COO & Co-Founder, DemandFarm
Previously published under the Council Post for the Forbes’ Business Development Council
The Pareto principle, better known as the 80/20 rule, is applied for numerous purposes in boardrooms all over—but the essence holds true for a majority of cases in the business world, especially when it comes to managing and retaining customers.
The idea and allure of gaining new users always outweigh the duty of catering to existing customers. And it makes sense why: More customers result in better streamlining of resources and approaches, leading to more savings, higher profits, and better output. But this shouldn’t come at the cost of key accounts contributing to the company’s ongoing revenue.
Handling these key accounts is often considered an art. As anyone with knowledge of the enterprising history of business would know, it is only the suavest, sociable account managers who can manage relationships between organizations that are mutually beneficial.
The roots and troubles of Key Account Management
At the peak of the industrial age, about 50 to 60 years ago, businesses differentiated between strategic customers and regular ones. They treated their large accounts preferentially, and the practices to maintain a big account were translated into methodologies which led to creating templates. This led to a layer of complexities in which consultants would create a sometimes 50-page template to manage a key account. Over the years, this has become theoretical and no longer actionable. In the end, account managers end up creating account plans which amount to nothing but filling in the fields of complex templates which may never be referred to again.
What began as an initiative to improve product and solution quality by focusing on the most valuable customers has turned into a complex process that is, at best, seen as a nuisance. And at worst, it can harm relationships between organizations.
The cracks in traditional key account management practices have proven untenable in the current scenario, where it is often impossible to have a meeting in person. The fundamentals of account management, which relied on keeping in touch with key clients, are no longer viable across industries and verticals.
This luxury of time doesn’t exist in the current scenario, as customer preferences change regularly. The representatives for key customers are looking for a partner who can empathize and help them succeed in their business roles, not a cog who provides what is necessary for the supply chain. When organizations treat their key accounts as strategic partners, the real value of relationships can be seen.
Finally, a renewed focus on individual careers has made the movement of employees between companies much more common. This often means that the traditional KAM data is rendered obsolete much more quickly.
Why Key Account Management?
Even after all the drawbacks, organizations keep trying to accomplish key account management the traditional way because it yields results. Yet key accounts are responsible for 33% of sales revenue, according to a survey by Gartner.
A poll on Analytics and Advice for B2B Leaders by Gallop shows that organizations that excel at key account management see disproportionate account growth solely by their ability to engage their customers. The numbers are impressive, too: 34% more profitability, 50% more sales and revenue, and 33% greater chance of being the top choice of clients for future business.
The results can be seen fairly early as well. One survey shows that customer satisfaction increases by 20% within a few years of establishing a key account management program, which usually is reflected by a 15% increase in profits and revenue. The benefits compound over time, as KAM programs that are operational for five-plus years usually report figures that are nearly double.
Taking the Digital Way Ahead
With digital account planning, we are seeing a significant shift for the good in the area of strategic account management. B2B companies that had the luxury of time in the past are moving at a faster pace. The employees typically lasted for years in one organization and often could negotiate multi-year deals to provide products, parts, or services. This is almost unheard of in this era of constant change and optimization and one-year contracts. But when the focus was on keeping the client representative happy earlier, account managers could span out their planning across multiple years at once.
Digital tools help in key account management by ushering in a new way of business. Digital key account management transforms key account planning into a dynamic, data-driven process that provides actionable information and insights. The intelligence present in the organization regarding its key customers—what one might term tribal knowledge—resides in the way clients and key account managers interact and add value to the relationship. But this seemingly unstructured information can be captured into an enterprise memory which can be replicated or used by a team rather than a single person.
What the Future holds
With the record created by digital key account management, an enterprise memory is built which narrates the story of a client’s needs and problems. This provides a solid start to those filling in for their colleagues or replacing someone. With the help of these tools, employees can approach the problem of managing a key account more creatively and provide the necessary human touch with efficiency.
The cognitive skills of account managers still rule the roost, and no level of automation can replace the intuition an experienced key account manager brings to the job. It can only enhance it.