Key Account Management Teams and Technology

  • May 6, 2024

A team-based approach to Key Account Management is critical for achieving top-tier results from a KAM Program. Technology plays a defining role in executing the team approach. 

 

The Team Scene

Say we have a key account manager who works for a Global Coating company. Call it Sherwin Williams or PPG, for example. For our purposes, her name is Sally. Sally walks into one of her two key customers, a global manufacturer of machinery. Like Caterpillar or John Deere. Sally is meeting with senior executives to work on setting the account plan for the next three years. Sally is doing everything right. It's just like SAMA (Strategic Accounts Management Association) has taught her to do through their certification programs. In fact, she follows their process exactly: 

Customer Discovery: Understand the customer’s goals and their challenges for achieving them. 

Company Objectives: Define your company objectives and strategies for this customer.

Account Planning: Build a plan that connects what the two companies can do together to achieve the Customer’s Goals and your Company's Objectives. 

Outcomes: Quantify the customer outcomes because of executing account plan initiatives. Identify deals and opportunities for your own company. 

It's great stuff. World-class work! And then Sally comes to the next step. 

Team Alignment: Identify and establish internal and external teams necessary to execute. 

This is where everything comes to a screeching halt. Her own company has multiple business units, each with its own leadership structures and personalities. Her customer has plants all over the world with business units, leaders, and personalities of their own. 

On her own, Sally has no real chance of impacting the outcomes between her company and her customers. She needs some enablers aligned in her favor. One of those is Executive Sponsorship; she is going to need support and air cover from high levels. Another is Customer Alignment. Her company and her customer need to work in a KAM business strategy. A transactional relationship just won't create customer satisfaction.

Now, we get to the team. Sally has no chance of carrying out an Account Plan between her corporation and her customers by herself. She needs a team. Years ago we would have said Sally needs to “Influence without Authority.” That means "magically get something done that is hard to do even with authority." 

No. Sally's organization and that of her customers need to think of Sally as the General Manager of that team. A General Manager who has real authority to get things done; supported and sponsored at high levels. Why is support so important? 

Because the first time a business unit leader cuts her legs out from under her, the game is over. That is not to say BU leaders have no say, but their influence has to come from a peer-based discussion. 

 

Defining the Team

So, this discussion of the team starts with executive leadership. For the discussion, we will call the role of executive leadership "Company Management." For some companies and customers, this may well be a C-level executive. For other strategic accounts, this may be the KAM’s Manager or Director. In any case, the member of Company Management assigned to Sally’s team must support her as the General Manager for her customer. 



 

Now for the rest of the team. Most of the team members support other customers or work in logistics or finance. Very few companies can assign a full-time cross-functional team to one or two customers.

Another key concept is to think of the team as having longer-stay members and shorter-stay members. We will define longer-stay members as having two years of tenure, with shorter stays tied to a particular project. 

 

Key Account Management Technology and Team

We’ve talked before about the broader need for key account management tech. For this post, we'll focus on how technology helps to make the KAM team function at a more effective and efficient level. We will do this by examining the role of each team member and pointing out how Technology helps in their role.

Longer Stay Team Members: 

There are a few team members who we would like to see stick with the KAM team for at least two years. Long enough to be accountable for getting results from these strategic accounts.

Executive Sponsor: This is the senior team member discussed earlier. Here are some of the more important responsibilities of the Executive Sponsor: 

Account Selection and Deselection: KAM is a business model in which the company and customer choose to engage so they can solve problems, innovate, and create. "Mutual Value Creation" is a commonly used phrase. The Executive Sponsor must ensure the customer actually wants to work in such a model. They are also responsible for making sure their team commits to working in this way.  

Outcomes: Results are not achievable through a transactional sales model. The people and process elements of the KAM model need to be defined and executed. The Executive Sponsor and KAM lead need to work together to ensure results. See what's being achieved and make necessary course corrections along the way. 

Technology: Evaluate selection/deselection criteria. Also used to map this customer over time relative to others in the KAM Program.  Track outcomes for the customer and company relative to the Account Plan over the short, medium, and long term. Visualize the answer to “What are we getting from this KAM model?” whether the company or customer is asking.  

Marketer: The marketer brings a broader, strategic lens to the team. They are often in tune with what is going on in the market. They understand how their own company market position going in to the future. The marketer is often good with data and analytics. 

