In 1973, a bank in Stockholm was held up by armed robbers who kept employees hostage for six days. However, upon release, rather than denouncing these violent thugs, many of the bank’s employees felt empathy and an emotional attachment to their captors, often defending their actions.

This week during the Lindt Café Siege Inquest one survivor of the Martin Place tragedy described the deranged perpetrator, Monis saying ‘He was giving us water, he gave us food. I thought it was manipulation but I believed him that he was nice.’

As many of you know, these positive feelings towards the criminal were defined by psychiatrist Frank Ochberg as ‘Stockholm Syndrome’.

Back to the more sanguine world of business development, Stockholm Syndrome is alive and well and potentially costing you significant revenue and margin.

So, who is most at risk?

  • Major Account Managers with one or more massive accounts
  • Global Account Directors
  • Government Account Managers
  • On Site Project Managers/On Site Solution Experts
  • Sales Support or Managers of ‘House’ Accounts

What happens is many of these people spend so much time in one account, often having a desk there, attending all their meetings or on the phone 17 times a day that they forget who the vendor is and who the client is.

The attachment to the client and the empathy for their goals often leads to conflicts of interest where the account manager professing to be the ‘client advocate’ ends up doing a disservice by the company that won the business and actually pays their salary.

Here are a few examples:

‘I sat in their planning meeting last week, there’s no more budget’

‘There was an annoying $35k credit hanging over that last project and I agreed with them that we didn’t execute properly, so I took it out of the system’

‘All my government clients are in caretaker mode soon, so we’ll just have to hang tight for three or four months’

‘I can’t present that alternative solution yet, because they’ve got me working through the business case to maintain the existing platform’

‘I know our contract is up for renewal, but they’re pretty pissed at the moment about our CEO leaving, so I’d leave it alone for a bit’.

Insights from client attached account managers are valuable but they should be taken as just one factor in maximising the relationship, revenue and margin your company needs to achieve.

As you consider how these situations might be managed in your business, I’ll leave you with a quote from one of the most famous victims of Stockholm Syndrome, heiress Patty Hearst who said:

‘I mean, they call it Stockholm Syndrome…and, you know, I had no free will. I had virtually no free will,  until I was separated from them for about two weeks.’

Elliot Epstein is a leading Sales Expert, Pitch Consultant, Keynote Speaker, Corporate Trainer who gets sales results rapidly. He has coached and trained high profile corporates globally in presenting, selling, negotiating and pitching. He has spoken at over 1500 conferences and workshops for leading companies such as HP, SEEK, Avaya, Hitachi , Computershare, Lend Lease and Asciano.

He is internationally renowned for ensuring sessions are engaging, interactive and relevant to winning business in competitive markets.

Elliot is based in Melbourne where he is held captive by his wife and two expensive children.