How to Get Stellar Customer Feedback through a Voice of Customer Process

One of the cornerstones of key account management is Voice of the Customer — insightful feedback directly from the customer that reveals their experiences and expectations, helps predict their loyalty, and even informs how products and services can be improved. But how do you deal with people who are unenthusiastic about surveys, and what if you can’t always reach the right people?

 

At KAMCon 2018, Waypoint Group principal Steve Bernstein outlined a detailed framework to effectively capture the voice of the customer using methods that target the most relevant and viable participants, help to eliminate blind spots, and ensure more trustworthy information.

 

What gets in the way?

At some point, everyone in key account management has encountered the difficulties with getting good customer feedback. You know these well:

  • Lack of engagement: customers are often less than attentive, excited, and responsive
  • Lack of alignment: everyone is rowing in different directions — in your organization and the customer’s
  • Reactivity: instead of being able to proactively ask for feedback, you can only ask for it in reactive mode when something is wrong or there’s a crisis
  • Organizational friction: changing up how you get feedback doesn’t work when there’s a mentality of “We’ve always done it this way”
  • The wrong audience: it’s easy to get stuck talking to people at a tactical level when you really need to talk to the buyers and decision-makers
  • Accountability problems: it’s hard to know who really owns customer outcomes and results
  • Lack of visibility: not being able to see across teams or even fully within the account makes it difficult to know what to ask and how to follow up
  • Loss of an executive sponsor: reorganization means you have to start over with someone else, losing the rapport you’ve built up and momentum

 

These difficulties matter because they impact efficiency, effectiveness, and most of all the truth. Without honest, concrete information from the right people, everything gets based upon opinion. The assumption then is, “No one’s opinion is better than my own,” which creates conflict and leads to tunnel vision.

 

A framework for better customer feedback

To increase engagement and get better answers to surveys and questionnaires, you need to utilize a better Voice of Customer plan:   

 

  1. Start with the who

Notice how we didn’t say customer? That’s because it’s really hard to define customer. When you ask who the customer is, you get a bunch of different answers. Instead, talk about contacts, accounts, personas, and roles.

 

Then ask: who have I been getting feedback from up until now? And if people aren’t giving feedback, what does it mean? Maybe they don’t know what’s in it for them and they see no reason to participate.

 

Action item: Vet your contact list. Get to the people who influence product retention and expansion. That way you’re not blasting a survey to every contact when it may be totally irrelevant to many of them.

 

  1. Develop the right questions

Asking for the moon may be tempting while you’ve got someone’s attention, but what really matters in the end is whatever gives you the insight you need to provide value and drive toward the customer’s desired outcomes. If things are going well, it’s an opportunity for expansion. If things aren’t going well, then it’s because something probably needs to get fixed.

 

Action item: Ask what’s working and not working, along with what the customer expected, why they expected it, and what they actually experienced. When you focus together on the things that actually impact the business, you can offer appropriate solutions and incentives.

 

  1. Enlist the right help

A day-to-day contact or customer champion knows their own organization. They know who the power users are and how to reach them to get the depth and breadth of feedback you need.

 

Action item: Delegate recruiting to the champion. Have them forward an email to other users asking them to participate. These users are more likely to respond to a request from someone they know and trust within their organization than to a vendor.

 

  1. Worry less about convenience

Asking for feedback over the phone may seem easier, but it results in two things: 1) It puts people on the spot, making it less likely they’ll give real and honest answers, and 2) It limits who you can share feedback with in your organization.

 

Action item: Set up your survey or questionnaire for written responses. The quality of answers will be higher and more informative. And you can share the feedback more easily with other teams and stakeholders in your organization.

 

  1. Follow up

Sending out a survey isn’t a one-and-done process. Not only do you need to make sure all the people who agreed to participate actually do so, you also need to be prepared for any answer you get. Amazing feedback? Great, now what? Or what if the feedback is negative? What will you offer and how will you help?

 

Action item: Form a coalition. Get a member of each team — product, customer success, support — and share with them the representative customer feedback. Then ask what they’d like to do with it. With their input, develop a plan that incorporates the feedback into something valid and tangible for your key accounts that actually satisfies and follows up on the “What’s in it for me?” question.

 

Care about the truth, not response rates

While getting a wide range of responses is certainly ideal, what’s even more important is the truth. That’s why it’s detrimental to an organization if the type of feedback received is tied to performance management or compensation.

