Why Customer Engagement is Everything Right Now

Customer engagement is always important, which is why we write about it all the time. And while a recession doesn’t increase the importance of customer engagement, it certainly underscores it.

In an economic boom, companies have some customer engagement cushion, meaning: even customers who aren’t completely engaged will keep paying the bills when things are good. But when times get tough, and budgets get cut, only companies with strong customer engagement will keep their accounts, protect their revenue, and possibly even find ways to grow.

In this post we’ll look at indicators and benefits of customer engagement, and hopefully convince you there’s never been a better time to double down on your existing relationships.

Defining Customer Engagement

Customer engagement deals with the emotional connection between your customer and your company and therefore looks different across different industries. For example, a retail brand is not going to define or measure customer engagement the same way a creative services consulting firm might. However, sifting through the many definitions of customer engagement will highlight 3 common, crucial elements:

  1. Customer engagement is rooted in ongoing, 2-way communication between a customer and your company
  2. Customer engagement creates a dynamic relationship that leads to real resilience
  3. Customer engagement can be measured against stated goals

At Kapta, when we distill and simplify those key elements, we say: Customer engagement is a resilient, strategic partnership in which both parties succeed.

At the end of the day, customer engagement is better demonstrated than defined. So let’s take a look at practical indicators of customer engagement.

Indicators of Customer Engagement

One way we help our own customers understand the strength of their customer engagement is by asking a short list of questions, each designed as an indicator of customer engagement.

  1. Do your customers reach out to you? Engaged customers will reach out anytime they face an issue or opportunity. If you find you are always the one initiating contact, you may need to work on customer engagement.
  2. Do you understand your customer’s big picture business goals? Understanding what your customer is trying to achieve at the company level—not just with the individual product or service you provide—means you’ve asked the right questions, and earned enough trust to get the right answers. That’s how you graduate from vendor to strategic partner, strengthening your position and delivering great work.
  3. Is your customer engaging with vendors who offer similar or complementary products and services? Even if they aren’t actively looking to replace you in your specific capacity, this is a bad sign. It indicates they aren’t aware of everything you could be doing for them, or that you haven’t demonstrated enough value to get the attention of other teams or functions in the organization. Which means you’re missing opportunities for organic growth and leaving yourself open to competitive threats.
  4. Do your growth goals reflect what’s possible for key accounts? In a customer engagement model, your own growth goals should reflect what’s reasonable in the context of your customers, rather than imposing your company’s own goals onto customers who may or may not be able to support them. When you’re truly engaged with your customer, you have a detailed sense of how much room they have to grow with your suite of products and services, and you can plan your own growth accordingly.
  5. Are you experiencing high customer churn? This is a no-brainer. If you’re losing customers left and right, they aren’t engaged with you. Of course, by the time this is happening, it’s pretty late in the game.

In summary, the questions we ask are designed to give you a sense of the strength of your customer engagement. If your client is reaching out to you regularly; if they call you when they’re facing an issue or opportunity; if they share with you the bigger context for what they’re doing; if you are confident in their satisfaction and your future with them, and if you’ve built your own sales goals accordingly, then you are doing customer engagement right.

Benefits of Customer Engagement

Let’s take those indicators and spell out the benefits of customer engagement in a recession. First, we’ll state the cold, hard facts: It’s a bad time to pursue new business. Cold calls are always a little awkward—they’re especially painful now. Even pursuing new opportunities with existing customers is a delicate proposition during a major crisis.

Here’s how real customer engagement helps you through a recession.

  1. Your customers reach out to you. Your customers are facing unprecedented challenges. If, time and time again, you’ve shown them that you’re here to help, they will actively seek your help navigating this crisis.
  2. You understand your customer’s big picture business goals. The more you already know about your client’s organization, structure, objectives, strengths, weaknesses, and more, the more you understand how this recession has affected them, and how they may need to change course. Armed with this insight, you can adjust your conversations accordingly, and ensure you’re a contributing strategic ally, rather than a tone-deaf vendor who’s really only adding stress to a stressful situation.
  3. Your customer engages with you across multiple teams and functions. The more you’re horizontally embedded in your client’s organizations, the less you need to worry about direct competitive threats. Recessions are a risky time for bidding wars—competitors might be willing to slash their prices to make their numbers. But if you’re deeply embedded in your client’s organization, the effort it would take to switch horses midstream won’t be worth even the most aggressive price gouging.
  4. Your growth goals reflect what’s possible for key accounts. The more your own growth goals were already grounded in what your customers could support, the less blindsided you’ll be by the recession. Sure, it might not be your biggest year. But if you were starting from a reasonable projection, rather than an inflated one, you’ll be much closer to your forecast and much better equipped to plan around the dip.
  5. Your customers stick with you. This is a no-brainer. If your customers were always on the brink of churn, they’ve probably already left—or they’re about to, as the recession continues. If your relationships are strong, they have a much better chance of weathering the storm.

Building Customer Engagement

So how do you get there? At Kapta, we believe customer engagement is the end product of a customer-first culture and process, executed by a dedicated team of account or client service professionals.

Let’s pick that apart for just a second. First, you need intention: A company-wide culture and a set of internal processes that puts customers first. This has to happen at the company level, because it has to be reflected in every function at your organization. It affects who you hire, how you train, how you measure performance, what products and services you offer, how you plan for growth, and more. The companies with the highest level of customer engagement are those that prioritize their customers, full stop.

