There is a continuing challenge that has plagued key account management for more than 30 years. The case of choosing the 'Right account' and defining what a key account means to your organisation.
Now, I can understand why for many this can be a challenge particularly operating in a global environment. If your business or customer has different operational and financial models running in different regions and industries then that presents its own complexity to understand how you align those processes to serve that customer.
All around the world we run NPS scores, propensity models, surveys, financial analysis and everything under the sun only to then face a lot of the same challenges serving these accounts that we do with any other.
I believe that having a definition of how you'll select your accounts is important but who is this infamous 'Right account'? and how much does having this right account affect a business or key account managers ability to deliver explosive sales results?
Unfortunately the research is inconclusive regarding any connection between the type of account you choose and the key account strategy having any specific relevance to the growth success of a key customer. I've read a number of these long research papers and there is some interesting material out there.
A paper that intrigued me recently was analysis done by Finnish researchers on the factors impacting KAM. If you like reading those types of papers read here LINK
Having personally spoken with over 150 super successful key account managers, consultants and directors. At no point at all when asked about the success in their customer relationships did they ever mention "We chose the right account to work on". This doesn't make the process of choosing accounts to work on less important but it does raise another question.
If the account you choose isn't a major influencing factor to the successful relationship and growth of that account then what should you be working on?
There is a lot of research on KAM frameworks and strategies. I'd like to go to the opposite end and look at where I believe a lot of the research is referencing.
The actual Key Account Manager
Sounds obvious but it really isn't. If it were obvious to organisations everyone would have more highly trained, skilled and successful key account managers delivering awesome results everywhere consistently. This just isn't the case. Just like in any customer serving profession the tailoring and targeted approach to developing people is critical.
"The role of the Key Account Manager changes according to the stage of the relationship between buyer and seller organizations (McDonald and Rogers, 1998, p.113). This means that the skills needed to perform well in the Key Account Manager job also change."
All Account Management tends to be strategic but is not always intentional. Explosive growth is at your finger tips but many may not know how. Different selling environments require different selling skills.
Independent research from Tommi Mahlamäki*,Olavi Uusitalo, Factors affecting key account performance 2009 discovered through a Nordic survey of 700 people with the title key account manager.
1) Own organization (clear strategy, competitive market offering, customer focused business model, resource allocation, support from own organization),
2) Customer (challenging customers, compatible customers, meaningful customers),
3) Skills (communication skills, negotiation skills, presentation skills, problem-solving skills, selling skills, social skills),
4) Knowledge (customer information (customer needs, contacts etc.), product knowledge, understanding the “Big Picture” for your company),
5) Behavior (managing personal relationships, honest, keeping promises, listening to your customers, reliability),
6) Qualities (commitment, motivation, positive attitude, longterm thinking, willingness to serve the customer).
You should note that the top five factors mentioned are about the key account manager and is not dependent on the buying organisation.
This corresponds to research done on buyer/seller relationship from IMP Group in articles and references from places like...
- Millman, T., 1996. Global Key Account Management and Systems Selling. International Business Review 5(6), 631-645.
- Montgomery, D., Yip, G., 2000. The Challenge of Global Customer Management. Marketing Management 9(4), 22-29.
What do we do with this information?
Businesses need to make a decision but also key account managers on how they view key account success. The connection economy we're in is not just about process and strategy but fundamentally about your ability to connect, influence, inspire and engage your customers at a deeper level. How will you prepare yourself for a different level of success?
If you're a key account manager, manager of key account teams or consultant concerned with strategic customer growth and management then get connected to my customer growth mailing list insights at www.jermaineedwards.com
Jermaine Edwards - Your customer growth guide