 

Being serious about helping customers succeed means that positive and negative feedback has to be welcome and actionable, and that achieving desired outcomes is the ultimate goal.

 

Why Emotions Still Rule When It Comes to Customer Decision-Making

Although we’d all like to think of ourselves as rational decision-makers, the stone-cold truth is that the emotional part of our brains have been around a lot longer and tend to muscle out our newer, less-seasoned, but way-more-logical frontal lobes (just look at politics right now).

 

At KAMCon 2018, Ed Powers, VP of client success at InteliSecure, led the audience on a fascinating trip into the makeup of our brains and why we do the things we do. The biggest takeaway is this: if you understand that emotions still largely drive decisions, then you can apply this knowledge to your customers when it comes to selling value.

 

The science behind decision-making

Some scientists think the rational part of our brain has only been around for about 30,000 years. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio says that humans are “feeling machines that think.”

 

So…what does this all mean?

 

It means that decisions are made in the emotional part of the brain and emerge from our subconscious. You don’t have to have a rational mind to make decisions (think of your cat: it makes decisions all day long). The conscious mind may not be paying attention at all and doing something else entirely, but you can be sure the subconscious mind is having a heyday making decisions.To consciously and rationally make a decision, we have to stop, slow down, and observe. It’s less efficient: it takes more time and is much harder.

 

But it explains why framing is such a powerful concept in communication. Consider this experiment: If the same medical procedure is explained to people in terms of 98% survival (that feels great!) or 2% mortality (that feels horrible), more people will choose the procedure in terms of survival. This has been replicated many times in many different domains. What it boils down to is that language matters — not because it’s logical, but because it’s emotional.

 

Value-selling to the emotional brain

As an account manager, it’s your job to alter outcomes and help your customers be more successful. You may still think that selling in terms of ROI is the best approach for everyone, but what’s emotional about ROI, or a list of numbers for that matter? For some people, not very much.

 

To get to the heart of what really matters to each customer and what they’re likely to base their decisions on, you need to understand what “value” means to them, which means you need to take a walk around in their emotional brains.

 

Here are six ways the brain defines and perceives value:

 

  • Context. Here’s a classic example: It’s harder to sell a cup of hot coffee on a hot day than a cold day. Or in today’s world: a person buying data protection is probably going to do it because they’ve been breached or it’s been mandated, not because it’s particularly awesome to buy data protection. Find out: what is the context of the buying decision and the emotions it could elicit?
  • Reward. Everyone is seeking the pleasure of a reward and trying to avoid the pain of punishment, but rewards can be different things to different people. If your customer went with the competitor’s product because it made him feel cool, then perhaps “cool” — a sense of belonging to the right crowd — is his ultimate reward. Find out: what is the emotional reward the buyer is seeking when making a decision?
  • Cost. Monetary cost and effort (another kind of cost) are relative too. If it looks like a customer is getting a deal, they’ll emotionally take the deal, even if on paper the price is the same or higher. Effort is a kind of cost too, which is why simplicity and ease matter so much to people. Find out: what’s the real cost to the buyer — in money or effort — if they decide on your product?
  • Time. Humans are not very good at delaying gratification. If a customer has paid for something upfront, they want to see the fruits of it immediately. But this can be a problem if there is a several-month deployment ahead of them before they can fully utilize a product. Find out: in what timeframe does the buyer expect to see results and are they looking for instant gratification?
  • Risk. Our emotional systems distort risk: we overestimate the probability of small gains and underestimate the probability of large gains. What does this translate to? People are fearful of risk and loss. So telling your customers that you’re there to help them stop losing something (whatever it may be) is motivating. Find out: what are the risks fueling the buyer’s decision?
  • Personal preference. When all else is roughly equal — price, context, reward, cost, time, and risk — personal preference usually wins the day. And it’s often based on warm, fuzzy feelings: who a customer already knows, likes, or trusts from past experience. Find out: what are the personal preferences the buyer could fall back on?

 

It’s all about getting closer to your customers

Understanding the way your customers think and feel goes way beyond just capitalizing on an upsell opportunity. One of the most important things you can do as an account manager is to make sure your strategy, interactions, and language are aligned to who the customer really is to deliver the best outcomes. Their experience with you then shapes their decision-making capabilities, helping them learn, discern, and be able to make real-life comparisons that enable future rational decisions.

