The Global Account Manager as Political-Entrepreneur

Part 2

by Kevin Wilson, Ph. D. and A. F. Millman

See Part 1 for the first part of this article

3. The Global Account Manager as "Political Entrepreneur"

3.1 A Model of Boundary-Spanning Behaviour

The boundary-spanning role of the global account manager is not merely concerned with the creation of interactive networks, but with identifying the potentials that exist for problem resolution and the creation of synergistic value. The performance of global account managers is firmly rooted in how well he/she is prepared for, adapts to, and performs the boundary-spinning role and how effectively they apply political and entrepreneurial skills.

In a recent paper (Millman and Wilson 2000) we proposed a conceptual model of role behaviour which incorporates career aspects of the employer/employee relationship yet allows us to elaborate on the political/entrepreneurial aspects of performing the global account manager's role in a multicultural environment. Our model – which we term an "Identification Space" – is represented graphically in Exhibit 2.

We identified four boundary-spanning behaviours that we classified as self-server; renegade; partisan and arbiter:

  • The Self-server (Low/Low) feels closer affiliation to their personal career interests than to the interests of either their employer or their global account.
  • The Renegade (Low/High) displays strong affinity towards his/her account which may reflect close personal relationships and the attractiveness of the account, or its national home culture.
  • The Partisan (High/Low) shows a strong orientation towards their employer that may be linked to a perception that long-term career prospects are tied to political developments at headquarters.
  • The Arbiter (High/High) role represents a well-balanced global/local approach that effectively reconciles the tensions that exist between self interest and that of both the client and the employer.

The space occupied by the global account manager impacts strongly upon the role they perform and the way in which they perform it. The Self-server is likely to focus on analytical, political, and entrepreneurial capabilities largely for personal advantage. Renegades and Partisans are unlikely to realise the full potential of the buyer/seller relationship because their actions may undermine the interests of one or other of the parties. Both may be accomplished analysts and highly political in their activities; both may be adept at recognising and seizing entrepreneurial opportunity, and realising strategic intent; but neither may be able to exploit the synergistic potentials inherent in the balanced integration of buyer and seller competencies and interests.

We observe that analytical, political, entrepreneurial, and co-ordinating skills are best employed to create synergistic value for both buyer and seller when employed by the global account manager occupying the Arbiter space.

Many of the factors affecting identification, however, are outside the control of the global account manager, resources are limited, and access to individuals across dispersed sites varies considerably. At the individual level, changes in just a handful of key staff on both sides can dramatically alter the network of personal relationships. Indeed, one major source of anxiety among global account managers is the fear that many years of relationship building and commercial arrangements can be undone by dislocations related to mergers/acquisitions, strategic alliances, downsizing, de-layering etc. Operating in the role of Arbiter in the top right hand corner of the space, therefore, demands exceptional managerial/leadership skills to navigate a way through the political/cultural milieu and to identify/exploit opportunities to create superior customer value. Exhibit 3 summarises these issues.

Exhibit 3. Political and Entrepreneurial Boundary–spanning Behaviour of Global Account Managers.

Political Role Entrepreneurial Role
Self-server Acts to manipulate both buyer and seller for personal advantage and protection. Seeks business opportunities to achieve personal Career aspirations and objectives.
Renegade Manipulates supplier for the customer's advantage. Identifies with the customer's corporate and/or national culture. Identifies commercial advantage for the customer with little consideration of the strategic/operational Impact upon the seller.
Partisan Attempts to increase personal standing with the seller. Identifies with the seller's corporate and/or national culture. Identifies commercial advantage for the seller with little consideration of the strategic/Operational impact upon the customer.
Arbiter Facilitates achievement of relational and financial goals that benefit buyer, seller, and self. Builds multicultural Relationships and promotes meritocracy Seeks business opportunities and perceives synergistic potentials of value to buyer, seller, and self. Geocentric approach to identifying/transferring expertise and exploiting opportunities.

The degree to which the global account manager exercises political and entrepreneurial skills, whatever boundary-spanning behaviour they exhibit, will to a large degree be dependent upon contextual factors.

