Rethinking Account Management Strategy, Part 2b

In our pursuit of better account management, we continue with the second of the four major points that, together, comprise the Congruence Model.

Organization of Key Accounts Management

Certain “actions-of-choice” have to be taken for your company to survive in this increasingly fast-changing, complex, and turbulent environment. Your organization has to develop a heightened awareness regarding the importance of a small subset of their customer base, those firms that currently do, and in the future will, account for a large percentage of your revenues and profits.  The critical business implication is that these customers have an importance to the firm’s long-run future that exceeds that of the “average” customer.

Typically, introduction of a key account management program cuts across existing lines of responsibility and authority, and various organizational systems and processes. Power bases are affected and, as a result, turf wars and individual political agendas may get in the way of successful key account program introduction. Strong committed support from the top of the organization can ease the introduction of key account management but, nonetheless, considerable skill is required to get a key account management program up and running.

Aside from the top down approach in support for the program, selecting the right mix of key account management is crucial. Focus should be on three critical roles—top management, the key account director, and key account managers. 

Top Management: For a key account strategy to realize its potential, senior management must fully and openly support the key account program in a tangible manner. This support must be multifaceted and may be evidenced in a key account program champion. Top Management must openly and consistently support the program in the following manner:

  1. Commit to a key account strategy
  2. Provide a positive internal environment for securing high quality Human Resources
  3. Fund the development and/or purchases of systems and processes
  4. Support the development of a key account culture
  5. Be directly involved with key accounts
  6. Secure the firm’s objectives at the key account. These may go beyond sales and profit margins
  7. Develop strategy and action plan from a micro-level.
  8. Ensure the implementation of strategy and action plans.
  9. Develop and manage relationship with key account.
  10. Build and manage key account team.

 Key Account Director: The person assigned to this position must have full support of the top management, be an executive with considerable business acumen, and must assure the congruence among the four elements of key account strategy: organization, human resources, and systems and processes.

Key Account Manager: Typically, this is a formally appointed position. A consultant or senior executive may assume the key account manager role in addition to other responsibilities. Regardless, the key account manager is the lynchpin around which the entire inter-organizational relationship revolves. This function may vary considerably depending on the client, or area of interest. However, the following responsibilities remain:

Necessary Key Account Manager Skill Sets:

1. Business skills – The increasingly important yet difficult role played by key account managers makes it imperative that individuals of the highest caliber staff this position. Management must be very clear about the particular set of knowledge, skills, and abilities that it requires in the key account managers. Skill sets requirements should be determined based on the priorities set by senior management; that is, build a relationship or acquire new business. Management should also be very clear about the results expected out of each KA manager and each Key Account relationship. For example, the skills necessary to ensure that current sales levels are maintained and increased may be quite different from those required to identify opportunities within a client’s other business sectors.

2. Leadership skills – Leadership and team building skills are necessary qualities for key account managers. Team leadership “requires a complementary mix of skills, a purpose that goes beyond individual tasks, goals that define joint work products, and an approach that blends individual skills into a unique collective skill—all of which produces strong mutual accountability.” To successfully lead a key account team, the key account manager should possess strong interpersonal skills that engender trust, resolve conflict, and bring about the required behavior. In addition, such personal traits as assertiveness, attractiveness, charisma, energy, flexibility, integrity, persistence, personal discipline, and toughness improve the chances for success.

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