Key Account Management is necessary for the organization’s growth. Let me share its secrets.
An Old Friend Brings Up An Old Challenge
A few months ago an old friend from business school reconnected with me and wanted to meet up for a chat. During the evening, I was happy to learn that he is doing well in his career – so well that he is looking after close to half of his company’s major clients – quite a feat. Once all the congratulating was over, though, I could hold back no longer and had to ask, “so, how do you ever sleep at night”?
With all the complexity that each Client entails, managing one is tough enough. And here, my friend had several Key Accounts, albeit with an extremely competent team of Key Account Managers to work with him. But the fact remains it could not be a cakewalk. ‘Yep. It has been more than tough. For a while there I had given up sleeping at night! And in all those waking hours, I have been giving it much thought. So this is why I am here today. Sometimes you need to undo what works to get the formula to get better and sometimes you just got to maybe go back to the basics”.
Me (antennae on high alert for some juicy insight about Strategic Account Management ) “Tell me all about it!”
Casing The Conundrum
“You know the drill with Key Accounts. Each Account Manager is the king of his castle. As long as it ain’t broke, you do not try and interfere as their Manager..you just look at the numbers and keep your thumb up. PEOPLE…(he paused meaningfully).. is the key to Key Account Success. It is all about relationships mapping – their relationships with clients and internal stakeholders – and Intel – in their head and their laptops, emails, wherever – you know the drill.
Of late, my level of dependency on these people had been bothering me. You know, in spite of our best efforts to create a desirable work culture and environment, I have no guarantees on how long any of them will stay with us. If even one of them leaves, it would take me months to rebuild what may be lost – if at all I can rebuild it to the same level. This was what kept me up at night.
There has to be a way to take Account Management from person dependent to process driven..but that would mean taking away the very essence of Key Account Management – which is that each Key Account Relationship is owned, grown and nurtured by a dedicated Manager who had the freedom and flexibility to meet all his Key Clients’ needs in the most customized, individualized way! Quite a conundrum!
And what’s more, (he was really on a roll now, my friend!) my Key Account Managers are all highly experienced professionals…they have been doing what they do for a long time..and they are darn good at it…but it is difficult to get them to work in ways other than what they are used to…they see it as a disruption to their work and often it’s quite a challenge to get them to participate in anything like that.
Recently we spent a bomb on a sales methodology training and everyone said they really enjoyed it – but guess what..once they went back to daily life, it was business as usual – my Ops guys sifting through a million different files and presentations to make sense of what was going on with each Account, trying to stitch together the big picture for me, you know…how could we operationalize all that we developed in the methodology training in a coherent way across the board? You know, given that whole conundrum we just spoke of…how can we possibly…
…institutionalise the core KAM processes?” I finished for him.
“Exactly. How can we? (pause) Should we?”
That was then
That conversation left us both with a lot more questions than answers but in the time since then; I took this challenge back to our team at DemandFarm. Anything that keeps KAM professionals up at night keeps us up at night, so we spent a lot of time working on the basic question – can- and should- we attempt to operationalize the core Key Account Management model to improve efficiencies, effectiveness, and governance in large B2B organizations? And if we did find a way to do that in our Key Account Management Software, would it be adopted by KAMs? Would it take away from their ability to customize and improvise the way they managed and grew their Key Accounts?
We have spent several months tearing into this question and its implications. We have looked at it from many angles, many perspectives. The pros and cons of doing such a thing. And slowly, we did see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was time to set up a meeting with my old friend.