A recession is in some ways the perfect time to make cultural shifts. But if that’s too daunting a task for right now, start by focusing all your energy on existing accounts—understanding how the crisis has affected them, and how you can help them get through.

You also need infrastructure: both people and technology. Customer engagement demands team of professionals dedicated to building and strengthening client relationships. If you’re not in a position to hire, start by ensuring your existing teams understand the importance of building customer engagement.

And set them up for success with a purpose-driven process and platform to support customer engagement. CRM and sales tools cannot do this for you. Neither can an ad-hoc collection of various communication, presentation, project management, and billing tools. We’ve written in detail before about how sales differs from Key Account Management, and why you need purpose-built tools for each. We’ll simply recap here that CRM tools are excellent for generating new leads or managing a high volume of low-touch customers, but they don’t provide the framework and visibility you need to build an ongoing, highly strategic relationship with any given, high-value client.

Kapta: Your Customer Engagement Platform

Hopefully by now the benefits of Customer Engagement are pretty clear. Customer Engagement creates lasting, loyal, strategic partnerships that help protect your existing revenue—and even drive growth—in a recession. Customer Engagement also helps position you as an indispensable strategic partner, vs a pesky salesperson trying to save themselves in a difficult time.

Kapta can help you get there. If you want to start light, download our KAM To Go framework to ground yourself in Our KAM Process. Then get in touch to see how we can help you double down on your existing revenue—and weather this storm with your clients.

How Key Account Management Software Can Make You a More Effective Client Services Director

By the time you’re the Director of Client Services for an organization, you already know your stuff. Customer communication comes instinctively to you. You know how to manage a crisis. You know how to ask questions that reveal opportunities to add value, and you know how to turn the answers into action plans that keep your customers coming back for more. In short, you know how to grow a book of business by engaging customers and putting their needs first.

And chances are, you’ve been doing it for years without the support of a KAM-specific software tool. You might be using your own personal blend of tools: Email, text, and phone. Spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. Maybe a CRM, if that’s how your company pursues new business. So why add a KAM-specific tool to your tech stack now?

The right KAM software can make you an even more effective Client Services Director by helping you:

  • Cultivate a checklist mindset, prompting and sequencing critical customer engagements while diagnosing account health in real time
  • Improve visibility with a single source of truth, capturing client goals, feedback, and deliverables in a single dashboard, even for multiple accounts
  • Harness the power of data, using real-time KPI tracking and data visualization to inform client-facing and internal account reviews
  • Create clear expectations for your team, with a strong internal process that improves performance and performance reviews

Let’s take a closer look at each of these things, and how they help you be more effective not only with your clients, but also with your team.

Cultivating a Checklist Culture

Aviation is well known for its checklist culture. From their first day of training to their last day of flying, pilots at every level use checklists for nearly every aspect of flight. They use them not only to sequence their actions, but also to diagnose the flight itself periodically throughout. (Are we heading in the right direction? Is the engine running smoothly? How is our fuel supply?)

The mindset isn’t that as you get more experienced, you need the checklist less—the mindset is: We’re human. We get distracted. We miss things. In fact, the more experienced we are, the more prone we are to getting comfortable, and forgetting something major. When the stakes are high, checklists are a calm and focused way to make sure everything runs the way it should.

KAM software can act as a checklist for you and your team, prompting the behaviors we know make a difference to customers, and diagnosing account health throughout the course of any given contract or engagement. KAM software reminds your team to reach out to clients consistently, asking good questions each time—and software can raise a flag if it’s been too long since a key client heard from you. KAM software can help your team work through their Account Plan methodically, ensuring every action item ladders back up to your client’s big picture goals. And KAM software can give you an at-a-glance sense of customer engagement and overall account health.

Think of the right KAM software as another pair of eyes and ears on your book of business. The busier you are (and we know you’re busy), the more it helps to have a constant scan on all your clients, ensuring nobody falls through the cracks.

Many industries are learning lessons from aviation’s checklist culture, including healthcare. In the case of client service, nobody’s life is on the line (thank goodness!), but that doesn’t mean checklist culture can’t be a valuable tool for averting disaster and improving performance.

Improve Visibility with a Single Source of Truth

As Director of Client Services, you oversee client management for every key account. KAM software gives you visibility across every account in your organization, with a single source of truth that collates input from your entire team. This gives you a bird’s eye view of your entire book of business, flagging areas that need your attention or intervention.

When you do need to appear in front of a client—say, because their senior leadership is present at this meeting, so you should be, too, or a client is frustrated and wants to escalate their concern—you’ll have a quick source of relevant info to guide your approach. Of course, your day-to-day account manager will also fill you in, but KAM software contributes to a full and objective understanding of the situation, prior to facing clients in a room.

KAM software also creates a single source of truth for individual accounts. This is especially helpful when the account is run by multiple account directors, and/or cross-functional teams. KAM software makes critical information clearly visible: What have we committed to this client? What’s the next thing we need to be planning for? What are the big picture objectives we’re working for? How are we tracking against those goals? When everyone knows not only what they’re doing, but why they’re doing it, they are more engaged—and the work is better.

Harness the Power of Data

We work with key account managers and client service professionals at every step of the journey. And one thing we find is that even the most experienced client service professionals have room to improve when it comes to metrics and performance data.

