Building strong, long-lasting relationships is one of the primary responsibilities of a key account manager, and it is an integral part of a business’s ongoing success. However, truly understanding the dynamics of a key account relationship can be tough, as there is rarely one sole decision-maker in the company, even if you are only in direct contact with one person. That’s where effective relationship mapping comes in.
Relationship mapping is a technique that involves identifying the influencers of key customers through their organizational departments and connects these individuals to their roles as decision makers of the business. It is useful for many reasons, including finding new revenue channels, innovating current products and services or developing new ones, and improving general sales performance. By applying this technique within key account management processes, businesses can establish stronger and more profitable relationships with their most valuable customers.
Researching Key Accounts
Collecting all of the relevant customer data is the first step to effective relationship mapping. This allows account managers to establish records of the key decision makers in the company and how they relate to one another. Identifying these people within an organization will help key account managers to relate themselves and their business better with their customers. Key account managers can determine with whom to begin marketing a new product or service and channel their way up until an actionable decision is made.
When mapping relationships, consider each person’s position within the company; their level of authority or decision making power; how they are connected to others in their organization; their specific preferences, priorities, and pain points; and who they influence within their organization and how. This informations allows for key account managers to develop clear relationship maps.
Once the data is compiled you can start mapping it to identify, visually, which specific relationships have potential for growth. A map can show the individuals within, and directly linked to, the business and their respective connections to one another. Larger nodes may represent greater connections or stronger influence. Key account managers can then use the map to develop strategies for strengthening key relationships and leveraging those relationships to provide greater value to the organization as a whole.
Madeleine Homan, Harvard Business Review, writes “[relationship] mapping is an ideal tool to use when you are planning a new project, starting a new role, or when you find yourself running into unexpected obstacles.” She further describes that mapping key account relationships is crucial to understanding:
- A plan of action and its effects
- How relationships will affect the plan
- Where to find support
- How to control unintended side effects
Not all relationships are alike. Depending on how many levels removed a connection is, it might degrade the influence involved. It is important to consider the hierarchy within in an organization and the politics that dictate relationships and decision making.
It’s important to hone in on the relationships that will produce the greatest benefit from being strengthened. Likewise, it is prudent to consider how growing connections will affect the overall relationship with a key account. It is counterproductive, and even risky, to interfere with how different members of an organization interact with one another or to overreach your boundaries as their key account manager. Maintain a clear and open dialogue with your primary contact within the company, and be sure you’re not stepping on any toes by contacting their other connections.
Relationship mapping is a valuable technique that businesses can, and should, use within their key account management process. It allows key account managers to clearly identify the decision makers who, ultimately, influence the purchases made by the customers. By successfully mapping relationships, KAMs can develop more effective strategies to expand revenue channels, innovate and develop products and services, and maintain strong customer relationships.