Strategic thinking and planning are the hallmarks of long-lasting and successful businesses. Making the best moves with the resources available to you will help your business to succeed despite potentially negative circumstances in the industry. For Key Account Managers, strategy is a regular part of the job. You won’t find success without being able to act strategically.
Promoting Strategic Thinking
It doesn’t matter if you were born with a naturally strategic thought process. You can learn how to think strategically and follow some practical guidance to improve your strategic thinking. This is useful for most jobs but is absolutely necessary for you as a Key Account Manager. A large portion of your job is to think strategically and create plans and actions around those thoughts.
According to the Harvard Business Review, these are the four things you should be doing to improve your strategic thinking in the workplace:
- Observing Trends
These should be trends in both your own company and your industry in general. Why watching for trends and looking for what’s going to happen next, you will naturally start to keep your head up and become more aware of what’s going on in the big picture around you.
- Asking Difficult Questions, Then Looking for Answers
“Questions are the language of strategy.” – Nina A. Bowman
By asking the right questions, you can broaden your horizons and start to think more strategically. You can use questions to find out what you don’t know and learn from everything that’s going on around you. Ask more questions that require you to look deeper for answers.
- Speaking to Convey Strategic Thinking
The way you communicate will tell others if you are thinking and acting strategically or not. You can practice setting up the structure of your communications to make them more logical and thought-provoking. Instead of getting caught up in the details, keep the focus on a bigger picture.
- Setting Aside Time for Thinking and for Conflict
If you stay too busy, you’ll never get the chance to think properly. To be a better strategic thinker, you need to set aside specific times to be alone with your thoughts. Focus on thinking along certain lines of thought, instead of just letting your mind jump around and get distracted.
Once you have done some thinking, speak to individuals who may have differing viewpoints and consider closely what they have to say. The best strategic minds can entertain an idea and understand its elements without accepting it as true or useful. Listen carefully and take the time to pinpoint the underlying assumptions that your thoughts and others are based on before making any decisions based on your own thoughts.
12 Tips to Being a More Strategic Key Account Manager
Strategic thinking itself is one thing, but how can it be applied in the context of Key Account Management? As a Key Account Manager, you’ll have a lot of strategic thinking to do, so here are a few tips on how you can become more strategic with your actions in this position:
- Do Not Assign Too Many Key Accounts to One Person
Don’t overload your staff. If anyone in your key accounts department (including you) is working for more than 3 key accounts at once, they are probably tasked with more than they should be. Key accounts require a high level of personalized service and attention that must be maintained for success. If you or your employees are trying to look after too many accounts at once you will spread yourselves thin and do a poor job with all of them.
- Keep Yourself in Charge of the Program
It’s easy for the Key Account Manager to get swept to the side or pushed into a corner as other company priorities are raised throughout the year. But, you need to keep your authority and orchestrate what should be happening throughout the year. Don’t let the Key Account Management agenda get forgotten by the C-suite executives or other department managers.
- Focus on the Mutually Beneficial Aspect for Clients
To be strategic, you need to remember the ultimate goals. For you as a Key Account Manager, these must be beneficial for the client and for your company. You cannot expend resources pursuing goals that will only help one side of the table.
- Improve Inter-Organizational Collaboration
The best way to keep fresh information on your key account customers and to remain strategic in your thinking is to have a high level of collaboration within both companies. There should be multiple people in your department communicating with their own leads in key account companies and reporting back to you. You should not have to get all the information yourself.
- Remain Proactive
Keep your head in the game and plan multiple steps ahead. Make sure you are aware of all the possible outcomes from different decisions and that you have planned how to handle them if they happen. You can’t plan for everything, but that doesn’t excuse you from trying!
- Don’t Fill Your Day with Busywork
You are a manager. It is your job to make sure there is a clear vision for the future and a strategy for how to reach future goals. If your days are spent doing simple tasks that you could be delegating, or if you don’t have enough time to set aside for strategic thinking of planning, cut down on the busywork.
- Keep a Focus on the Future
Future focus is the cornerstone of strategic thinking, even for Key Account Managers. Always be prepared to face the future with goals and a strategy in mind.
- Stress Timeliness and Dependability
It is difficult to remain strategic if you can’t keep all your moving parts coordinated well. Timeliness ensures that nothing gets forgotten or messed up because it will happen when it’s supposed to. Being dependable will be appreciated by your key accounts and will also help you keep your plans in order without having to re-arrange anything on the fly.
- Offer Solutions When You Bring Up Problems
Before you bring up issues to your key account clients, it’s best to have thought about those problems beforehand to come up with some solutions you can present. Bringing up problems without also understanding the potential solutions shows a lack of strategic thinking.
- Become an Advocate for Your Key Accounts Within Your Company
To make sure your company isn’t making moves that will ultimately hurt or negatively affect your key account clients, you need to act as their advocate in your own organization. This will help you stay in the loop on important decisions that could be relevant to your clients while also helping you determine the future for those same accounts.
- Know Your Key Accounts’ Business and Industry as Well as They Do
There is no excuse for you as the Key Account Manager not to be comfortable with the industries your clients work in and how their companies work. To anticipate problems, create forecasts, or make future plans, you need to be aware of what’s going on in and around their companies.
- Seek Out High-Level Buy-In
Executive buy-in puts you in a great place as a Key Account Manager. You’ll have the support you need to get things done properly, and you can more easily demonstrate to your key account clients that you are planning for the long-term. Executive visits and contact with clients assures those clients that your company is fully on board with the Key Account Management plan.
Being more strategic will help you to become a better Key Account Manager. You can take these practical tips to help you improve your ability to be strategic as well as focusing on some of the specific areas mentioned to be more strategic on the job.