The explanation is simple: Data monitoring and visualization capabilities are growing exponentially as technology gets more sophisticated. So even if you’ve spent 20 years in client service and understand the relationship side of things inside and out, you may not be using data and reporting tools to their maximum ability.

The good news is, it’s hard to teach relationship management; it’s easy to track data. That’s where tech excels, and where the right KAM software can support you as you craft meaningful account reviews for your clients. KAM software can pull data from multiple sources, tracking embedded success metrics for each account—and even individual tactics or deliverables. At the same time, KAM software can track client outreach efforts and overall customer engagement. And finally, KAM software can also work as an internal tool, tracking revenue and organic growth for an existing client. So as you’re using your instinct and experience to put together a meaningful presentation, you can lean on your KAM technology for the numbers you need to build your case.

You probably have various tools that can take on pieces of this: Web analytics. Internal spreadsheets. Presentation notes. But the right KAM software puts it all in one place. And, even better, it generates specific, relevant reports for your clients and C-suite alike. So if you’re prepping for a presentation to your boss or your biggest client, a few clicks will get you the data visualization you need to demonstrate progress and value.

Define Clear Expectations for Your Team

As a Client Services Director, you’re not only responsible for your clients—you’re also responsible for your team. To be successful, they need to be empowered to exercise good judgement; but they also need a clear process to work with.

KAM software can help reinforce your process, especially if it’s built around a strong KAM process of its own. Kapta, for example, is built around Our KAM Process (Know, Act, Measure) with tools in each category.

Not only can KAM software reinforce your expectations for your team, and work as a checklist for their day-to-day activities, but it can also give you clear visibility into their actions and results. This is a helpful tool at performance review time, because it gives you insight into both leading and lagging indicators of their success, helping you see the full story behind the numbers. Maybe revenue has plateaued, but your account manager is reaching out meaningfully and often to the client, and revealing potential growth possibilities in the process. Or maybe it’s the opposite: revenue is still growing, but your account manager is neglecting the client—you can flag this in the review before it’s a crisis, and create a Performance Improvement Plan designed to boost their proactive client management.

Conclusion

Though we often work with client service professionals at the beginning of their journey, we love working with experienced Client Service Directors. Mostly because we can skip over so many of the tenants of great client management, which you already know, and get straight to some of the pain points at the director level. We enjoy helping client service directors build even more effective engagement with their clients and their team, and we love introducing them to the potential of the right technology to take their data tracking and reporting to the next level.

To see how Kapta can support Client Service Directors, schedule your personalized demo today.

Your Key Account Management Tech Stack (and Tech Hacks)

There are 3 pillars to building a truly customer-centric Key Account Management (KAM) function: People, process, and technology. You hire talent with the focus and skill to build customer engagement, and you empower them with a clear internal process, supported and accelerated by the right technology.

One way to look at the ideal Key Account Management tech stack is chronologically, along the customer journey:

  • Tech to win business
  • Tech to keep and grow the business
  • Tech to communicate along the way

As we walk through our recommendations for each, we’ll keep in mind the 3 pillars above (people, process, technology) and explore ways in which tech can support and accelerate—but never replace—the people and process that make Key Account Management meaningful.

Tech to Win Business

In a perfect world, KAMs can focus on existing customers, working towards organic growth through long-term customer engagement. However, many KAMs do still participate in the pursuit of new business, which is fine—as long as it doesn’t detract from their ability to serve existing clients.

Whether it’s KAMs themselves or a different team working on new business, there are ways to do so that set everyone up for success—including the customer.

The best upstream fit for a strong Key Account Management function is ABM, or account-based marketing. Compared to traditional sales tactics, ABM works harder to find customers who can truly benefit from your products and services. ABM tailors marketing to meet customers where they are, both in terms of channel and message. By pushing your company to think about things from the customer’s POV, ABM inherently selects for strategic, best-fit accounts—and gets you into the right mindset for long-term engagement.

Since KAMs focus on keeping and growing accounts after the initial sale, their job is easier if the accounts coming to them have already been filtered for strategic fit. That’s why we think ABM and KAM are a powerhouse partnership: ABM to win the right customers; KAM to help them reach their full growth potential.

It’s worth noting that sales isn’t always upstream of Key Account Management; when it’s done well, KAM can be a driver of sales. For service firms who work with customers in a niche industry, winning business isn’t a question of sales or marketing technology at all. Customers generate RFPs, and send them out to a few select firms. In cases like this, the relationships KAMs have made in their careers follow them as they go, creating opportunities for major new business wins. And the value your firm has consistently demonstrated for clients is the reputation that earns you an invitation to the RFP table. As a leadership team, RFPs serve as another reminder that freeing up and supporting teams whose focus is existing customers is not only an organic growth strategy, but also a long-term strategy for winning new business.

Tech to Keep and Grow the Business

You’ve made the sale. Now what? Key account management is how you keep and grow the business, so the partnership can reach its full potential. Key account management builds engagement and drives impact, helping customers reach their biggest goals so you can reach your biggest goals, too.

