try the eggs and ham and find, to their surprise, that they actually like them.

But what has this got to do with product support?

“Sam I am” could be considered to be the archetypal Support Account Manager (SAM). In fact, Sam epitomizes many of the best and worst characteristics of today’s Support Account Managers (AKA Technical Account Managers, Customer Success Managers, Customer Advocates, Product Evangelists etc). He knows his products (hopefully). He believes in his products. He is (perhaps overly) enthusiastic about his products. He knows his customer. Or at least he thinks he knows his customer. He knows what he believes his customer needs (Because he obviously needs the only thing that Sam has got to give him). He knows that even when his customer says “no” that he should continue with his predefined plan. He knows that if he is persistent enough he will grind his customer down and force him to eat what he is being offered. He knows lots of things. Or so he thinks.

Doesn’t that make “Sam I am” the perfect SAM?

No. “Sam I am” got lucky. He got very very lucky indeed. Sam’s motives were pure (as far as we know). Sam was trying to help but just came across as annoying. Sam was very fortunate. His customer failed to escape, despite going to extreme lengths to try and do so. His customer did eventually agree to try the eggs and ham and did like them. But things could have been VERY different. What if Sam’s friend had actually managed to evade him? What if he had tried the eggs and ham and found them unpalatable? In the real world, customers won’t allow their providers to be as persistent or as invasive as Sam I am. In the real world, Sam would have been ignored. Sam would have been kicked out. Sam would have been forcibly removed by security. Sam would be looking for a new “friend”, if not a new job!

So what DOES Sam spend his time doing at the moment?

Today, Sam tends to spend his time being kicked by either the customer or his management team. He is the meat in the sandwich. The thing (but not “Thing 1” or “Thing 2” :-)) between the proverbial rock and the proverbial hard place. Sam the Support Account Manager:

  • Acts as a focal point (or bottleneck) for all interactions – What if Sam falls under a train? Or is butted by a goat in a boat? Or eaten by a fox in a box?
  • Champions the customer perspective (or claims to be doing so when berating colleagues for failing to deliver what his customer needs)
  • Performs account administration, creates meaningless spreadsheets and chases paperwork – Activity can easily be mistaken for action
  • Circumvents or undermines the normal support delivery process because his customer or this specific case is “special”, “different” or “important”
  • Badgers them to use more of your stuff, proposing generic (and often implausible) solutions to non-existent problems that the customer isn’t facing
  • Begs his support colleagues to escalate his customer’s requests to the top of the queue to prevent him getting a kicking
  • Presents his customer with tediously detailed reports that show how badly his support colleagues have been performing in the preceding period
  • Blatantly tries to foist additional product and services upon his customer at every opportunity without any consideration as to what their ability to consume such change is
  • Overly focuses on tactical issues to allievate short term pain to the detriment of strategic moves to secure life time customer value
  • Blames the product or the customer (depending on audience) when put under pressure

OK then, WHAT is it that Sam should REALLY be doing instead?

Sam isn’t helping. But he could be very helpful indeed. Sam must have a clear mandate from his management and understand what his role really is. An example of a dozen of Sam’s many and varied potential responsibilities are as follows:

  • Identifying target constituencies with whom the support provider needs to engage
  • Developing relationships that extend beyond the technical rank and file
  • Helping the customer to understand the services for which they have signed up for and how to make the best use of them – Increased support service adoption is the first step towards increased product adoption!
  • Understanding how your product or solution is currently being used and its future potential (including the development of proposed deployment roadmaps)
  • Promoting the increased usage of your solution by referencing comparable case studies, the product value proposition as it aligns with the customer’s context, TCO calculators and ROI collateral etc
  • Maintaining your intelligence file on your customer. What’s the political landscape? Who’s hot and who’s not? Who should you cultivate and who should you distance yourself from…
  • Overcoming internal customer politics to position you and your products in the most positive light possible
  • Assisting their customer to calculate their Total Cost of Support to act as a benchmark measure for ongoing improvement activities
  • Explaining the benefits of proactive prevention based support approaches to mitigate risk, reduce costs, improve performance and increase return
  • Keeping an ear out and watchful eye open to spot commercial opportunities early on. Helping customers to shape their requirements so you are best placed to win when the time is right.
  • Facilitating and encouraging customer contacts to engage with the most appropriate resources within the services organization. Realizing that acting as a filter or conduit is counterproductive.
  • Helping their support and product development colleagues to understand the impact and relative importance of their acts or omissions

Excellent! How can we help to steer Sam towards this better path?

We like the new Sam I am. The new Sam I am could be valuable. This is all well and good but your current Sam may not be up to the job. It’s a fact. Sam may need to be re-educated, redeployed or retired if he isn’t suited for his new role. But assuming he has the pre-requisite abilities to do the job, what should you (as Sam’s management team) do to help make him a success?

  • Clearly define Sam’s role and responsibilities so he knows what he is supposed to do, where he fits into the overall mix, how he will be measured and what success looks like
  • Give Sam the appropriate time, tools and support to do his job
  • Incentivize Sam to extend his sphere of influence with his account or accounts
  • Understand that forcing Sam to interact with his customer continuously may not be helpful
  • Reward him based upon service up-selling, product cross-selling, driving product adoption as well as improving customer satisfaction levels
  • Put controls (such as periodic account rotations) in place to prevent Sam from becoming “good ol’ Sam” i.e. going native
  • Encourage Sam to recognize, accept and work within his technical and product knowledge limitations. Sam is not expected to know everything. But he is expected to know what to do when he doesn’t know something.
  • Facilitate Sam’s interaction with other Sam’s to share experiences and best practices
  • Consider sponsoring Sam to become educated in the specifics of his customer’s industry

Simple. Well it is when you put it like that anyhow!

Of course the picture of Sam painted above may not be accurate or complete. It may be a portrait of a very different Sam to yours. Perhaps your Sam is wonderful. Perhaps your Sam is already doing all of the above and more. But perhaps he isn’t… And perhaps he should?

You do not like it. So you say. Try it. Try it. And you may. Try it and you may. You might like it. You will see…

I do so like Green Eggs and Ham. Thank you. Thank you, Sam I am!

Buy the book. Read it. Buy the book for your SAMs. Ask them to read it too…


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Category: customer-experience  support-operations  support-processes  support-strategy  

Tags: customer-constituencies  internal-perception  processes-and-methodologies  product-support  strategic-planning  support-as-a-weapon  trkfam  

Rob Addy
Research Vice President
5 years at Gartner
More years than I care to remember in the IT industry

Welcome to my blog! I post about all things services related from the provider perspective. End-users are welcome to read but please be aware that you may sometimes find its content unsettling. I will endeavour to post frequently (as it's a lot cheaper than a therapist) but please forgive me if other more mundane activities occasionally get in the way...Read my official Gartner bio here

Thoughts on “Green Eggs and Ham” – A Support Parable?

  1. Fawn N says:

    Thanks Rob. In the midst of reveiwing SAM offering and this is an awesome article!

  2. Rob Addy says:

    Thanks Fawn. Glad it helped! Just remember to make sure that your Sam-I-am steers clear of goats, boats, boxes and foxes… 🙂

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