During our KAMCon event last week, there was lots of talk about how best to communicate with customers. How do you follow up without the lame “check in”? How do you engage with a senior person? How can you be strategic and proactive in your communications with key accounts? As KAMs, you are looking to 1) build trust with your clients, and 2) communicate your value and the results you have delivered.
It seems like most of us assume that we are top-grade communicators when we really have areas for improvement. Even if you can’t remember the last time you had an awkward pause or combative call with a client, you shouldn’t just coast and assume you’ve reached the top level. Instead, polishing up your communication skills can help drive results and make every conversation you have with clients a bit more effective.
It doesn’t take much to become a world-class communicator in this space, but it does take practice and a genuine effort. Here are a few of my tips to communicate with your customers to maximum effect.
Provide Context Where Necessary
“Wait, what were we talking about again?” If you’ve heard your client ask this before, you know how awkward it can feel. As an effective communicator, you’re essentially your client’s guide, and show them the way through the competitive landscape. If you keep losing them and they wander off-trail, you have to spend a ton of time reeling them back in and getting them to focus up.
It’s not always your fault either. Your client isn’t an expert in this field or service area; that’s why they hired you in the first place. Even so, as the account manager, it’s essential that you provide context when it’s necessary so your client is on the same page. Providing context is like framing the story so they can follow along with your proposal, idea, recap, etc., clearly, knowing exactly what it means for their business. In fact, providing context does more than just keep the conversation moving forward, but just a small aside to remind them their KPIs can be the difference maker between a cross-sell and a confused client.
Take the time to be a good guide for your clients. Provide context where necessary but try not to ramble too long about details they already know. Keep it simple and essentially show them the signs and direction markers on the trail.
Don’t Overwhelm Them
Moving off of that last point, overwhelming people with word salad is not a characteristic of an effective account manager. Ideally, they’ll do a majority of the talking in your conversations with you serving as the listener. When you do take the floor, however, provide them with the information they should know and nothing else. Your clients have a million things on their plate, and they don’t want to waste time listening to somebody ramble on about things that aren’t really important to them at the moment. Even if you think that it’s something that they should know, is it worth the effort just to have them forget about it as soon as they hang up the phone?
Unless it’s a cross-sell, a renewal, or a scaling opportunity, save it for the bigger meetings and use your weekly check-ins and recaps for smaller day-to-day things. Set a clear agenda and try to stick to the script (not literally, more on that in a bit). Try and convey the most important themes and messages with as few words as possible, placing in context clues where necessary so you don’t lose them. They’ll appreciate your directness, and they’ll end the meeting with a clearer perspective of where their account currently is, what you’re doing to get them results, and where they want it to go in the future.
Clarify Their Goals
When you speak with your clients, their goals should hopefully be the topic of discussion most of the time. If they aren’t, you’ll want to fix that immediately, since that means your conversations are likely all about how awesome your organization is or you’re trying to oversell them, and good key account management strategies aren’t built on those communication styles. Beyond that, however, when you speak about their goals, you want to clarify with them so you can learn more about the finer details that matter most to them.
All too often, our clients like to shift the goal post right before we announce our latest win. It can be frustrating, but it’s just the name of the game, and as the account manager, you need to be ready for it. When you’re speaking to them, ask less about the metrics, and more about the meaning behind the metrics that matter most. They might make it seem like they care more about conversions when really it’s about growing their user base so they can report that back to their stakeholders. Following up on their goals and finding the trail that leads back to the ultimate goal will provide you with clarity, and you can work more efficiently.
When you discuss goals with your clients, try and get as much information out of them as possible. If you feel unclear about something or thing they might be unclear about something, ask, “And what do you mean by that?” to keep them talking. Clarity can be hard for some clients, but with the right prompts and probing questions, they can reveal a lot more than one might imagine.