The right KAM software is purpose-built to support the activities and behaviors that make KAMs successful:

  • Consistent client communication: Asking the right questions, building dynamic org charts and detailed profiles, and getting the strategic insights you need to place your customers in their own market. KAM software not only prompts the right dialogue, but also captures the output in a way that stays visible to cross-functional teams as they work on day-to-day deliverables—so key customer insights, goals, and expectations stay central to the planning and execution process.
  • Action-oriented account planning: Research and experience teach us that the number one way to build customer engagement is to make an impact on their business—and half of impact is “act.” KAM software has built-in methodologies that help you translate big ideas into actionable tasks, ensuring everything you do, big or small, ladders up to your customer’s goals.
  • Meaningful metrics: Your customers will want to see the value you create for them. KAM software pulls data from multiple sources to track KPIs and other customer success metrics in real time. And reporting tools make it easy to quickly pull the answers to any questions your customers have about progress and impact.

Strong KAM software is relatively new to the scene. For years, KAMs have pieced together ad-hoc solutions for their critical role: They’ll build incredible strategic PowerPoint decks—and then store them in a folder on the server where nobody sees them. They’ll build account plans in spreadsheets, burying the most important message (why are we doing this?) in a cell somewhere. They’ll spend an hour searching their email to find a single client comment.

KAM software doesn’t replace email or PowerPoint, but it does give KAMs and their teams a single source of truth for everything related to a client or project. Dashboards keep the who, what, why, and how of every account and deliverable clearly visible to the whole team, which makes it easier for KAMs to keep work on time, on budget, and, most importantly, on strategy.

Tech to Communicate

We think you can communicate effectively with 3 main tools: Slack for internal collaboration; Zoom for conference calls; email for clear and secure client communication.

Three is a magic number: It gives you the flexibility to harness the strengths of each platform without overwhelming your clients or internal teams. (Nobody wants to be checking 7 different applications all the time, or searching 7 different applications to find a client comment.)

When it comes to communication, there’s not a tech solution in the world that can solve for good judgement. You have to know when to stop emailing and pick up the phone. And you have to know when to put down the phone and go meet with your clients in person.

Remember, tech only works as a pillar of key account management. You have to consider its role in relation to process and people in order to make the most of your tech—and your time.

Tech is Not Enough: Process

In today’s world, there’s a tech platform for everything. (For example, “Yo” is an app whose sole functionality is to send your friends a message that says, “Yo.”) We are bombarded by tech solutions promising to make work more efficient, more effective, and more enjoyable. But do they really?

The answer is: Only sometimes. And only if they are implemented with the bigger picture in mind. Rather than just adding platform after platform to your tech stack, take a step back and ask yourself: What is our growth strategy? What is our process for getting there? Who are the people who will be using this and how does this help them? (Hint: If the software company itself is practicing good key account management, they should be able to help you answer these questions, and use their product in a way that brings real value to your organization.)

When tech exists not for its own sake, but as a complement to a clear internal process, it can be implemented and integrated in a way that lets it deliver on its promise: To make work more efficient, more effective, and even more enjoyable.

Tech is Not Enough: People

Even at its best—fully integrated with people and process, fully integrated with complementary platforms—no tech solution can replace the human element of customer engagement. Exceptional client management takes, among other things, experience, skill, judgement, diplomacy, rapport, time, and effort.

So while KAMs can and should expect technology to support their efforts, they shouldn’t expect it to replace them—and they should be wary of any tech platform that suggests otherwise. Good KAMs know when to meet with clients in person: Workshops, account reviews, presentations, critical conversations, and more. They use their tech tools to prepare, follow up, and implement output from these meetings—but they don’t send an email when they should show up in person instead.

Conclusion

At a high level, you can think about KAM as consisting of 3 pillars: People, process, and technology. And you can think about your technology as a set of solutions placed along different points in the customer journey: ABM to win business; KAM to keep and grow business; and a combination of Slack, Zoom, and email to communicate along the way.

Kapta is purpose-build KAM technology that integrates seamlessly not only with your tech stack, but also with your overall KAM process. Our coaches and services are designed to make sure you make the most of your tech investments, by assessing your overall approach to customer engagement and ensuring you have all the right tools in place (not just ours) to be successful.

To see how Kapta fits into your KAM tech stack and process, schedule your personalized demo today.

What Your Clients Really Want – and How Key Account Management Delivers

In 2018, CSO Insights, the research division of the Miller Heiman Group, conducted a Buyer Preferences Survey with 500 B2B buyers working for medium to large-sized companies ($240M USD or greater) who made purchases of $10K or greater. They defined “buyers” broadly, as decision makers in business purchases—not just procurement teams.

What they found was that buyers are changing faster than sellers. Buyers are demanding more and more personalization from sellers; they also have more and more opportunities, through companies like Amazon and Alibaba, to sidestep sellers altogether. In short, as we often say (and we’re not alone): Customers are harder to engage and easier to lose than ever.

It can seem intimidating to try to keep up with something as rapid and unpredictable as technological trends, and the inevitable changes in customer demand. But there’s good news: As much as things change, they also stay the same.

Digging deeper, the survey asked the question: What do customers really want from their sellers? The answers:

  1. Understand my business. Know me.
  2. Demonstrate excellent communication skills.
  3. Focus on post-sale.
  4. Give me insights and perspective.

Looking at this list, it’s clear: These are the same basic tenants of strong relationships that have informed customer engagement for years. They run deeper than tech and last longer than trends. If you can get good at them, you can weather any change with your customers.

