What is this problem you say? "Jermaine we've heard it all and we know the problems but just haven't fixed them yet". If you've been in key account management for any length of time you may have faced some of the challenges below:
- Implementing strategic plans
- Poor organisational alignment around KAM initiatives
- Managing and influencing multiple stakeholders
- Knowing the best route to get deeper into customer accounts
- Managing the pressure of focus on short vs long term growth
I'm sure you can name others. The one problem that isn't spoken about that i'd like to argue is the idea of EXPECTATION.
To be more specific i'm referring to something I call the 'expectation of practice' and the 'expectation of importance'.
The expectation of practice is what you’re contracted to do. Or the solution to the problem you've promised to deliver on. It's where you as a key account manager will make sure the customer promise you made is being fulfilled. It's also the opportunity you have to position how you'll work together.
The expectation of importance is the honest reality that for many of your customers, you may not be a key provider. The impact of this is two fold. The level of access you start with in your client will largely depend on the complexity of your solution/product and the size of the problem you solve.
Why is this a problem? If you're not clear on the expectation of practice (how you'll work together and the positioning for what you need to serve your customers) of an honest realisation of where your business is in priority to your customers. You will fall into the 'Client expectation Gap'. This is the place where you and your client walk away thinking you believe and agree with the same things but haven't really agreed anything at all.
The result is when you go back to make a request you get resistance. Why? this is a surprise to them, it may make sense to you, maybe even them. Anything asked of your client that is new or unplanned regardless of your relationship will be met with some resistance. Why would your client just commit the time, resources and the levels of access you’re asking for without there being some initial expectation agreed.
Expectation is the wrench that stops the cog moving or helps it to move in a key account.
Let me offer another example. In my coaching with KAM's there are three common reasons I've observed many in KAM find it difficult to get deeper into their customer accounts and widen their influence.
- The problem they solve isn't big enough to attract the attention of larger influencers.
- They lack the skill and framework for knowing how to do this.
- The expectation was never set with their client to make those wider connections earlier in the process.
Which one of these do you believe is the most influential indicator for success in that process? Believe it or not its 'Expectation'. Why? if your client already knows this is what will happen they're more likely to move ahead because there are pre existing commitments based on how you'll work together. It doesn't mean you avoid learning the skills of influence, communication and positioning. As key account managers it means you can set yourself up for success simply by having the right expectations agreed upfront.
Taking a step back, at whatever stage you are in your client relationship and ask "Are we and our key customers on the same page?" is the most important step you can take. Without the clarity of expectation you’re simply running on assumptions and momentary glimpses of ‘I think so’ and maybes. You'll never really get to the root of overcoming potential unseen blocks.
Here is my definition of expectation between you and your key customers.
An agreed set of practices and values between you and your client, that defines how you win together when approaching particular tasks, circumstances and decisions.
The power of this level of expectation is it immediately sets the foundation for requests you make and the reason why. You also have a agreed place to work from when making decisions together.
If you begin your client conversations with this definition you can approach your client with the right messaging and with more clarity and confidence. This must be an agreement that is shared and committed to by you and your customer. With this in place, no matter what changes may come you’ll have a foundation to work from. The ideal place is to have this right from the beginning. Even if you don't you can still make the shift.
How do you put in these expectations and what do you say? I've created a one page introduction to help start you thinking about how you can build in expectations HERE.
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