Key Account Management: How to get it right

  • 22 Dec 2021
Alisha Lyndon

Alisha Lyndon

Find out how to implement a successful program in the hybrid working world and avoid the common pitfalls that can stifle growth

Key Account Management is on the rise – and with good reason. Find out how to implement a successful program in the hybrid working world and avoid the common pitfalls that can stifle growth.

“It’s easier in this remote environment to work and focus on your existing relationships than build new ones.” According to Will Green, Senior Vice President, USA, Arvato, this is the single biggest change he’s witnessed in over two decades of working in sales and account management.

“Every salesperson I’ve talked to is struggling with that change. In fact, I think that’s what’s making key account management – and how we allow our relationships with existing ‘diamond’ clients to blossom – so much more important.”

Key Account Management (KAM) is “the process of planning and managing a mutually beneficial partnership between an organisation and its most important customers”*. With the rise of personalisation and increasing demand for a “white glove” service across both B2C and B2B interactions, KAM is becoming a significant and strategic part of the sales function.

But, like most aspects of business interaction, KAM has changed because of the pandemic. “We’re certainly struggling to get the same level of engagement virtually from our clients as we were prior to this situation,” explains Green. “There’s always a certain amount of art to the science of Key Account Management. That ad lib, networking nature of relationships and trust building […] is a real challenge currently.”

Tools for success

In light of this change, what’s the secret to successful KAM in the remote world? Green advises building a cross-functional team that is completely aligned. Every stakeholder must openly (and safely) share information regarding the key account, “whether it be of an operational nature, of a more strategic nature, on the executive level. [It’s about] making sure that all of that knowledge and those insights that we’re gleaning are consolidated in a more structured way.”

Green believes one of the best tools for achieving optimal team alignment and getting the most value for both client and vendor is a joint key account plan. “If you can have a shared document with a key account that allows you to [set out] the roadmap, [and show them] this is where we see the greatest synergies between our organisation, that is the optimal outcome.”

The joint key account plan should clearly explain the unique solutions you will provide your client and be backed up with the unique market knowledge and expertise that you bring to the process. Green’s advice: “Let’s not just take orders from the client in terms of what they want us to do, let’s bring our own expertise.”

Let’s not just take orders from the client in terms of what they want us to do, let’s bring our own expertise.

Will Green, Senior Vice President, USA, Arvato

Find the sweet spot

Compliantly following orders from the client is a common pitfall in KAM today, according to Green. “In many cases, they [the client] don’t know themselves what [they need], and it’s holding them back. So much of KAM is around questioning them about what they believe they need and then trying to compare that with the experiences we have with other clients. Does it really make sense? Is it something that is really going to lead them to success?”

The challenge here is finding the sweet spot between giving the client what they want and influencing their trajectory based on what will be most valuable for them and you. “It’s bringing that knowledge into the conversation and steering them in the right direction in a way that is not seen as contradicting them,” says Green.

Here, key account managers must exercise an all-important skill: emotional intelligence. “One of the key things that we do as a company is ensure that we’re [taking] a human-centric approach.”

In other words, “it’s about always keeping the perspective of ‘who is the end-user and what is their experience? What are their needs?’”

If you keep that in mind, says Green, everything else will follow.

To hear Will Green and Alisha Lyndon in conversation and gain more tips on running a successful Key Account Management programme, as well as previous episodes of the ABM podcast, head over to the Account-Based Marketing page.

*Gartner Glossary

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Alisha Lyndon

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