Key account management (KAM) is how you get good at delivering what customers want. At its heart, KAM is the art of building strong relationships through deep customer knowledge, excellent communication, and insightful commentary. And, by definition, it happens post-sale.

In the post below, we’ll offer our take on the list from CSO Insights above, and we’ll talk more about why KAM is the way to deliver what customers really want, so you can build resilience, drive growth, and stay ahead of—rather than just keep up with—buyer change.

1) Understand my business. Know me.

The best way to understand your customers is to engage early and often. In a perfect world, you enter the conversation early in the buying journey, when they are still identifying and clarifying their needs. One great way to do this is through Account-Based Marketing (ABM)—essentially an upstream component of key account management. (See our recent post on why ABM and KAM make a great team.)

But all is not lost if you can’t engage as early as you’d like the buying journey. No matter when you come in, you always have an opportunity to understand your customers better. Chronologically speaking, this starts with doing your homework to understand their business, then asking thought-provoking questions to spark meaningful dialogue. And it never stops—as long as you’re working with a client, you’re doing your research and asking good questions, so you are always up to date on their industry, their company, and their goals.

Let’s start with the homework piece, though it’s fairly self-explanatory. Come to the table prepared and informed so you don’t waste your client’s time asking basic questions. A good example is advertising agencies who work with pharma and medical device companies. Their teams understand complicated disease states and cutting-edge treatments surprisingly well; they can speak with fluency about the cellular mechanism of action of the drugs they work on before they even meet with the client. That way, when they do meet with the client, they can jump right into the specifics, rather than spending hours on the medical backstory.

There’s another side to this coin. Clients like to be the experts in their field. They like to know more than you do. And as the SMEs, they can and should know more than you do. So there’s a balance here: You shouldn’t show up unprepared. But nor should you show up thinking you know everything. Be ready to hear their perspective and expertise. In blunt summary: People like being asked questions. They just don’t like being asked stupid questions.

2) Demonstrate Excellent Communication Skills

Throughout the course of your customer relationship, you’re being judged in every single interaction. We are sorry to say so, but it’s true—and it’s fair. Your customers are paying you, probably large sums of money, so it’s only natural that some part of them is always asking: “Is this worth it?”

Since every interaction contributes to an overall impression of value, it’s important to make every interaction valuable. Luckily, you can apply some basic human skills here, the most important of which is: LISTEN. Easier said than done, we know. If you’re not sure how well you’re listening, try an experiment: For a full month, ask yourself after every client interaction: “Did I learn something, too?” If the answer is more often no than yes, you’re not listening well, and you’re missing opportunities to understand your customer—the first thing they want you to do.

Now that we’ve put all this pressure on you to make every interaction great, let us take some of it away with 3 easy words: Don’t get weird. If you’re hyper-aware of the fact you need to add value, and your focus is adding value for its own sake, you’ll undermine your own efforts. Rather than trying to seem important, spend your time actually making yourself important: Do your homework. Know your stuff. Show up ready to share ideas you’ve thought through carefully, and ready to listen to the ideas of others. When you don’t know the answer, don’t pretend you do.

Clients know when someone is engaged, earnest, and genuinely acting on their behalf; they also know when someone is full of it. Again, we return to what we think is a comforting thought: Everything you need to do to be a good client communicator is grounded in basic human skills: Think before you speak. Listen actively. Don’t BS.

3) Focus on Post-Sale

A sale is like a wedding. Yes, it’s the culmination of months—maybe years—of planning. It’s a big accomplishment; a literal cause for celebration. But it’s only the beginning of a marriage—and that’s where the real work happens. A sale, like a wedding, is not the end. It’s the beginning.

If your company focuses too many resources on winning new customers at the expense of cultivating existing customers, you’re doing both your company and your customers a grave disservice. Existing customers are your company’s most important asset—organic growth tends to be more profitable and more sustainable than winning new business.

Post-sale is what KAM is all about. It’s why KAM should partner with but operate separately from sales. It takes infrastructure—people, process, and technology—to make KAM work, and ensure your company is treating the sale as the start of the customer engagement, and not the end of it.

4) Give me Insights and Perspective

This is where the list culminates. Insight and perspective come from a combination of customer knowledge and long-term, post-sale commitment. And they have to be delivered with good communication.

One form perspective might take is healthy disagreement. Some clients might think they want you to agree with them all the time—and it’s certainly easier in the short-term to do so—but it doesn’t improve the relationship, or the work, in the long run.

In the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie Mercury returns to his bandmates to plead his case for reunion, after having left to pursue a solo career. “I hired a bunch of guys. I told them exactly what to do. And the problem was, they did it.” Without “push-back, re-writes, and funny looks” from his bandmates, the musical product was not as good.

Clients hire you because you presumably know more than they do about whatever product or service your firm provides. They need you to push them towards better solutions—but they need you to do it skillfully.

  • Stay relevant: Show them you understand their business, and your disagreement comes from a place of deep knowledge
  • Stay supportive: Show them you’ve been listening, and your perspective actually comes from a shared vision for success
  • Stay client-focused: Demonstrate your commitment to their goals, rather than your own sales quotas

Remember: Your job is to make the work better, and your client’s life easier. So if you disagree with an idea of theirs, don’t just point out the problem. Propose potential solutions. Give them options to choose from—one that reflects their idea, and one that reflects your recommendation. Don’t try to force them into your POV; lead them there in a way that respects their own expertise and contributions. And finally, know when to let go and just do it the way they asked.