Account Planning: The marketer should actively participate in building the Account Plan. They ensure the plan has a strategic backbone and aligns with customer goals. They also make sure the account plan accounts for marketing activity. Things like Account-Based Marketing (ABM) or messaging campaigns have a major impact. 

New Insights, Data, & Analytics: Marketers sit in a chair that allows them to see across many key accounts. From this seat, they can spot broader trends that yield insights relative to the customer's goals. Marketers can look at data from hundreds of account plans and see growth potential. 

Technology: Connect the marketer to the Account Plan and keep them organized with the customers they support. In this area, we often talk about a "New Data Set." For many companies, the detail within an Account Plan is sitting in PowerPoint or Excel. It's scattered across highly fragmented systems. KAM tech is generating a New Data Set that enables insights across individual and collected accounts. It is also setting the stage for Generative AI. 

Ops Manager: The operations manager is connected to the internal workings of a company and knows how to get things done. None of these qualities are natural from a sales or marketing seat. 

Process Discipline: The operations manager brings discipline and process. The ops manager creates an agreed-upon cadence of weekly, monthly, and quarterly meetings. They can make suggestions to get projects unstuck. 

Customer Difference Maker: the operations manager is a clear difference maker in the customer's eyes. This role is a clear differentiator between the KAM business model and transactional sales. The ops manager helps to “get things done.” That is arguably the most important role for both sides of the company-customer coin. There are even some companies that position their KAM program as a product available to select customers. 

Technology: Key for organizing and monitoring the execution of the Account Plan. Technology is tracking execution for the ops manager, so they can ensure the work is getting done. Creates status updates shareable directly with the customer. Extended teams can update their work in the KAM tech. The ops manager can take those inputs and share outputs on a routine basis with customers. This creates an agile, real-time approach rather than relying on the quarterly QBR check-ins. 

Situational Members

There are a host of situational KAM team members. Sometimes these roles go into a category called Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). Participating on a KAM team can also be developmental in nature. For example, a sales rep who aspires to become a key account manager. Or maybe an engineer who needs customer-facing experience to make them a better innovator. 

So, some situational KAM Team members could include: 

  • Product Manager: has products connected to initiatives within the account plan 
  • Logistics: Account plans contain many logistical initiatives 
  • HR Leader: Needed to help define roles and responsibilities in the KAM model

One could make this a long list. Situational members contribute to the team depending on what needs to happen. 

Getting Work Done: Situational team members are all about getting the work done. They may come onto the team for six months or a year, focused on a particular project. When the project is over, they move on to a different initiative with a different customer. 

Visibility: Many of these situational members do not access any sort of sales technology. But, they need an easy way to gain visibility to those customers they are to support. Unlike the long-term KAM team members, these situational members probably support many customers. 

Technology: Technology organizes the work for these team members. They are not there to learn the KAM process, generate new insights, or orchestrate a global account plan. They are working with the team to get a focused piece of work done. When these team members enter KAM tech, they just want to see what work has been assigned and when it is due.

KAM tech architecture has the situational team members in mind. The role of the team members can be configured so that they can easily see all of the customers assigned to them.  They can also find their work for each customer without needing to poke and click around.  

Customer Stakeholders 

Earlier, we talked about KAM as a business model. If you stop to think for a moment, it should be clear that KAM is something you do with the customer and not to them. If you think for a moment longer, you might conclude that the customer has a team that mirrors your own company. 

Technology: KAM tech is powerful in its ability to help a KAM program be more effective and efficient. Add to this the idea of working hand-in-hand with the customer. Consider they are also part of the KAM team. Suddenly, the technology considerations rocket into a whole new dimension. Technology needs to support the KAM teams for the company and the customer.

Sales Teams

Traditional sales is part of the KAM team. A good way to think about KAM and sales is “Cause and Effect”. The KAM Team is working on mutual value creation. This work then opens the door to many more opportunities with the customer.

The "cause" is KAM.
The "effect" is the opportunity for sales.

Technology: KAM tech follows the same cause-and-effect idea. KAM Tech connects the KAM work to the sales cycle opportunity.

Summary 

There is just no question that for Sally to be successful as a key account manager, she needs a team. A team that consists of resources from her company and her customers. The stakes are high. Growth and success with the most important customers are in play.

KAM tech is purpose-built to help this team be successful.

Blog Post

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