 

But that doesn’t mean you should stop appealing to emotions. For now, emotion still wins over logic. Context is key — sell to their “why.” And reducing time and effort always carries weight with people.

Defying the Odds: Coaching Your Account Team to Success

Being in charge of an account team isn’t a job that just anyone can do. Your ability to lead and inspire others to perform is why you’re in your role and why you’re an asset to your organization. But today’s market can be brutally unforgiving. The market doesn’t care who you are. As organizations and other business professionals become crippled by the challenges they face, you as an account manager have to think, act, and lead differently if you’re going to survive.

 

To hit your numbers and prove your team’s value to the organization, you need to be able to coach your team to success. At KAMCon 2018, Michael Harnum, CEO of ESG, shared some indispensable advice to help lead your team to victory.

 

Put me in, coach

The first rule is that there is no one-size-fits-all coaching model. Sales and account management are still human-driven; that means contending with different personalities, character traits, and communication styles and trying to form something coherent and cooperative out of them. Just like a basketball team is made up of people with different skills and levels of talent, so is an account team.

 

But it’s on you to make sure the team is functioning together and performing at the top of their game. So here are four principles of coaching that you can apply today to achieve optimal results:

 

Coachability

When someone is coachable, they have an energy about them. They are the one at practice (or in the team meeting) when no one else wants to be there. They are motivated when others aren’t. Finding and zeroing in on the individuals with palpable energy makes your job as their coach easier.

 

Another way to determine coachability is to ask questions: Who are your favorite coaches and why? How did you perform better with that coach? Have you ever had an ineffective coach? Use their answers to learn from them. Coaching isn’t a one-way street; it’s a give-and-take, a deep discernment of qualities and characteristics that require you to be flexible and adaptable.

 

Finally, give a mock exercise to see how they respond to coaching and feedback on the spot. If a person is coachable in an interview, they’ll likely be coachable on the job.

 

Identifying problems

It doesn’t do you any good as a coach if you don’t know how your team is currently performing and where they’re supposed to be. The value of timely, clean data — visibility into performance — cannot be overstated when it comes to forecasting. When you’re certain of your quota along with all the challenges your team might be facing in reaching that quota, then you know exactly what to tackle.

 

Pacing is key. Without fail, look at the numbers every week during the quarter. Identify the problems in hitting your goals. Then encourage transfer of ownership; that is, finding the one (or two) people who can own the solution to the problem, the person who has the right information to make something happen.

 

Just as important is staying connected to customer goals. Make sure the team doesn’t lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you’re driving toward.

 

Gap planning

Not every problem is avoidable. At times there will be gaps between targets and actual performance. The best way to deal with it is to create a plan that’s specific to the gap.

 

Start with a verb and end with a date. If you ask a team member what they’re going to do, and they say “call” all their deals, what does this really mean? Call whom and by when and to what ends? A plan needs to be as specific and measurable as possible. So instead, you could say to your team member: Place a call and send an email to all your deals in 48 hours and make sure to have some answer from everyone within seven days.

 

Then, check in and keep checking in. Make transparency a rule. Also make necessary adjustments if the plan can’t be completed by the decided-upon date. Reasonableness is a necessary part of coaching. The point is not to get hung up on the details, but to simply keep everyone moving forward.

 

Strength finding

At a certain point in anyone’s career, people become pretty good at things, or they find they’re happier doing some things than others. Finding those strengths and aligning them with business objectives is one of the most powerful and productive steps you can take as a coach.

 

Shift the conversation with your team members away from the negative (what they’re not doing well enough) and toward the positive (what they bring to the table). Let the employee lead the conversation and shed light on their own skills, talents, and areas of joy.

 

By seeking to understand, you are able to coach with emotional intelligence and to increase trust in the relationships you have with your employees. Then, you can create a personal development plan for each team member that maximizes productivity (people perform better when they’re doing what they’re really good at) and identifies and corrects any role mismatches.

 

More than just coaching, it’s a mental shift

In business, no one can afford to be caught flat-footed. But when there’s a challenge, the question to ask yourself as an account manager is: do I turn away, or do I turn in? The answer is: turn in.

 

By making yourself part of the solution and encouraging each member of your team to play for the next person — rather than for themselves — this actually creates more space for each individual to shine and for success to flourish.

 

4 Customer Success Tools to Achieve Value-Based Outcomes

Customer success doesn’t come without a fair amount of trepidation all the way around. For the customer, adopting a product or service requires change — sometimes massive change across their entire organization. For customer success teams, it requires constant vigilance, agility, and alignment with others to help customers achieve optimal results over time.