Of course, “insight and perspective” isn’t always oppositional. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to build on your customer’s ideas. And you’ll reveal opportunities for upselling. When it’s done right, upselling doesn’t even feel like “selling,” in the traditional sense—it feels more like offering a proactive and fitting solution to a client problem. Upselling works seamlessly when it’s a genuine reflection of your customer’s needs, rather than your own need to meet a quota or number.

How KAM Helps You Deliver on What Customers Want

Key Account Management starts exactly where this list did: Understanding your customer. Pushing beyond the marketing data to know them personally: What are they trying to achieve? How do they expect you to help? How can you exceed these expectations?

Knowledge is the foundation of strong customer engagement, as well as the foundation for strong key account management. KAM software can help, with Voice of Customer tools, SWOT analysis templates, dynamic org charts, and detailed profiles of key customer contacts. Kapta has all those tools, prompting various kinds of customer questions and interactions designed to dig deeper than a traditional CRM.

Key Account Management is also inherently focused on post-sale—something more buyers wish more companies could be. In fact, KAM is your post-sale customer engagement method. And KAM software understands that. KAM software isn’t about lead generation. It’s about ongoing strategic client management.

Conclusion

When you use key account management to deliver what customers want, you build relationships that withstand changes in the market, in technology, and even in customers themselves. Why? Because rather than just keeping up with trends, you’re going a level deeper, fulfilling what customers really want from their 3rd-party partners: Knowledge, communication, commitment, and perspective.

To see how Kapta can help you deliver on what customers really want, schedule your personalized demo today.

Your CRM is Not Enough: Why Companies are Using Dedicated KAM Software to Build Customer Engagement

In our line of work, we talk to all kinds of people, from all kinds of companies, all day long. And we see the same thing over and over again: Most companies are not as customer-centric as they think they are. We know because there are a few tell-tale signs:

  1. We ask about their account management approach, and they talk about sales or new business
  2. We ask about their customer’s goals, and they don’t know—or they tell us about their own goals instead
  3. We ask about account health, and they talk about pipeline

In short, most companies think they are customer-centric because they have customers and they don’t want to lose them. But they haven’t operationalized a business model that actually puts their customers first.

Meantime, the tools they’re using—particularly their CRM—reinforce existing behavioral norms. In contrast, dedicated KAM software prompts and reinforces behaviors that build strategic relationships with customers, helping you deliver on their growth goals. When you do, you achieve Trusted Advisor status, and your own growth follows.

Let’s take a closer look at why CRM isn’t enough to implement true customer-centricity, and why you need dedicated KAM software to support your people in this effort.

Transactional vs Strategic

We recently reviewed a detailed methodology for identifying Key Accounts. It starts with gathering all your accounts into a portfolio analysis, then applying a set of filters. One of the filters is this simple question: Is this a strategic relationship? Or a transactional one?

Strategic accounts are those with real growth potential. Maybe they’re a government entity, a large corporation, or a fast-growing company. Their needs are recurring and complex, and you know there’s more business to be had at that organization, both in terms of volume and diversity. In addition, what they need to succeed aligns with what you offer—in other words, your goals are compatible, and you’re both set up for a successful partnership.

A transactional account is one where they really only need one product or service from you, and there’s not much room to grow. There’s nothing wrong with transactional clients, especially if that’s your business model. And in that case, your CRM tool may be completely sufficient.

But the only way to fully unlock the potential of strategic customers is through skilled relationship management. Some companies call this Key Account Management (KAM); others call it Strategic Account Management (SAM). At firms like marketing agencies, where every account is a key account, they just call it account management or client management. For the sake of this post, we’ll call it KAM, and summarize it as a process designed to foster long-term, mutually successful partnerships with strategic clients. It’s also a process that requires purpose-built technology.

Generating Leads vs Building Relationships

Traditional CRMs are a sales tool at heart. They excel at tracking transactional behaviors, such as:

  • Lead and contact management
  • Sales opportunity management
  • Marketing campaigns
  • Billing
  • Issue resolution

For a sales team whose focus is drumming up new business, a CRM is a useful tool. However, for a key account management team whose focus is working closely with 1 or 2 high-value accounts, a CRM falls short.

Dedicated KAM software, in contrast, can help you:

  • Know your customers better: Uncover their goals, and put them front and center for cross-functional teams to reference
  • Act on their behalf: Build a detailed action plan to turn those goals into discrete action items
  • Measure what matters: Track specific, real-time progress against customer goals, while also gauging overall account health

And here’s the even better thing: when you know your customers, act on their behalf, and demonstrate value by measuring what matters to them, you’ll find yourself growing the business through contract renewals and SOW increases. Not only that, but your reputation as a partner will travel beyond your current clients, opening the door to new business. In other words, by focusing on key account management, and truly delivering for your clients, you’ll create compelling case studies for new business pitches, too.

Data vs Insights

Because of all the transactions it tracks, a CRM is a vast repository of numbers. But are they the numbers you need? Again, a customer-centric approach to key account management means everything you do, and therefore everything you measure, ladders up to a customer goal.

Whereas a CRM requires you to dig through multiple data sets to find the answers you’re looking for, Kapta organizes metrics and reporting around customer goals, so you’re only ever a few clicks away from a relevant, meaningful report that speaks directly to a particular client, account, or deliverable.

