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.
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?
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.
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:
- When change is happening, ask what your goals are and the risks that may not allow you to hit your goals.
- Prioritize. Decide what’s urgent (timely) vs. what’s important (has value for the customer or the company).
- With priorities in place, drill down to the details. What does the day-to-day look like?
- 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.
- 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:
- Start with the business questions first: what’s working and not working within the account.
- Enlist the support of the product champion. Ask for a validated list of people who can help answer the business questions.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.