 

What it really means is that everyone has to be on the same page and moving in the same direction, but how to put that theory into practice is the question.

 

At KAMCon 2018, Tom Murray, senior engagement director at Pivotal Software, outlined several tools customer success teams can implement to help them continually share, learn, adapt, and measure, on pace and at scale, while pursuing the ultimate reward: value-based customer outcomes.

 

Three principles in practical terms

Customer success is predicated on three principles: your team has to 1) share the same intent with your customer and account teams, 2) put the customer at the center of all strategy and focus, and 3) consistently orient and drive toward their desired outcomes.

 

By bearing these principles in mind and utilizing tools that realize them on a practical level, everyone can move faster, collaborate more effectively, and measure success with more confidence. Here’s how:

 

1) Intent-led

Understanding the intention — why are we all here and what are we really trying to achieve — is the first step to reaching a common goal. Staying intent-led can be done through:

 

Tool #1: Voice of Customer:

Look through the lens of your customer and speak with their voice by answering these questions: What are the outcomes the customer wants to achieve and by when? Who cares about achieving these outcomes? And how does our proposed solution deliver these outcomes?

Tool #2: Customer journey:

A customer’s journey doesn’t stop with a product launch. Extending and scaling are often next phases of the journey that require their own mapping. For each of your customers, map out their journey from launch through engrainment or regular usage to scalability, and any other phases that may exist for them.

 

2) Customer-centered

If you’ve heard of the 5 Whys, then you’ll know where this is headed. To develop a truly deep connection to your customer and a shared understanding of their goals, you need to get to the root of what they’re trying to do or solve and why. Only then can you build trust with the customer and become a go-to source of knowledge and support throughout their journey. Staying customer-centered can be done through:

 

Tool #3: Engagement plan:

To understand your customer’s strategic objective, you need a framework that defines and helps you deliver against it. Start high with the overarching objective, then break it down into smaller goals, milestones, and individual efforts that are each achievable and measurable over time. This can be done with PowerPoint presentations; spreadsheets; graphs, charts, and other visuals; and even customer dashboards — anything that can be shared with the customer to help them see where they’re at during any given point in the engagement.

 

Tip: Because there are often versioning and history issues with shared documents, a solution like Kapta is one of the best ways to create, update, and share your engagement plan.

 

3) Outcomes-oriented

In this day and age, outcomes have to be measurable. How is success quantified and how do you know what’s working or what needs to be improved? Staying outcomes-oriented can be done through:

 

Tool #4: Outcomes framework:

Customer outcomes are directly tied to the ecosystem in which they operate: their organizational structure, industry, competitors, and other factors. Create a framework to understand the external (and internal) forces applying pressure on their organization; the business outcomes that are most important to them; how your product or service impacts the realization of those outcomes; and which aspects of their operations today will require a different approach down the road.

 

Remember: Anything that shows metrics — health markers, account reviews, value-stream mapping, scorecards — keeps the customer informed of their own forward progress and the value they’re receiving.

 

When “speed” is the goal

Nearly every customer wants to move faster. But speed can often feel like running around in circles without having achieved much. What customers really mean by speed is velocity, which is comprised of direction and magnitude: moving steadily in a positive direction with a growing body of successes behind them, propelling them forward.

 

Where customer success teams can excel is in recognizing the difference between speed and velocity, and that alignment with the customer and with other teams and stakeholders is what enables it.

 

In a world that isn’t going to slow down any time soon, staying intent-led, customer-centered, and outcomes-oriented will help you meet the needs and goals of customers while maximizing your own focus and effectiveness.

 

 

KAMCon 2018: What Did We Learn? Tools, Technology, Techniques – Oh My!

What happens when you put a bunch of account managers, customer success people, and experts in a room? You launch a conference. The first Key Account Management Conference (KAMCon), hosted by Kapta, took place October 9-10 in Boulder, Colorado.

 

The sales landscape is challenged from all sides by tech disruption, organizational restructuring, noise, churn, and more — which makes it harder to develop and strengthen customer relationships. In the opening session, I shared that 68% of revenue comes from existing customers, yet almost half (48%) of account managers don’t think their key account management (KAM) programs are effective.