Quality vs Quantity

At the end of the day, customer engagement is about a dynamic, 2-way relationship in which both parties feel successful. It takes consistent, meaningful conversations and skillful relationship management. And while no software can track all the nuances of human interactions, KAM software is set up to prompt and support the kinds of behaviors that lead to strong relationships: Maintaining contact, asking the right questions, capturing the answers, and turning them into meaningful action items that you track diligently.

In contrast, CRM is designed to monitor more superficial customer touchpoints. There’s no clear way to track the quality of your interactions, including what you promised and how you plan to deliver.

Conclusion

If you truly want to put customers first, your CRM is not enough. Kapta is key account management software, guided by Our KAM Process, to help you operationalize a customer-centric mindset.

Schedule a personal demo today to talk through your current approach to customers, and how we can help you build strategic, insightful, quality relationships with customers who’ll stay with you for the long run.

Customer Service vs Customer Centricity

At Kapta, we believe strongly in the power of a customer-centric approach. Our product and process are designed to support our customers as they put their customers first—because that’s what drives shared success. But we’re not a customer service software solution, and here’s why: Customer service isn’t the same as customer-centricity.

Read on to learn more about the distinctions between the two, and how Kapta can help B2B companies truly put their customers first.

A Matter of Depth

There are really 3 layers to your customer approach.

  1. The most superficial layer is customer service. This is how customer-facing employees interact with customers who contact you needing help or information. The caliber of customer service at your company is characterized by your team’s attitude, knowledgeability, and ability to make decisions that meet the customer’s needs. When we say the customer service layer is “superficial,” we don’t mean it’s not important; we just means it’s only the tip of the iceberg. It’s possible to have excellent customer service and still not be a customer-centric company.
  2. The next layer is customer experience. This means every touchpoint with your brand is an enjoyable, productive, even delightful experience for the customer. Long before they’re reaching out to your customer service team with an issue, they’re intuitively navigating your website or using your app to do the things they need to do. They don’t even have to contact your customer service team because you’re structurally anticipating and meeting their needs.
  3. Finally, at the core of how you do business is customer-centricity. This means every decision you make as a company puts the customer first. It affects the products you develop, the services you offer, the growth you project, the people you hire, and everything else you do. True customer-centricity happens throughout the company, not just in a customer service department.

This article is a good breakdown of the difference between customer service and customer-centricity, as demonstrated in a B2C context. Below, we’ll talk about how these principles apply in B2B.

Applying Customer Principles to B2B

It’s easy to see how these layers of customer approach apply in a B2C context. We’re all someone’s customer—we use our phones to book and change travel (customer experience) and we end up on the phone with customer service agents when we need additional help.

But how do these 3 layers of customer approach apply in a B2B context? Let’s look:

  • Customer service: It’s critically important that your clients’ day-to-day interactions with the account management team (or client management team, depending on the terminology you use) be courteous, professional, and knowledgeable. Your account team should be empowered to make decisions that meet your customer’s needs, such as expediting a service or absorbing a cost if your team missed a deadline. These things are great—but in a high-value, B2B relationship, they’re just table stakes. You’re not going to keep and grow business by being polite.
  • Customer experience: Every time your customers interact with your organization, the experience should be enjoyable. For example, the process for reviewing and approving contracts or other documents should be seamless. Any interactions they have with your systems or technology should be intuitive. These may seem like little things, but the lesson gleaned from the B2C world is that brands are living entities, and every interaction with them shapes the perception your customer walks away with. If your customer spends a lot of money with your company but their emails constantly bounce back, you aren’t sending the message that you’re worth the investment.
  • Customer centricity: This is where B2B companies can really shine. Let’s bring back the account management team for this example. Yes, they provide courteous, responsive, knowledgeable customer service. But that’s the least of what they do. Customer centricity means they are taking time to understand what their customers are trying to achieve, and actively building resourceful, creative solutions to reach those goals. Even more fundamentally than that, it means your leadership projects growth goals based on what your customers can support; in other words, your customer’s growth comes first, and yours follows as a corollary.

How Kapta Can Help

To take a fundamentally customer-centric approach to doing business, you can’t just say it’s important and hope your team does it somehow. You need to be intentional, and you need to build infrastructure.

First, you need a dedicated key account management team. It takes a lot of time to be available to key customers, not only responding quickly to their needs, but also anticipating them by virtue of understanding who they are and what they’re trying to achieve. It takes time to stay connected to the client’s industry, recognizing challenges and competitive threats even before they do, and working proactively to help them prepare. In short, it takes time to be customer centric, and KAMs can’t be successful if they don’t have the time to spend with customers.

Second, you need a clear process that puts customers first. Our KAM Process is built around the fundamentals of customer centricity: Know your customer, act in their best interests, and measure your impact. Once you establish an internal process, you can hold your teams accountable to those expectations.

And finally, you need technology. Not only can Kapta automate some of the more tedious aspects of client management, but it can also extract data from multiple sources to give you powerful, real-time understanding of how well you’re helping your customers achieve their goals. Because it’s built around a process, Kapta also prompts the behaviors that drive customer centricity—checking in with clients, building action plans around their strategic objectives, and measuring what matters to them.

Conclusion

Customer-centricity is the goal. And key account management is the path. Kapta is key account management software, guided by Our KAM Process, so you have the structural support you need to operationalize a customer-centric mindset.