3.2 A Model of Global Account Manager Political and Entrepreneurial Behaviour

Exhibit 4 presents a model of global account manager behaviour that explores the impact of context upon the exercise of political and entrepreneurial capabilities. Two sets of factors are identified that prescribe the context in which the political entrepreneur operates. The first is the degree of organisational complexity and cultural diversity that surrounds the global relationship. Complexity and diversity depend upon two factors: Firstly, upon the span of the relationship (the geographical spread of organisational touch points that exist throughout the world). The second is the level of organisational penetration (the levels at which the global account manager operates both within their own and their client organisation).

Where the customer operates in many different countries and where those operations include multiple functions; where the global account manager is required to have many multifunctional relationships, at different levels within the client organisation, then the organisational context may be perceived as highly complex. Conversely, where there are few touch points and penetration is low, the organisational context is low in complexity.

We have observed that where the organisational context is complex, there tends to be higher levels of political activity with divergent views, competing factional interests and different cultural perspectives influencing the global buyer-seller relationship. In order to operate effectively within this context the global account manager must be capable of applying high levels of diplomacy, cultural sensitivity, networking and political skill. Thus in Exhibit 2 political behaviour is classified as P, denoting that

high levels of political behaviour are required, or p, denoting a low requirement for political behaviour.

If the global account manager is to be able to identify entrepreneurial opportunity they must have a detailed knowledge of both their own organisation and that of their customer. They must have a detailed knowledge of organisational, team and individual competencies, the resources of both organisations and a clear understanding of the strategic imperatives facing the client. Such knowledge, which allows the identification of the potentials for problem resolution, process innovation and the creation of entrepreneurial value, grows as relationships evolve in terms of entanglement and interdependence.

Exhibit 4 shows the varying degrees of opportunity for exercising entrepreneurial capabilities depending upon the closeness of the buyer-seller relationship. Where the relationship is well developed the entrepreneurial opportunities are high, denoted by E, where new or underdeveloped, then those opportunities are low, denoted by e.

This provides four contrasting political-entrepreneurial behaviours identified as pe, pE, Pe, and PE. These have been linked to levels of organisational complexity and inter-organisational interdependence and the way in which these activities are manifested will also be effected by the nature of the boundary spanning role occupied by the global account manager.

4 Discussion and Integration

The role of global account manager is an emerging one. The difficulties and complexities, as well as the strategic potential of the role are as yet poorly understood. A number of tentative observations may be drawn from the models we have presented here when they are related to the Millman-Wilson Relational Development Model that offer some insights into the nature of the role.

The Millman-Wilson (1995) model was based on exploratory research and concepts drawn from the sales strategy (Wotruba, 1991), supply chain management (Lamming, 1993) and interaction literature (Ford 1980 and Dwyer et al 1987). The model identified six stages in the development of key account relationships which may equally well be applied in the global context, as shown here:

  1. pre-GAM
  2. early-GAM
  3. mid-GAM
  4. partnership-GAM
  5. synergistic-GAM
  6. uncoupling-GAM

Each of these stages is characterised by varying degrees of dyadic complexity and closeness and each stage holds implications for relational strategists.

Consideration of the Relational Development Model may provide insights into the ways in which political and entrepreneurial skills may be applied and when the differing roles of arbiter, renegade, partisan and self server may legitimately be applied. Whilst these roles are a reflection of organisational commitment, and will impact upon the way in which political and entrepreneurial skills are applied within the relationship (Exhibit 3), they may also be adopted consciously by the global account manager to achieve particular goals.

The global account manager's role is more than that of boundary spanner. They are essentially concerned with identifying and exploiting entrepreneurial opportunity within the buyer-seller relationship. In order to achieve this they must develop a deep understanding of the core competencies of their own and their client organisations, be able to marshal those competencies through the application of both political and entrepreneurial capabilities.