Don’t Phone It In
If you’ve ever been accused of sounding robotic, you already know what we mean by this. Some of us can’t help it that we are so tied up in saying the right things and being professional that we sound stiff and programmed. There are tons of ways to break this habit and to speak more naturally, but we will let others break that down for you. The most important thing is to never read off of a script. Scripts are for cold callers, not key account managers.
Relationships aren’t built off of scripts, since every client is different, you’d need a different script for everyone, and that’s not worth the effort. Some clients might respond to one communication style better than another, and if you’re just following the same cut and paste script that you use for all of your clients, you’ll have a hard time communicating with them on a personal level.
Even through the phone and even if you’ve never met this person before in your life, with your voice alone, you should be able to develop a relationship with the client and build trust with them. If you sound scripted, it’s almost as if you’re just using the old material from the call before, and they’ll feel less like a strategic client, and more like just another customer to you. Don’t give off this impression! Work to discuss something new with every client and have fun while you’re on the phone. They want to work with you and keep working with you, so relax and get comfortable.
It’s Not All About You
All too often, even if they don’t mean to, we notice that account managers tend to turn client calls into the “me show.” For many, it’s a habit they picked up during their tours in the salesrooms, but once you’re an account manager, it’s time to put your own interests on the back burner and focus on what the client needs first. Remember, their success is your success, and if you’re just talking about yourself and your organization the whole time, they won’t have an opportunity to tell you how you can succeed for them.
Treat client calls like an investigative interview. When journalists are interviewing important people, they aren’t talking about how one of their stories appeared on the front page that one time or how their newspaper is the most recognized in the area. Instead, they’re merely serving up prompts to the interview subject and diving deeper when needed. Treat client calls like this, except you’re trying to get to the bottom of their wants and needs.
You should come away from every call with a client with a list of new things that you learned today. Even after working with someone for months, if not years, there’s still a lot that you can learn from them. So much so, it even surprises us from time to time. Just when you thought you had this client nailed down to a tee, you learn that they have a new product coming out, or that they are introducing a cutting-edge manufacturing process that will speed up production.
Don’t worry about what your company is doing unless it’s directly related to their goals. It’s not about you when you’re talking to clients, it’s about them. Don’t be the person that calls you up just to talk about themselves and be that good friend that is always willing to listen and genuinely cares about what’s going on with you.
Don’t Leave Anything Unsaid
Finally, before you hang up the phone or leave the conference room, make sure that you’ve said everything that you wanted to and have asked every question you had burning in your mind. You know the old saying they have about assuming, and with 80% of your revenue tied up in these key accounts, assumptions can be costly. Even little things like report dates or who will provide the creative assets for their campaign can lead to problems down the line. Sure, they’re not devastating to the account, but do you really want to have a problem when you could have avoided it with a simple question?
Of course, your client’s time is valuable, and you definitely don’t want to waste it. At the same time, think about the time you’ll waste when you get your assumption wrong. They’re already on the line or at the conference table with you, just take a second before the end of the meeting to ask that question. And, if the question is good enough or shows your ingenious curiosity, it shows them that you are, in fact, their trusted advisor and partner in their success.
Being an effective key account manager, leader, coach, or really any role requires fantastic communication skills. We talk to people every day, and in this field, the best work happens through simple conversations. Even the most skilled communicators could have something to learn or refresh on before their next big meeting. Hopefully, this guide has gotten your mental gears working and thinking about how you could improve your communication with clients to be more effective. After all, a great relationship with your key accounts all starts by creating and maintaining an open dialogue where both sides feel free to speak their minds and come up with new plans together.
When managing your key accounts, the last thing you need is another tool that will bog you down, complicate your workflow, and not deliver. Kapta is the exact opposite, and key account managers in a variety of industries use it daily to help them stay up to date with their clients and handles all of the technical work you usually need multiple platforms to accomplish. Rather than living in one spreadsheet after another, Kapta lets you focus more on the personal relationship you’re building with your clients. Built into Kapta you’ll find a variety of powerful tools, including Voice of Customer (VOC) Insights, account planning templates, account health scores at a glance, and so much more.