Schedule a personal demo today to talk through your current approach to customers, and how we can help you transform exceptional customer service into an exceptionally customer-centric approach to your entire business.

Identifying Key Accounts

If you’re new to Key Account Management, one of the first steps you’ll need to take is to identify which accounts are Key Accounts—in other words, to segment your customer base.

Segmentation is critical because KAM should be distinct from sales. Key Account Management requires dedicated resources in the form of people, process, and technology. A traditional sales approach supported by CRM is not enough to realize the full potential of Key Accounts.

In this post, we’ll talk more about how to identify 2-3 key customers for your KAM pilot program. You’ll want to look at all your customers through 3 filters:

  1. Profitability vs revenue
  2. Strategic vs transactional
  3. Alignment with your own growth strategy

Filter 1: Profitability vs Revenue

Start by gathering basic information on all your accounts. You’ll need to know:

  • Annual revenue for the last 3 years
  • Annual cost of servicing the account over the last 3 years
  • Growth potential for the account over the next 3 years

The goal here (as is probably obvious) is to determine profitability vs revenue. Revenue is distracting—it can make an account seem like a key account, when in fact, the actual cost of serving that client means they aren’t really a source of sustainable growth. Remember, the kind of relationship you’re building through key account management is a 2-way street: You want strategic, sustainable partnerships. If you’re constantly eating costs or discounting services to keep a cranky client happy, maybe they aren’t a key account after all—even if surface-level billing suggests they are.

That said, it’s important to ask: Is the reason they’re cranky because you haven’t been able to give them the attention they deserve? Maybe their main contact at your organization is working on 5 other projects, and simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to understand this customer’s needs and expectations. If you think a dedicated Account Manager with time and space to listen to their feedback and proactively address their satisfaction might turn this customer around and increase profitability, keep them on the list of potential Key Accounts.

Filter 2: Strategic vs Transactional

Once you’ve gathered all your accounts, you’ll want to flag them as either strategic or transactional.

Strategic accounts are those with real growth potential. Maybe they’re a government entity, a large corporation, or a fast-growing company. Their needs are recurring and complex, and you know there’s more business to be had at that organization, both in terms of volume and diversity. Use your judgement to determine the trajectory of your customers.

A transactional account is one where they really only need one product or service from you, and there’s not much room to grow. There’s nothing wrong with transactional clients—it’s just that they don’t really need Key Account Management.

Filter 3: Your Own Growth Strategy

Once you’ve analyzed your client base, it’s time to look at your own growth strategy. What are you trying to achieve over the next 5 years? What kinds of products and services are you most interested in providing? What is your own growth strategy?

When you find a customer with potential to grow using the kinds of products and services you’re most interested in providing, you know you’ve found an interesting match. Because we believe strongly that a customer-centric approach is the way to achieve stability and success over the long term—but that doesn’t mean your own interests don’t matter. In fact, your customers will be much more engaged if you are, too. Customer-centricity is not pure altruism—it’s an approach that builds mutual success (the best kind).

Seek out customers whose needs, goals, and strategy align with your own, so you set both parties up for success. You’ll be able to pursue work that’s engaging and meaningful for your team, and they’ll perform better as a result. Their improved performance leads to meaningful gains for your customer, which creates ongoing room for growth in the partnership itself.

Don’t Get Distracted

A common mistake in identifying key accounts is to focus on revenue alone. As we’ve outlined above, the goal is to identify customers who are clearly worth a long-term investment. They offer room to grow, in line with your own growth strategy, and plenty of ongoing opportunities for interesting, mutually beneficial work.

It takes good judgement and team input to identify those customers, and it means looking beyond the dollar signs on the surface. It also takes discipline to invest resources in those customers, rather than spreading your team too thin chasing shiny new clients and contracts.

Start Your Pilot

Implementing a KAM program is just like any exercise in change management: You need to start small, with easy wins. Challenge yourself to select 2-3 Key Accounts to begin with, and really focus on making those work. Even if your portfolio analysis identified 5-10 Key Accounts, start small and scale up, so you have success stories to build buy-in as you expand. You’ll also learn what’s working and what’s not, and you can apply what you’ve learned to hone your process as you add more accounts to the Key Account group.

Remember: Good Key Account Management takes more than intention. It takes infrastructure. You need a person or a team whose job it is to manage the clients you’ve selected. They need an established process to follow. And they need technology to support them in their efforts.

An easy mistake to make is this: You’ve done your portfolio analysis. You’ve selected your 2-3 accounts. But you’re wary of investing too much, so you ask someone whose plate is already full to do some KAM on top of what they’re already doing. You’re vague about what that means, and you don’t offer any tech support.

We’ve seen this before, and it doesn’t work. The goal of KAM is to build strong, lasting relationships—if you’re not putting in the effort, your clients will know it, and they won’t, either. And it will be business as usual, without having really given KAM a try.

Conclusion

If you’re ready to start Key Account Management in your organization, Kapta can help. Our KAM Process gives you a roadmap for Key Account Management, supported by our intuitive technology. And our services are designed to help you make a smooth transition.

We can assess your current situation and make a rollout plan that works for you. Schedule a personal demo today to talk through your company’s goals, the accounts you think might be a good fit for a pilot, and any questions you have about how Kapta can help.