Richard, 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?
It’s been about doing it and helping others do it. Early in my time in Mercuri International, I realized the best way to create sustainable growth for me and my team was by focussing on key accounts. So to start with I learnt by trial and error and listening to anyone who seemed a bit further on than me. About 15 years ago Mercuri began working on KAM in co-operation with the University of St Gallen and I was part of an international team doing research with 500+ companies and then developing an integrated approach to KAM. Since then I’ve contributed to and learnt a great deal from SAMA. My main focus has been working on KAM programs where companies want to create or re-engineer their approach to strategic relationships and then to work with individuals and teams to help them figure how to win, grow and manage their key customers. I am particularly interested in how KAM is applied in highly regulated sectors, how it contributes to growth in a low growth economy and how it ties into customer centricity. I’m also very excited about how social media can be applied to KAM.
When is the right time for businesses to start looking at their client relationships in the more strategic manner?
When they realize they have or plan to have a client that represents more than 5% of income or where a change in that client could tip the balance in their whole business. It should be about both opportunity and risk management.
What are the biggest obstacles you see businesses face toward becoming more oriented toward servicing & acquiring a deeper understanding of their strategic accounts?
It starts with top management and then requires changes in systems and structures and ends with behavioral change. The biggest challenges I see management face are:
- The view that KAM is just “big selling” whereas it will impact on every discipline in the business from finance to marketing to production.
- A short-term view: KAM takes time to produce results and can cost in the early stages. I have seen management cut KAM programs after two-quarters.
- Turf wars between people who feel threatened by the changes that KAM brings. Systems and structure: Almost all systems are designed to measure business unit (geography/product line) data, but KAM systems need to provide customer-by-customer information and insight across geographies and product/service lines.
Structures also present obstacles. Some try to bolt a KAM approach onto existing sales structures, simply re-labelling sales reps as Key account Managers. This rarely works. Others create a stand-alone KAM structure that takes the “best” customers and resources out of the core business. This approach causes huge resentment and often fails. Finally behaviours need to change – “lone wolfs” need to become team players; new disciplines are needed; virtual teams require a very different form of leadership; collaboration and co-operation become essential; key account managers need to become “deep generalists” who are able to manage what are in effect horizontal business units that can be bigger than whole countries or regions. So the main obstacles are senior management thinking, changes to systems and structures and changes to behaviors across a business.
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?
Yes and No!
Many CRM systems work best with comparatively simple customer relationships – limited contact points, products, etc.. They struggle with the complexity of relationships with say 120 points of contact, a team of 15 involved, 6 service lines and 20 jurisdictions. However, there is a danger of having a customized stand-alone system that only applies to the key accounts. The temptation is to create multiple spreadsheets which require KAMs to provide data 3 or 4 times over and which don’t integrate. The ideal is to have a “front end” that works closely with other systems.
The key is for the front line to have an easy to use input that produces useful insights quickly while providing critical business insights for leaders.
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?
Increasingly “must have” but the business needs to drive the system not vice-versa. I wouldn’t start with the platform. I’d get the thinking, processes, and behaviors right first.
What is your one mantra for growing strategic client relationships?
Do less better.
Would you like to share an interesting business book you have recently read and what was the key takeaway for you?
“Boost” by Chris Wisdom. It challenges me on the balance between personal disciplines and energy and the need to be an outstanding communicator.