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.

Understanding Customer Engagement: What Does it Mean for You?

When we talk about Kapta, we talk about a tool and a process designed to build customer engagement.

So what do we mean by “customer engagement?” It’s a term that pops up all over the place these days, and it means different things to different people. So let’s take a closer look at how we define, demonstrate, and achieve customer engagement, and how doing so compares to other roles, such as Customer Success or sales.

Defining Customer Engagement

A brief internet search will show you that people define customer engagement all sorts of ways. This is understandable. Customer engagement is hard to define in absolutes, since it deals with the emotional connection between your customer and your company or brand, and looks slightly different in 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, if you sift through many definitions out there, you’ll find 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 lasting loyalty;
  3. Customer engagement can be measured against stated goals

At Kapta, when we distill and simplify those key elements, we say: Customer engagement is an ongoing, strategic relationship in which both parties succeed.

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of that statement—it actually contains quite a bit of information. You can’t have an ongoing relationship without consistent, 2-way communication, in which your customers talk to you as much or more than you talk at them. Your relationship can’t be strategic if you’re more focused on selling what you offer than listening to what they need. And you can’t share success if you’re not dedicated to helping your customers achieve their business goals, and growing alongside them.

At the end of the day, something as nuanced and important as customer engagement is better demonstrated than defined. So let’s step away from theory for a minute, and give you a sense of what customer engagement looks like in practice.

Demonstrating 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.

  • Do your customers reach out to you? Engaged customers will initiate conversations with you, reaching out whenever they face an issue or opportunity, rather than waiting for you to call. If you find you are always the one initiating contact, you may need to work on customer engagement.
  • Do you understand your customer’s big picture business goals? Understanding what your customer is ultimately trying to achieve means you’ve asked the right questions, and earned enough trust to get the right answers. And that means you’re more than just a vendor—you’re a comprehensive strategic partner. If you don’t have a clear idea of what your customer is trying to accomplish—not only as it relates to your products and services, but also beyond—you need to work on customer engagement.
  • 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 at the very least they aren’t aware of everything you could be doing for them. You’re missing opportunities for organic growth, leaving money on the table, and leaving yourself open to competitive threats.
  • Do your growth goals reflect what’s possible for key accounts? This is an interesting one. 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 ground your growth goals accordingly.
  • 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.

Achieving 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 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.

Second, you need a team of professionals dedicated to building and strengthening client relationships. Traditionally, this has been called account management, key account management, or client services. There are different titles here, and different potential department names, one thing is key: This is distinct from the sales team, or at least a distinct group within the sales team. Because yes, client services professionals drive revenue, but their focus isn’t generating new leads or chasing quotas—it’s partnering with high-value customers to foster lasting, loyal relationships that can’t help but drive revenue over the long term.

And finally, you need a purpose-driven process and tools to support customer engagement. CRM and sales tools cannot do this for you. Neither can customer success tools. And neither can an ad-hoc collection of various communication, presentation, project management, and billing tools. To understand which tools you need, let’s look at some key differences between customer engagement, customer success, and sales.

Customer Engagement vs Customer Success

Let’s start with some areas of overlap between customer engagement, as we define and use the term, and customer success. In both instances, customers need to feel successful with your products/services/company. They need to use your products and services to their full (or close to full) capacity, and they need to see real value from the time they invest in you.

Now, let’s talk about some of the differences:

  • Scale: Customer Success tends to apply to companies who are largely product focused, and who rely on a large number of low touch customers. Customer engagement is about developing strong relationships with a smaller number of high-value accounts.
  • Measurement: Customer Success is measured largely by recurring subscriptions, whereas Customer Engagement is more nuanced—in addition to renewing contracts and increasing SOW, customer engagement takes into consideration the overall strength of the relationship.
  • Tools: Customer Success is heavily data-driven, mining customer’s data to measure their use of any given product, particularly SaaS products. Customer Engagement, though it certainly involves strategic use of metrics and data, requires tools that provide a comprehensive view of customer relationships beyond what numbers alone can provide.

Customer Engagement vs Sales

Again, let’s start with similarities. Customer Engagement and Sales are both about driving revenue through the products and services your company offers. The main difference here is how, and where the team’s focus lies.

In sales, the goal is to generate new leads, driving revenue by increasing the customer base. The goal may also be to upsell or cross-sell a large number of existing customers. In contrast, Customer Engagement drives revenue through organic growth, gradually increasing the scope and longevity of existing, strategic, high-value clients. 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.

Conclusion: Benefits of Customer Engagement

Hopefully by now the benefits of Customer Engagement are pretty clear. Customer Engagement creates lasting, loyal, strategic partnerships that not only help secure your existing revenue from a key account, but also provide a platform for growth. Engaged, satisfied customers are more likely to invest in premium products and services, and more likely to continue to work with you when things go wrong (as they sometimes will).

Customer Engagement also helps reduce the risk and cost of customer churn. Customers today are easier to lose than ever before, and companies who win will be the ones who make customer engagement a priority.

To learn more about how Kapta can help you build real customer engagement, schedule a demo today. And if you have thoughts on what customer engagement means to you, get in touch and let us know.