In any field, when we’re hiring a new person to fill a role, we want to make sure that we pick a great candidate. It doesn’t matter if you’re recruiting wideouts in the NFL, line cooks at a restaurant, or key account managers to grow your revenue, great is always better than good. If you only went for “good,” you’d end up with mixed results.
Whatever your industry is, it’s far too competitive to settle for good enough. You competitors are working their tails off to hire the next best account manager for their team—are you? Of course, you don’t actively search out candidates that merely check off the qualifications box, but you might inadvertently get lost and fail to see the forest through the trees on a resumé.
So, what separates the good key account managers from the great ones? As people that like to think we know a thing or two about the field, here are some of the things we look out for.
Our Definition of a Great Key Account Manager
In our view, a great key account manager will possess a handful of qualifications, talents, and skills that, when combined, result in a customer experience and success rate like no other. Stacking these talents together makes a great key account manager highly effective at conquering their roles and delivering results for their customers.
To us, great key account managers know their customers and their industries from the inside out. They follow industry news so they know about their clients’ next big moves and can also get a feel for where the industry is headed and what their competitors might be plotting next.
Great key account managers also understand the dynamics of their customer’s individual business. They have a feel for how they like to do things and what challenges their business is facing both externally and internally. The solutions they propose are tailor-made and not a one-size-fits-all quick fix that any company could use. Customers crave individual attention and a great key account manager will give it to them.
Now that we’ve covered the broad definition of a great key account manager, here are some of the specific skills and attributes to look for in your team as well as candidates for the role.
1) Inquisitive Minds
As key account managers and advocates for the role, we like to think that they are the best and know pretty much everything already. Okay, maybe not everything, but it would sure be nice if they did. A great key account manager never settles for what they already know and are constantly looking to learn and absorb new information. They know that a market prediction could come in handy with a customer later in the day so they jot it down and bring it up.
They never settle and think that they know enough about their customer’s struggles, goals, product, etc. They won’t leave a stone unturned and it’s this inquisitive approach to everything that will help them create solutions and build relationships with clients that can have a real effect on your bottom line. During the hiring process, seek out experiences and skills that would lead you to believe they are a creative problem-solver, with a knack for seeking out new information whenever possible.
2) Bring Endless Value
A big part of running a successful account management team is providing your customers with endless value. Whether it’s through the revenue growth that your product or services provides or the personal touch that you add to every report, you need to do something that is unique and valuable to them. A great key account manager will have value in their DNA.
You should ask any prospective candidate what they consider to be their most valuable skills and how that benefits their clients. A value-providing account manager should have a laundry list of ways that they help their clients. If the candidate seems to focus only on themselves and the organization, they might be a better fit for sales. Account management, however, should be all about making the customer happy and providing endless value for them.
3) They’re the Guide
There’s a balance between following your customer’s direction and providing them with value and letting them walk all over you and make all of the decisions, good or bad. A great key account manager is not only the trusted advisor for their clients but is also a guide and provides the structure and direction needed as they navigate the industry and move towards their goals.
If you were to just let your customers call all of the shots, they would eventually make a mistake and throw the account plan off track. When they trust you to deliver week-in and week-out, the account manager will take all of the blame, even if it was a poor decision on the client’s part. And then there’s the opposite scenario. Your client calls all of the decisions that the account manager should really be making, and the results are incredible. They then start to wonder why they need you in the first place and then they stop taking your calls and disappear.
The key is being the guide from the start, and taking credit for all of the decisions, good or bad, so your client knows that they are in trusted hands. Find a candidate that is willing to tell their clients “no” when they are heading towards trouble and will take credit for their wins also.
4) Take a Proactive Approach to Everything
Your preferred candidate should be all about what they do, not what they say. A huge red flag is an account manager that spends all of their time talking on the phone with their clients without actually doing anything about it. You want to be more than empty promises and the top 20% of your clients care the most about results, not promises. They can get empty promises just about anywhere, but they come to you and build a relationship with you because of the results.