 

But today’s innovators and thinkers are meeting the challenges head-on. Offering data, principles, and time-tested techniques, KAMCon’s experts delivered the tools and knowledge you need to truly become a strategic partner, not just a vendor, so that everyone — customers, teams, and companies — can succeed.

 

Let’s take a deeper dive into what we learned at KAMCon 2018.

 

Science and technology enhances KAM

Sales is a discipline still dominated by people and personalities. But to understand people better — what makes us tick, how we make decisions, how we can more creatively reach others and solve problems — we need to explore elsewhere.

 

Brain power

Ed Powers, VP of client success at InteliSecure, shared that some scientists estimate the rational part of the human brain has only been around for about 30,000 years — a drop in the bucket in human evolution. This means our rational-thinking capabilities are less developed than our emotional capabilities. And making any decision involves an incredibly complex, non-linear process that takes place in multiple parts of the brain.

 

Fortunately you don’t have to be a neurologist to understand how it all works. You just have to know that the way customers see and think about value is almost never rational, but rather emotional. Here’s what you should seek to understand from an emotional perspective during any selling opportunity:

  • What is the context of the buying decision?
  • What is the reward the buyer is seeking when making a decision?
  • What is the real cost to the buyer — in money or effort — if they decide on your product?
  • In what timeframe does the buyer expect to see results?
  • What are the risks the buyer is facing that are fueling the need for a decision?
  • What are the personal preferences the buyer may fall back on?

 

AI assistance

It’s not just human brains we need to contend with. Artificial intelligence (AI) is now making its way into key account management.

 

Jim Dickie, managing partner of Sales Mastery and co-founder and independent research fellow for CSO Insights, shared that 63% of sales people hit their numbers back in 2012, but only 54% did last year. This almost 10-point drop in making quota may be attributed to the fact that KAMs spend most of their time on things like research, data entry and updating, scheduling, and crafting reports rather than what they were hired to do: find ingenious ways to understand customers and enable the best outcomes.

 

But (so far) AI is not in the business of replacing interactions. Rather, it replaces transactions by supplementing complex human engagement with the data and information needed to develop insights, which can then be turned into action. Essentially, AI can:

 

  • Form a better understanding of key stakeholder personas by scouring the internet for personal data like character traits, social patterns, entertainment consumed, and communication styles
  • Identify key moments by recording and tagging parts of a customer conversation that have to do with objections, competitors, and pricing in an effort to reveal which messages are working
  • Act as a digital admin by attaching emails, starting new opportunities, updating Salesforce, and scheduling appointments
  • Offer virtual coaching by identifying where human touch is needed and what skills need to be developed

 

When your customers also begin to harness AI, the co-collected data begins to inform product design, engineering, and usage, allowing sales people and AMs to move into a different role entirely: away from straight selling and into true partnerships.

 

Structure matters: getting down to the guiding principles and practical know-how

No matter what’s happening out in the world, everyone needs real frameworks and tools to take care of real tasks right there in the office. Not only can the right tools and techniques create workflow efficiency and give you more quality time with customers, they also help drive toward your customers’ desired outcomes.

 

Tools

The minute a sale closes, you’ve got an account to manage. And having an account plan is paramount to a successful customer relationship. Customer growth and B2B specialist Jermaine Edwards shared an account plan that can be put together in just 90 minutes using six boxes on one sheet of paper. The boxes represent:

  • Assumptions about the customer: what do you need to know, do, and stop
  • Customer journey: what are the needs, barriers, and feelings of the customer that need to be addressed
  • Growth: how do you use your customer insight to drive greater value and opportunity
  • Goals: are your goals aligned to your customer and your business
  • Strategy: do you understand the challenges that get in the way of the goals and the core policies to address them
  • Team: do you have the right expertise, sponsors, and influencers in place

 

After a sale, there’s often a murky hand-off between sales and customer success. Steve Silver, senior research director at SiriusDecisions, used data and research to develop a tool to make this process easier, both internally for the teams and externally for the customer. Central to the tool are:

  • Four customer stages: product/service delivery, development, retention, and growth
  • The timeline each stage typically follows
  • The activities and content needed for each stage
  • The roles responsible during the stage — whether it’s an account manager or the customer success team

 

Once a buyer becomes a customer, that’s when customer engagement plays a starring role. Tom Murray, senior engagement director at Pivotal Software, offered tools and suggestions that allow customer success teams to stay aligned, customer-centered, and outcomes-oriented:

  • Key account reviews, health check tools, and scorecards to measure success
  • Customer journey mapping, especially for companies moving to a subscription model
  • Engagement plan to define and deliver against strategic objectives, broken down into goals, milestones, and individual efforts
  • Charts, graphs, dashboards, and presentations to show metrics that help the customer see where they’re at
  • Outcomes framework to understand the outside pressures on the customer’s business and their desired outcomes

 

Implementations can feel touch-and-go for everyone involved — especially the customer. That’s why Megan Macaluso, VP of strategic development for ESG, proposed that Account Managers utilize basic project management tools to ensure smoother implementations, including:

  • Project plan and workflows to map out start to finish, categorize, and break up work
  • Roles chart to know who is responsible for what, who the team has to be accountable to, who needs to be consulted, and who needs to be informed throughout the project
  • Business requirements document so internal teams and the customer understand the initial scope and what is needed for the implementation to be a success
  • Communication and meeting plans to decide how, when, and in what ways to communicate and how meetings can strategically move the project forward
  • Training plan to determine how all stakeholders and end users will be trained and when
  • Test scripts so that end users can test specific, relevant scenarios before rollout
  • User acceptance list to be signed off on before launch
  • Go-live plan to include marketing collateral and other launch materials along with a review of lessons learned post-launch

 

Frameworks and principles

Whether it’s a customer going through a major product deployment, or an account team adjusting to upheaval handed down from on high, all change is hard. Lesley Poladsky, Kapta’s customer success manager, outlined five change management principles you can use to guide yourself, your teams, and your customers:

    1. When change is happening, ask what your goals are and the risks that may not allow you to hit your goals.
    2. Prioritize. Decide what’s urgent (timely) vs. what’s important (has value for the customer or the company).
    3. With priorities in place, drill down to the details. What does the day-to-day look like?
    4. Keep it simple. Don’t move on to the next phase before you’ve completed the current phase and know if what you’ve done so far has worked.
    5. Celebrate the small wins.

 

Established accounts carry a lot of weight, so customer feedback becomes critical to understanding loyalty, renewals, and how the product or service can be improved. But the biggest problem is low participation rates. Steve Bernstein, principal at Waypoint Group, gave a framework for getting the right feedback from the right people:

  1. Start with the business questions first: what’s working and not working within the account.
  2. Enlist the support of the product champion. Ask for a validated list of people who can help answer the business questions.
  3. Delegate recruiting. Have the champion forward a participation email to other vetted people. They will be more likely to respond if it’s coming from someone they know and trust, and not the vendor.
  4. Deliver the survey or questionnaire in written form, not over the phone. Written questions allow participants to extend to more people, giving you more variety and depth in feedback and allowing it to be shared with others throughout your organization.
  5. Address the feedback and share it back with the champion. If a clear problem surfaces that you can help solve, you’ll be able to strengthen the relationship.

 

Meeting expectations isn’t just about the customer. Account teams have to hit targets too, which makes coaching a big part of the equation. Michael Harnum, CEO of ESG, said there isn’t one right way to coach, but there are four principles to keep in mind when building a team and coaching to success:

  1. Coachability. Ask your team or new hire who their favorite coaches are and why, how they got better with that coach, and if they’ve ever had an ineffective coach. Offer a mock exercise to see how they respond to coaching and feedback on the spot.
  2. Identifying problems. Get visibility into where your team is now vs. where they’re supposed to be. Pace the team toward the quota or objective by doing weekly check-ins on the numbers, encouraging transfer of ownership to whomever can solve any problems, and keeping everyone connected at all times to customer goals.
  3. Gap planning. Form a targeted plan specific to any gap in numbers — as specific and measurable as possible — with an end date. For example, place a call and send an email to every customer within 48 hours and have some answer from each of them in one week.
  4. Strength finding. Find and focus on individual strengths and align them with business objectives. Through employee-led conversations, come up with personal development plans and identify any role mismatches.

 

Community helps sustain and earn a return on KAM programs

What KAMCon showed is that no one is alone. Collaboration and community can be extremely effective in finding solutions to problems and sharing knowledge.

