Tom, 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?
I have been teaching business communication skills to sales professionals for four decades. The bulk of my training is based on my own personal experience in the world of sales where I set records that remained unbroken for many decades. I was fortunate to be invited to speak and train others. Yet had to learn how to become a professional speaker in order to do a good job.
First and foremost, I encourage the students of my training to remember that we do not sell to businesses. We sell to people. We are in what I call the “people business.” Yes, those people may represent businesses but at the core, the relationship between the decision-maker and the account representative is where the sale happens.
When is the right time for businesses to start looking at their client relationships in the more strategic manner?
It is always the right time to think strategically. There are thousands of nuances that come into play in selling situations. Each one requires a certain amount of strategy.
For example, if selling to a group or committee versus an individual decision-maker, it is important to understand body language to determine who in the group is the dominant party in the process. There is nearly always one person whose opinion matters more than the rest. At times, they may be the quiet one sitting in the back. Other times, they may make themselves known by leading the questioning process. Even if they are the quiet ones, through the study of body language nuances, you can usually tell as the rest will defer to them in some subtle way.
What are the biggest obstacles you see businesses face toward becoming more oriented toward servicing & acquiring a deeper understanding of their strategic accounts?
I think the biggest obstacles are when the business thinks they know what clients want instead of asking clients what their expectations or needs are. I have seen companies set “customer service policies” in stone. They don’t allow for special circumstances and possibly tie the hands of those who are working with the accounts in how effective they can be. Each client should be recognized and treated as an individual—with individual needs.
Of course, having company parameters to follow is necessary, but those companies who are flexible in the methods and frequency of servicing accounts will retain clients longer…and gain more referral business from them.
Software is eating the world & account management could not escape! Do you feel there is a need of having specialised platforms or software for strategic account management?
I believe the software is a tool to serve the needs of the companies and account managers—not the other way around. This goes back to my comment earlier about It is understandable that companies need structure in how they keep information. It is critical to situations where an account manager moves up into management or on to another firm. The new account manager must be able to hit the ground running with accurate information about the relationships with each client. However, again, the software is a tool to make the job more efficient—not a structure that dictates how accounts are managed.
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?
The more information we have at our fingertips the better. I believe having some type of account management or CRM platform is a necessity for any thriving business. Otherwise, how can we provide our best service to clients?
What is your one mantra for growing strategic client relationships?
I must listen twice as much as I speak. We must operate our ears and mouths in proportion. When speaking, we are only saying what we already know. When we ask good questions that require the other person to speak, we are gaining new knowledge—knowledge that will help us determine if and how we can assist them with our products and services.
Would you like to share an interesting business book you have recently read and what was the key takeaway for you?
I enjoyed reading Procrastinate on Purpose by Rory Vaden. While I believe in doing the most productive thing possible at every given moment, Rory suggests a strategy I hadn’t thought of.
It’s about determining your highest value actions (both personal and in business) and suggesting you give yourself permission to procrastinate on anything that’s of high value.
It’s similar to my thoughts on managing time and productivity, but with a different twist. It’s an enjoyable read.