Success as a Key Account Manager can be difficult. It’s a demanding position, but it may lead you towards great opportunities within an organization. Key Account Manager is a position set to gain more traction over the coming years, with an increase in these types of positions being created and advertised in major industries. If you take a Key Account Manager position, what kind of career path can you expect? What does it take to begin a career as a Key Account Manager?
Requirements for Key Account Manager Positions
To become a Key Account Manager, you need to meet bring a number of specialized skills to the table. This is a highly competitive environment with high stakes and a potentially immense impact on the future of the organization. These are some of the normal requirements for the Key Account Manager position in the average company:
Bachelor’s degree or higher in a related business field
Qualifying fields may include business administration, sales, marketing, communications, business management, or otherwise.
Marketing, sales, or account management experience
3 – 5 years of significant experience is usually recommended. It’s beneficial for you to have experience working with CRM systems or working in a junior position in a key account management department.
Collaboration and interpersonal skills
This position requires you to create and maintain a partnership with 1 or more key accounts. You will need to have strong interpersonal skills and the ability to collaborate well with those in another company in order to succeed.
Written and spoken communication skills
A large part of your job as a Key Account Manager is to facilitate communication between all parts of your organization and your key accounts’ organization. To accomplish this, you need strong communication skills yourself in both writing and speaking.
Strategic thinking and sales
You must be able to think strategically to create win-win scenarios for all your key accounts and your organization. Creating these mutually beneficial circumstances requires careful planning and strategic thinking in the areas of operations, sales, and more.
To take advantage of any opportunities presented to your partnership, you must first know the opportunities are there. As a Key Account Manager, you must have the ability to analyze threats and opportunities in your industry as well as your key accounts’ industries. Financial analysis and competence may be an added benefit for Key Account Managers to be successful.
Part of building a strategic partnership is gradually increasing and expanding your business with key account clients. Business development skills help you continue expanding key accounts to grow your organization’s profits gradually.
Potential Career Paths for KAMs
Upward movement is an important part of your career. Before you take a specific job, it’s good to know what kind of upward mobility options you have in that specific career path.
Mobility depends on the size and scope of the organization. Larger organizations with well-established key account management departments will have a clear career path through that same department. But, not all companies are large enough to devote that many resources to a key account management department or to have multiple levels of management in that department. If the scope of the company is more limited, you may also have fewer options for vertical movement out of your department.
If there is no direct path within the key account management department itself, what other options do you have? Because of the wide variety of tasks a Key Account Manager does, there are a few different options for potential career paths:
The simplest path for most Key Account Managers is upwards through the sales department. While key account management is not strictly a sales department function, it’s usually related to that department. If not directly affiliated with sales, Key Account Managers do generally have to work closely with the sales department in order to create a strong strategic partnership with clients.
There are career paths into managerial roles in the sales department. It’s possible to jump into a more senior sales position from a Key Account Manager position, especially as a regional or national sales manager. From there, you may be able to go on to director of sales or VP of sales.
Regular account management departments perform similar functions to key account management departments, but with a less personalized approach and a wider selection of clients. This makes a Key Account Manager a good candidate to move to a more senior position in the account management department.
This would typically mean going into a managerial position such as a senior account manager or national account manager. Both of these roles are traditionally above a normal Key Account Manager in an organization. However, account management may not exist in the right capacity to allow for this career path in some organizations, especially smaller organizations.
Because one of the critical duties of a Key Account Manager is to understand their key account clients’ needs and organizational structure in depth, moving to business development is possible. This deep understanding of key accounts can help you to find and approach potential business leads for your own organization, or to direct a team of business development agents.
You may be able to move up as a business development manager or director. Depending on how senior of a position that is within your organization, you may also be able to move to a more senior marketing or sales position from there.
In some cases, Key Account Managers may be able to move to operations manager positions. This is not as common, because it usually requires a larger horizontal leap than the other career paths. Operations and key account management do not have as many common traits as the other career paths listed, making it a more difficult transition in larger organizations.
Smaller organizations may offer this option more frequently. Since there may be fewer opportunities for upward movement, those positions may become available to managers in a wider range of disciplines, such as Key Account Managers.
There are many options for advancement as a Key Account Manager. Your specific upward mobility path will depend largely on the size and type of company you join, but the skills you develop in that position are applicable in other areas around the organization.