How to become a Trusted Advisor to your key accounts

Are you an account manager (AM) trapped in vendor status with your key accounts? If so, you may be wondering how you elevate your relationship with your customers to a strategic partnership. You want to become a trusted advisor who has a seat at the customer’s table and is involved in strategic decisions the customer makes.

Elevating your status isn’t that difficult, but first, you need to recognize why you are trapped, so you know what must change. Then there are a few tools you can use to help you transform to trusted advisor status and increase your effectiveness as an account manager.

Symptoms of AMs trapped in vendor status

Account managers that are trapped in vendor status are typically not as effective. They suffer symptoms like:

  • The C-Suite ghosts you – They don’t show up to your meetings or they don’t return your emails anymore.
  • Low growth in your client portfolio - Sales are down in your accounts.
  • Renewals and negotiations take forever - Things aren’t fast. It’s like walking through molasses.
  • Churn - You don’t have good commercial relationships and your accounts aren’t renewing their contracts.
  • Uncertainty around client health - You don’t have a way to identify which accounts are at risk.
  • Low customer engagement -You lack clarity on why customers are disengaged.

There are a lot of blind spots and you’re not clear on what is going on. It really affects you as an AM, making you feel like you’re not doing a good enough job. It’s very frustrating and energy draining!

Why are you viewed as “Just another Vendor”?

So, what’s causing all of these symptoms and why are your key accounts viewing you as just another vendor, even though you’re trying your best? It’s commonly because you are:

  • Too reactive - By spending too much time reacting to inbound things like customer requests or emails
  • Too tactical - By focusing on small things instead of big picture items and constantly putting out fires instead of strategically engaging with customers
  • Not building account plans - So you don’t have any visibility, a strategy, or way of measuring progress
  • Don’t ask the right questions - So when you have the opportunity to engage with customers you aren’t using it very effectively
  • Don’t have a company-wide process or framework - So you don’t get the support you need across your company or a way to successfully manage your key accounts

This all boils down to being less effective as an account manager than you can be.

Two tools to elevate you to trusted advisor

To break this pattern and move beyond being viewed as a vendor, there are two valuable tools you can easily implement. They are Voice of Customer (VOC) discovery and a formalized process for tracking customer goals.

1) Voice of Customer

VOC is a critical tool for key account management (KAM) success. It’s a great tool to help you be more strategic and effective with your key accounts. VOC is not a Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey. It is a conversation with your key stakeholders where you uncover your customer’s goals and gather customer insights.

Develop your VOC questions

If you don’t already have a VOC process in place, it’s easy to get started by developing strategic questions to ask during these conversations. These questions are open-ended, forward-looking, and strategic. So, when you’re thinking about having a conversation with your stakeholder, consider the difference between asking, “How satisfied are you with our partnership on a scale of one to five?” and asking an open-ended question like, “What does success look like in this partnership?” or, “What are your goals in this project?” You get more insights from the responses to the open-ended questions than from the previous multiple-choice question.

Remember, that you get sent to who you sound like. So, if you’re trying to talk to people who arei n charge and make decisions, you need to talk to them about bigger picture items. Some examples of these sorts of questions include:

  • What made you buy from us?
  • What’s on your plate for next year?
  • How do you like to work with partners like us?
  • Looking out 3 years from now, what would make this project a success?
  • How would you decide to continue working with us?

And don’t avoid the hard conversations. Use VOC interviews to get feedback and address issues. Then don’t let the responses gather dust. Be sure to follow through by taking developing action plans to correct issues. This restores or deepens trust within your key accounts.

2) Tracking customer goals

As an account manager, it’s important to remember that your customer’s goals are your goals. If you want to stop being viewed as just another vendor, this is another essential tool to help you become more strategic with your accounts.

So, whatever the customer is trying to solve by buying your product or service is now your goal. It’s your job to help deliver on that implicit promise. Once you understand what the customer is trying to accomplish, you can start to build a plan to help them reach their goals.

Identify the top three goals

Do not overthink this. Create a framework for yourself where you start by identifying the top three goals that the customer has in working with you based on your knowledge of your biggest customers. Write down the three things that they care about the most. Look back at your last QBR, for example to identify these. That’s how you start tracking your customer’s goals. These goals aren’t things that are so high level you couldn’t ever possibly impact it. They are things within your realm of expertise, problems that your product or service typically solves.

Once you have these top three goals listed, you can validate them with the client. Then validate them internally and share them with anyone in your company who touches the customer, like marketing or product development.

Create a plan

Next start building a plan. Ask yourself how you can help your customer reach their goals. What actions can you take today, this week, or this month that are going to help the customer realize these goals. Think about it as building a mutual success plan with the customer.
Then get some input from your internal teams and from the customer until you agree on a plan. Then review it regularly. When you have this sort of conversation with your customer, they see that you understand them, you were listening, and you’re showing up as a partner.

Review and measure

Once you have plans in place, clearly aligned behind the customer’s goals, you share them internally and evangelize on behalf of the customer within your company. Make sure that everybody understands the client and what they are trying to accomplish.

With account plans in place, leverage dashboards, like those found in tools like Kapta, to help track and measure progress toward customer goals. Then, QBRs are suddenly more meaningful because you’re not just looking at things that happened in the past, like KPIs and ticket closures. You’re having a strategic conversation, updating goals, adjusting plans, and showing measurable progress toward goals. Then the cycle continues.

Now it’s your turn

Implement a VOC process and start tracking customer goals today. Then, when you are ready, take the next step by adding technology, like Kapta, to support and streamline your KAM process. This is what it takes to stop being just another vendor and become a trusted advisor to your key accounts.

Accelerate your journey to trusted advisor status with KAM training. Register for KAMGenius, the only online video course taught by KAM experts in easy-to-consume bite-sized videos full of actionable tips.

CEO at Kapta
Alex Raymond is the CEO of Kapta.