 

Denise Freier, president and CEO of the Strategic Account Management Association (SAMA),  championed the need for a professional community like SAMA to help solidify and strengthen your own key account management program. The association brings members economic value, relationship value, and sustainability with clients. For example:

  • 69% of SAMA members said they have repaired or saved a relationship with a key client using strategic account management
  • 61% reported they’ve improved customer satisfaction
  • Members experience 2x the growth in strategic accounts vs. non-strategic accounts
  • They also see a 10% higher gross margin over regular sales in a mature strategic account management program

 

What’s clear is that key account management and customer success continue to play invaluable roles in the growth and health of companies. Finding the right community to support each other in your efforts, utilizing tools and technologies to streamline efforts, and keeping an eye on the future will not only help you stay at the forefront of your industry, but will keep you out of that dreaded “just a vendor” zone as well.

 

See upcoming blogs to learn more about some of the topics discussed above, and make sure to check out our recaps of KAMCon Day 1 and KAMCon Day 2. For a demo of Kapta’s solution, click here.

KAMCon 2018: Day 2 Recap

The second day of KAMCon 2018 started with snow on the ground. Winter may have hit Boulder early, but it didn’t keep the conference participants from settling in with some coffee and several more thought-provoking and interactive presentations.

 

Following an amazing Day 1 of KAMCon 2018, here’s a recap of Wednesday’s insights:

 

Brain-friendly value selling

Ed Powers, VP of client success at InteliSecure, powered up the morning session with a fascinating conversation about how the brain works when it comes to making decisions. Human brains have evolved over thousands of years to be emotional, but the rational part of the brain has only developed much more recently. So, people are really good at making decisions emotionally and less good at making decisions rationally. What does this mean for key account management (KAM)? The brain defines value through six factors: context, rewards, cost (and effort), time, risk, and personal preference. When selling value, account teams have to understand all six factors and how the emotional brain processes each of them.

 

Smoothing the handoff between sales and customer success

Steve Silver, senior research director at SiriusDecisions, took a deep dive into what is necessary to transition a buyer into a customer. There are important but often murky role delineations between account managers (AMs) and customer success managers, yet both are intimately involved in achieving successful outcomes for the customer. Referencing data from SiriusDecisions, Steve broke the customer journey into four phases, then outlined the length of time to anticipate for each phase, the triggers that signal each phase has been entered, the appropriate activities for each phase, and the role primarily responsible for the activities — whether it’s an account manager or customer success manager. The ultimate goal is to make it clear to the customer if and how their initial expectations are being fulfilled throughout their journey.

 

Yes, implementations can go well

Megan Macaluso, ESG’s VP of strategic development, covered how account and customer success teams can take a project management approach to onboarding and implementation. Whether an AM has true project management experience or not, the basic tenets of project management are invaluable for them to know. Borrowing from NASA’s project management rules, Megan stressed the following: that initial planning is the most vital part of a project (including planning for disasters); being involved is the key to excellence; and who the customer is and what their objectives are should always be top of mind. Using a variety of tools, plans, and communication techniques, implementation can actually be enjoyable and — most importantly — show the client what matters to them most: time to value.

 

The case for strategic account management

Denise Freier, president and CEO of the Strategic Account Management Association (SAMA), gave a persuasive argument about why and how engaging in strategic account management nets results for sales/account teams and companies. Strategic account management is all about surfacing a top tier of clients and doing business with them differently. For teams who are able to get the buy-in, SAMA provides the community, practical knowledge, and training to help them successfully implement and nurture a strategic account management program. Sixty-nine percent of SAMA customers report they’ve repaired or saved a relationship with a key account and 61% report they’ve been able to improve customer satisfaction.

 

The 90-minute account plan

Day Two drew to a close with Jermaine Edwards, a customer growth and B2B relationship specialist, who gave an information-packed, nuts-and-bolts rundown of how to create an account plan in 90 minutes. Most AMs dread sitting down and actually doing the work to create an account plan, yet account plans are one of the most important aspects of any customer relationship. Jermaine’s account plan is built with six boxes on one sheet of paper, with each box representing one of six key principles: challenging assumptions, knowing the client journey, mapping growth opportunities, specifying the right goals, getting to the kernel strategy, and building and mobilizing the right team. With one sheet, an AM has everything they need to know to go out and conquer the world — or at least their key accounts.

 

The feedback is in: KAMCon 2018 was a resounding success. Join us next year for KAMCon 2019.

 

KAMcon 2018: Day 1 Recap

KAMCon, hosted by Kapta, is the premier Key Account Management conference that brings together top executives, leaders, and innovators in customer experience, client services, and account management. Taking place in Boulder, Colorado, the event kicked off Tuesday with presentations from a solid line-up of industry thinkers for an audience gathered from around the country, Canada, and as far away as England.