Look for a candidate with a clear track record of winning. They should have cold, hard data to back it up too, showing that you can trust them with your most important clients. Ask them about their biggest successes and failures in the past and how they could create some wins for your organization as well. See how proactive they are in their approach or if they wait for a client to tell them there’s a problem first. Ideally, your new key account manager is action-oriented from the get-go, and always links their work back to the account plan and where they want it to be soon.
5) Hold Themselves Accountable
A great key account manager hates excuses more than anything. They see an unfulfilled promise as a failure on their part and consider it something that must be repaid to their customers. They know that their accounts demand results and trust that the account manager will keep their word. If your account managers look for an excuse or a reason outside of their control that caused the failure, they aren’t going to be great at their job.
Your candidate should own up to all of their past failures and point to ways that they have worked to avoid repeating the same mistakes. They aren’t shy about placing the blame on themselves and you shouldn’t hear them blame their clients. It all comes down to being accountable, truthful, and have a realistic understanding of what can and can’t be done. When they understand this, they can make realistic promises to their clients and can avoid failure and disappointment in the future.
6) Keep Everyone Honest
On the flip side of the last point, a great key account manager won’t accept excuses from their customers either. Our clients make promises and sometimes don’t follow through on them. If they said that they would send you over information and you need to to get started, you want your great key account manager to hold them accountable for that. This can be easier said than done since nobody wants to butt heads or annoy the clients.
Typically, good key account managers will let some things slide but this can hurt the account’s progress, underperform on promises you made and will upset the client even though it was their fault in the first place. You can’t afford to upset clients because of small things that you never followed up on. Make sure that your new account manager holds customers accountable and puts their foot down when necessary
7) Know How to Give and Receive Feedback
A great key account manager knows that they need outside input from their superiors and customers to help them be better and sharpen their game. They also know that their customers and superiors could use feedback as well so they can become better. Giving feedback to superiors and customers is a delicate task and you definitely don’t want to step on any toes in the process. However, there is a nice way to do it, and when customers are receptive to feedback, they become easier to work with and the relationship is stronger because of it.
Have them focus primarily on process-oriented feedback such as how often they speak, what gets covered in every meeting, etc. Customer are typically more willing to hear about how they can be more efficient and less likely to be offended with this type of feedback. Ask your prospective key account manager if they have ever had to give their customers feedback before and what the experience was. Also, ask about giving feedback to supervisors and how that went. Great key account managers should have no trouble providing examples of these kinds of experience.
8) Are Striving to be Better
Finally, a great key account manager knows that it can only get better from here. They don’t have one successful day with a client and then stop moving forward. Instead, through their proactive approach and the other skills that we’ve mentioned, they are looking for new and better ways to be successful for their customers. They are attending workshops, networking, reading the news, and trying new approached to their role.
They also want to improve more than just their job, but the entire organization as a whole. They want to see the company move forward and land bigger and better clients and growing their existing relationships with customers. If your candidate seems happy with where they’re at right now, that could be a big red flag. However, if they come to the interview with new ideas and have a track record of consistent innovation, they’re certainly someone worth giving a shot.
As with any role, finding the best of the best in a crowded field can be a challenge. If you know the right things to look for and the skills that combine the best, it becomes simpler to pick out the great from the good. Keep these skills in mind as you hold interviews and start reaching out to potential account managers and your customers will thank you for it.
Kapta believes in relationships first, and number-crunching second. The Kapta platform was developed to make the modern key account manager’s life easier. Rather than spending every day bouncing from app to app and staring at spreadsheets, Kapta does all of the technical work so you can get on the phone and build relationships with your customers. Kapta is the KAM platform that account managers rely on to become the Trusted Advisor for their clients and is a crucial tool to create mutual success. Built into the platform you’ll find powerful tools like Voice of Customer (VOC) Insights, account health scores, account planning templates, and so much more.