At pre-GAM to early-GAM stages in the development of global relationships there is a need to develop networks of contacts, to gain knowledge about the customer's operations and to begin to assess the potential for relational development. It is unlikely that concepts of value potential can go much beyond assessing the global client's need for the basic product-service offering of the supplier. At this stage we suggest that the organisational-cultural context may be relatively simple and by definition the relationship is poorly developed. The demand for the application of political skills and the opportunity to apply entrepreneurial skills are both low pe. At this stage also the global account manager may occupy the renegade identification space in order to win the early trust of the account or be partisan until he is convinced of the potential for relational development.

From early to mid-GAM there is an increasing need for political skills to be applied as the potential of the account is identified and the global account manager is called upon to ensure that the resources of the supplier configure to best serve the needs of the customer. Detailed knowledge of the global customer and their core competencies, the depth of the relationship, and the potential for creating relationship specific entrepreneurial value, are all limited at this stage. The application of political and entrepreneurial skills is therefore rated as Pe. It is also suggested that at these stages the global account manager may play the renegade or the partisan depending upon whether he/she needs to develop trust within the account or guard against opportunistic behaviour. Depending upon the degree of trust that has been developed he/she may also begin to exhibit arbiter behaviour.

Mid to partnership-GAM may be characterised by the global account manager having developed a strong vertical and horizontal network of relationships within the client organisation. As the relationship has developed in closeness so the need to promote the client's interests within the selling company also recedes and political activity becomes less necessary in order to gain access to resources and support.

As the relationship has developed so has the knowledge about the account and in order to consolidate or grow the relationship further opportunities for joint value creation must be identified that go beyond the effective delivery of the global product/service offering. It is at this stage that entrepreneurial skill, in terms of being able to recognise the potential for creating new opportunities for value creation that address both the core competencies and the strategic interests of both buyer and seller, come into play. The importance of political-entrepreneurial skill application at this stage may be represented by pE.

The boundary-spanning role of the global account manager at this stage, and in the next, must be that of the arbiter. Whilst it is acknowledged that for a number of reasons we have explored previously, the account manager may act in other ways, in order to perform effectively within the context of the relationship he/she does best by adopting the arbiter role.

As the relationship develops through partnership into synergistic-GAM so the demand for political skill and the opportunity to apply entrepreneurial skill increases to be reflected in PE. The closer the relationship, the greater the knowledge about the customer and the greater the potential for creating entrepreneurial value. At the same time, however, the realisation of entrepreneurial opportunity will involve fundamental changes in the way each organisation operates and the need for the application of political skill in driving those changes increases.

At any stage in the relationship it may become necessary to disengage and uncoupling-GAM occurs. It is suggested that when this stage is reached the global account manager may need high levels of political expertise (Pe) and will need to act in a partisan fashion in order to extricate his company from the relationship with the minimum of disruption and loss.

One final point. The Relational Development model is not intended to suggest that all relationships should, or can develop through all stages. Some will never develop beyond the pre-GAM stage, others will rest in the early stages of mid or partnership GAM and by their nature, very few will develop to synergistic GAM. What this suggests is that different relationship may allow for the employment of global account managers with different levels of political and entrepreneurial skill and with varying abilities to exhibit different boundary-spanning behaviours.

6. Conclusion

In this paper we have explored the nature of the role performed by the global account manager as Political-Entrepreneur. Using a number of conceptual models we have identified dominant managerial role behaviours at the buyer-seller interface and provided insights into the kind of political and entrepreneurial meta-skills/competencies required in performing the boundary-spanning role. The occupation of these identification spaces and the application of political entrepreneurial skills have further been linked to the stage of development reached in the GAM relationship. We are aware that in this newly emerging field we have merely scratched the surface of the role of the global account manager and hope that our work will serve to stimulate others to explore what we believe to be an important area of interest.

© 2000 Kevin Wilson, Ph. D. and A. F. Millman all rights reserved

About the Authors
Dr Kevin Wilson
The Sales Research Trust Ltd
751 Portswood Road
Southampton SO17 3SU
United Kingdom

Tel:+44(0) 2380 677416
A. F. (Tony) Millman
University of Buckingham School of Business
United Kingdom


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