Here’s a recap of the day’s insights:

 

Vendor as ketchup? We’ll explain…

Kapta CEO Alex Raymond delivered the keynote address to introduce the overarching theme for the conference: how can account managers avoid being just another vendor? Sixty-eight percent of revenue comes from existing customers, which creates enormous potential for account teams to deepen relationships and provide more value. Alex illustrated the point with an anecdote: when Costco changed their much-hailed branded credit card contract from Amex to Visa in 2015, the Costco CEO explained the switch by saying that if he could find cheaper ketchup, he would. Since no account manager wants to feel like a bottle of ketchup — and a replaceable one, no less — it’s imperative to be a strategic partner to key accounts instead.

 

All-in with AI

Jim Dickie, managing partner of Sales Mastery and co-founder and independent research fellow for CSO Insights, discussed the implications of AI for key account management (KAM). Account managers spend the course of their careers on two core areas: the majority of their time on tedium—emails, CRM updates, other data entry, scheduling—and less time on what they were actually hired to do, which is to deepen customer relationships using their ingenuity. But AI is changing all of that by aggregating data around customer conversations and other interactions and then pinpointing where specific action should be taken. And rather than leaving the usual tedium to account teams, AI can plug into CRM and other workflow applications to handle scheduling, emailing, recording, and updating in real time. AI for KAM essentially augments what account managers are already doing and allows them to spend more time on ingenuity. Jim noted that because the technology is making fast inroads into all industries, the longer a company waits to harness AI, the harder it will be to catch up.

 

Coaching to success

ESG CEO Michael Harnum gave an energetic talk about how to effectively coach an account management team and improve performance. The market demands that business professionals “be better” than they are, but how does an account manager get the best from their team? Michael outlined four important principles: coachability, identifying problems, gap planning, and strength finding. Coachability is about understanding what kind of coaching each individual responds to and what in their mind makes for a great coach. Identifying problems, especially when it comes to sales forecasting, is important because it enables visibility into how well a team is performing and where more effort needs to be made. Gap planning involves developing a targeted, actionable plan to address gaps. Finally, strength finding ferrets out and more effectively uses the strengths of each individual so that the whole team might benefit and improve performance.

 

Effective engagement for the entire customer journey

Tom Murray, Senior Engagement Director for Pivotal Software, which helps clients deliver software infrastructure rapidly to customers, gave a rundown of the various tools, frameworks, and plans Pivotal’s engagement team uses to deepen and improve their relationships with clients. Central to all effort is Pivotal’s three-pronged approach to engagement throughout the customer journey: 1) intent-led (align all team members and stakeholders), 2) customer-centered (establish customer objectives and achievable deliverables along the way), and 3) outcomes-oriented (agree on outcomes and quantifiable metrics). Tom also stressed the importance of measuring progress for customers early on using scorecards and dashboards, especially at the outset when the sale closes.

 

Smarter Customer Feedback

Steve Bernstein, principal at Waypoint Group and author of Failure Sucks More for Your Customers Than for You, spoke to effective Voice of Customer delivery through better customer survey and feedback tactics. If a company is serious about the truth, response rates matter, not whether the feedback is positive or negative. So how account and customer success teams set up a feedback program determines the rate of response. Before the first question is asked, teams need to be prepared to know what to offer. What will be promised if the feedback is negative? Or if the feedback is great? By answering for the customer “What’s in it for me?” teams can encourage greater response rates and far better feedback. Steve also outlined two important processes when setting up the survey itself. First, determine the questions based on the business problem that needs to be understood through customers. Then vet the contact list to get to the most appropriate, role-based champions who can best answer specific questions and also connect customer success teams to other users to provide a depth of insight.

 

Change is gonna happen – now what?

Day One closed with a presentation by Kapta’s Customer Success Manager Lesley Poladsky, who discussed change management and how it applies not only to internal teams, but also to customers who are navigating sizable implementations. One insight Lesley shared is that perceived ability drives an individual or team’s level of intention. If an individual or team lacks both ability and intention, they probably won’t succeed when change inevitably arrives. For those who seem resistant or hesitant to change, it may be because they have a negative perception of their own ability to succeed. That’s why productive, successful change management derives from good communication, transparency, strategy, and follow-through.

 

Stay tuned for a recap of Day Two.