A Cynic’s Guide to Key Account Management - making KAM work in the real world
It’s hip to be frugal. You no longer hear people bragging in bars about how much their house has appreciated. As the market tumbles and energy costs rise, people are starting to watch their pennies. They are looking for value – and they want certainty – and that’s not just true of their personal life. You, me and the people that pay our wages are bringing their new sense of value to work with them. That is why someone in your firm is playing with a spreadsheet that has your salary on it – and it’s why you should be focusing on your most important clients. Whether your budget is £100 or £100 million, the first thing savvy marketing and business development people should do now is cuddle- up to their key clients. Being intimate means that you can safeguard the relationship, you can begin to predict future income and you will see better returns – and more quickly – than you would from new business. In the ordered world of the marketing theorist – do the right things in the right order, issue the right templates and you will see the money roll in. If only.
Face reality and work with it
Like a frustrated newlywed who expected everything to be rosy with their new partner, some marketing professionals have the naive assumption that their Partners will behave impeccably. Better to be the wise couple who expect the odd bit of bad behaviour from each other, but have set the rules out well and keep a close eye on things when there is temptation to go astray. In short, there is a lot to be gained by accepting and working with the many imperfections common in professional firms. Let’s highlight a few of the issues which you may have witnessed yourself:
First off, the biggest whack to the ego, a lot of fee earners do not give two hoots what you say.
The world of professional services is not full of keen beans waiting for a bright spark from marketing to suggest a new way of working which might require them to divert time from chargeable work and worse still, alter how they think. I performed a short poll of professional contacts to see where their priorities lie – and the results are unlikely to shock you. Above the Key Account Programme which you may be about to implement, many professionals would prefer to think about – in no particular order – lunch, Scarlett Johannsen, how they can get promoted, tennis, Majorca and that new Venezuelan guy in IT. This alone would be hard enough, but to complicate matters, professionals are really good at appearing eager beavers, even when they are sloth bears.
People like to look busy at promotion and appraisal times
I am still raw from personal experience of this. In my first year running Key Account Programmes for a leading global firm, four Directors approached me independently in a single week to learn more about the programme and volunteer their help . I thought ‘At last – people are starting to get it’. How naive I was. I later learnt that each of those Directors was aspiring for Partnership and that they were about to be quizzed on their market understanding and commitment. What the firm probably did not intend was that for 3 or them, their new found love of client care and development would die the moment the interview ended.
People won’t jump to it – it’s not in their nature:
Traits common to many professionals can cause problems. Lawyers are trained to disagree; accountants are trained to avoid risk and many professionals are trained to look for absolute certainty before proceeding. However, the only certainty with Key Account Management is that inactivity will lead to failure.
People pretend to know more than they do
"Oh yes – if anything was happening there I would know about it – we go back a long way." You don’t need to have worked in professional services for long to be told this – with supreme confidence by the partner with the lead relationship. My brother and my Father have bought and sold businesses. I consider myself pretty close to them – they are almost like family to me - yet I didn’t know about it until it had happened. Why ? Because I didn’t ask them, that wasn’t what interested me about them. The same may well be true in your firm, a tax partner may know a firm extremely well , he may purport to be close friends with the Finance Director, this may even be true – but the point is he might not know about their acquisition plans, their planned new IT system or their HR headaches because it does not interest him. Tax revenues interest him and unless he is selfless or enlightened, he will not be seeking to make introductions for his fellow partners.
Partners are not always selfless and enlightened!
People have had to focus on their core areas to get where they are. They have been encouraged to think of today’s money ahead of tomorrow’s and to be blinkered so that they can excel at what they do. That does not always sit comfortably with being encouraged to introduce others. ---- What a depressing view of life I know. But while a pessimist is an optimist with experience, a good marketing Professional is the one that realises the magic lies not in the planning – but in the execution. Luckily there is something you can do to stop the rot once you recognise it. Below I briefly introduce 5 central themes to make sure you give your plans the best chance of success:
1 Gain buy-in from the top
For any programme to work, it needs a senior partner to throw their weight behind it. Professionals are expert at justifying their own inactivity and the only thing that will help them focus on future income – rather than today’s to-do’s is knowing that Mr or Mrs Big is watching, carrot in the left hand and stick in the right.
2 Create a plan and have a date and owner for every action
Have a short account plan in writing which details:
Objectives – Defence? Growth? Increased intelligence?
Who’s on the Account team and how cosy are they with the key players at the target?
What challenges the client has that you can help with
A little history and a lot on future activity planned – with a date and owner for each action.
Ensure you have a good shepherd in place to make things happen between meetings so that you can maintain momentum. If you don’t see anyone internally with the appetite or ability to do this well, bring in someone who has done it before to get things running.
3 Measure the treasure
What gets measured gets done. You need to agree Key Performance Indicators. Most likely these will be revenue based - but possibly also softer measures such as meetings, event attendance, or propositions introduced.
4 Celebrate successes
Circulate the successes – and the inactivity – and you will see what a strong motivator local fame can be. New business wins have kudos and a profile that attracts praise and celebration; you need to ensure that growing existing clients has an equally high status. Ideally, success on Key Accounts should be linked to appraisals and rewards. Even if this is beyond your influence – make sure you understand how the fee-earners pay is structured so you have an insight into their personal agendas.
5 Say it loud and say it clear – you can do a boo-boo without any fear
The cautious and analytical instincts of many professionals need to be counter-balanced by creating a culture that it is OK to make mistakes and it is better to have imperfect activity than perfect inactivity.
Certainly you do not want people causing multi-million pound mistakes - but does that often happen in Business Development? People in some firms are literally rendered silent by the fear that they may say the wrong thing in a client meeting – or heaven forbid, ring a prospective contact that someone else is trying to nurture. Think about it though, if you were a client and someone from a reputable firm rang to introduce themselves and discuss something of value, and once you explained that you were already talking to a colleague of theirs....if the caller said "Sorry we are just very keen
to work with you." Would you be left with a bad taste? I doubt it. Certainly I would be more peeved if I had no contact.
People aren’t perfect team players and in fact it is sometimes the imperfections that have helped professional careers fly. Look around, observe the undocumented culture and patterns at play in your firm – and then plan accordingly. Frustration will fade and your chances of success will fly.
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