Olivier tell us about your journey as a Key Account Management Professional and how do you help companies achieve growth through focusing on their strategic partnership with the key account?
In the course of my career, from junior team member to Executive in charge of Key Clients, I have always been involved in the relationship with truly strategic customers across various industries: design and manufacturing, semiconductors, Entreprise Software and B2B Marketing & Communication Services. In addition, and I am grateful for this, my job also always included driving a true co-creation process with strategic customers and initiatives aiming at influencing the whole business ecosystem.
When I became a consultant, I have quite naturally put these topics at the core of my activities. With my partners, we help companies of all size, analyze their strategic context, customer portfolio, and organizational dynamic in order to design and implement a KAM/GAM approach in line with their strategy, resources, and culture. I insist on working simultaneously on the KAM system AND the people involved in KAM; their skills, their motivation and how they collaborate and with their Customers.
When is the right time for businesses to start looking at their client relationships in the more strategic manner?
There are many reasons why companies should run a sharp analysis of the true value of each Customer and drive the engagement with selected Accounts more strategically. In theory, you can start at any time and the sooner, the better. As an example, start-ups operating in a B2B environment could take advantage of using KAM techniques upfront, although very few do it.
In reality, for medium-size and large companies, the trigger situation for KAM comes from a combination of internal and external factors. The major internal factor is when the Executive Team realizes that KAM is a powerful instrument to accelerate the execution of the company’s strategy, whatever its specifics. The external factors are related to an evolution of the environment: market concentration, competitive threat, new regulation, or the need for more innovation. The trigger situation can also simply be the request of a few Customers to receive special treatment.
All in all, it is the job of the Executive Team to assess when to start KAM, and it is an area where some external help can bring very high value.
What are the biggest obstacles you see businesses face toward becoming more oriented toward servicing & acquiring a deeper understanding of their strategic accounts?
The biggest obstacle is definitely the culture. Exploring the true value of each customer and categorising them accordingly, developing a deep sense of the real Customer Experience and where it matters to improve it, further developing the network of personal relationships with Key customers, all of this requires teamwork, collaboration, and the capacity to drive a sustained collective effort that cuts across disciplines and organisational boundaries. Most companies and not only large ones have difficulties to do this. When you look at why KAM initiatives fail to deliver on their promise, the lack of attention paid to cultural change is always part of the picture.
Another frequent challenge is the lack of depth of the analysis of the Key Account organization and the network of relationship. The superficiality of the analysis prevents the vendor’s team from finding new angles to strengthen the ties with strategic customers.
Software is eating the world & account management could not escape! Do you feel there is a need of having specialized platforms or software for strategic account management?
The answer is definitely yes. CRM systems are currently not adapted for true KAM.and other tools are required. This being said there are different sort of needs that can be covered with an adequate software application.
- Account Planning and monitoring of execution
- Definition and management of the Value Proposition
- Opportunities & Share of Business Management
- Relationship & Influence Management
- Communication and Operations (team portal and customer portal)
These 5 themes are quite differentiated although they do overlap. I am not sure that a single platform will be able to cover all these needs at the same level of depth and for all type of companies in the near future, but I do not see this as a big problem. Companies need to assess their needs and explore where they should consider adding one or several KAM specific tools to their existing software stack (or replacing old applications by new ones).
Will such tech platforms become ‘a must have’ for account managers and their leadership or do you feel it constitutes ‘a nice to have’ capability?
We are in a transition era. Commercially available Software tools for KAM are just emerging. I strongly believe that the trend will accelerate rapidly and that the benefits of such platforms will be increasingly recognized by more and more KAM and IT professionals.
As the awareness of such tools, and probably the breadth of the offering, improve, KAM practitioners will have to avoid to reproduce the same deadly mistake as in CRM: namely putting the tool before the people. KAM software tools will bring value only if the KAM methodology and toolset used by a company are adequate and if the KAM teams – all people involved in KAM – are sufficiently skilled. Such needs are not covered by any piece of software but by Skills development through training, on-the-job coaching, and experience sharing and by a true focus on teamwork.
What is your one mantra for growing strategic client relationships?
Act like an entrepreneur. Be able to think and help others think out of the box and secure support for these new ideas. In addition, don’t be rebuffed by resistance and demonstrate patience.
Would you like to share an interesting business book you have recently read and what was the key takeaway for you?
I recommend “Give and Take, why helping others drives success form, Adam Grant”. One of my customer, Head of KAM in a German industrial company, has used this book to open the eyes of his colleagues in a soft way on the fact that implementing KAM would mean developing a sense of compromise. This has been very much appreciated and has stuck people’s mind. A brilliant idea!