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Is it time to change the way we approach Key Account Management?

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“The time may be coming to change our view of key account management (KAM) and consider using specialised contract talent to deliver KAM for our customers” says Executive Education facilitator and experienced sales coach Colin Sander. With KAM talent being hard to find and retain in an organisation, fresh thinking is needed about how to resource the role of KAM.

A talented key account manager is a specialist at managing a complex balance of strategic intent, motivations, perspectives and relationships. Traditionally this role has been delivered by an employee representing one vendor organisation. However, it is feasible that KAM could be delivered by a specialist contract resource for a portfolio of organisations offering complementary products and services.

So why is KAM not seen as something that should be handled by specialised contract talent? One reason for this, says Colin, is the level of trust involved in KAM. An issue affecting the trust relationship is that “organisations often view the customer as something that they own” explains Colin. However customers have relationships with many suppliers and it is ultimately the customer who decides who they want to work with.

In many organisations KAM is one of several sales functions that a salesperson delivers as part of their role. They may also be responsible for business development and transactional sales. However, these different sales functions require different skill sets, Colin explains, and it would be rare to find someone who can do all these different sales functions really well. While business development requires a person with the drive to follow leads and find new customers, KAM requires a person who can take a long term view and have the purposeful business conversations.

What impact might developments in the digital space have on KAM? While Colin feels that technological developments such as AI could have significant influence on the transactional sales environment, he is not convinced that the impact will be the same in KAM. The difference is the ability to deliver the “human experience”.

KAM involves networks of complex relationships across the two organisations at multiple levels. This requires a mixture of broad business knowledge and highly developed relationship building skills. While AI is making enormous strides in delivering a “human experience” there has not been widespread adoption of AI to deliver KAM.

Where technology can have a significant impact on KAM, suggests Colin, is in providing tools for enabling seamless real time communication across all areas of both vendor and customer organisations. Better communication between all business areas can deliver productivity gains through reductions in rework around delivering products and services.

This new approach to hiring KAM talent would require a shift in thinking about customer ownership and a deep trust based relationship between the key account manager, the key account team and the organisation. It has the potential to free the sales team to focus on their own specialist skills such as creating new business opportunities. Time will tell if New Zealand organisations are ready for a new approach to KAM.

Colin Sanders facilitates Executive Education’s short course:

Key Account Management
Sales Skills Fundamentals



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