KAMCon 2023: How Key Account Management Teams Drive Internal Collaboration

Are your key account managers (KAMs) flying solo?

Key account management is a social role. It requires customer advocacy, feedback on requests, and effective collaboration with internal teams.

Otherwise, you risk internal blame, resentment, misunderstandings, and finger-pointing when customer and company milestones and goals are missed.

Emily Garza, Head of Customer Engagement at Unit21, discussed this topic in a presentation at KAMCom 2023 titled, “How Key Account Management Teams Drive Internal Collaboration.” She reviewed five effective ways to engage and collaborate with four essential teams: Product, Implementation, Marketing, and Finance for better outcomes.

“If you don’t have collaboration, you risk wasting time and effort,” according to Emily. “Teams that aren’t on the same page aren’t executing against the same goals. They take longer to get back to the customer about their requests, often reducing the customer’s trust in their KAM.”
Ultimately, we’re all trying to win, retain, and grow customers for the financial benefit of the company. Establishing collaborative relationships with four essential teams creates better experiences and outcomes for your customers and your company.

KAM Collaboration with Internal Teams

Let’s look at four internal teams KAMs should collaborate with, what each team cares about, and five ways account managers can collaborate with each of these teams for better customer and business outcomes.

Understanding the Product Team

The Product team is focused on ideating, designing, and building new products and features. They listen to customer calls and do industry research to understand trends so they can get ahead of the curve. Then, after building and launching products or features, they track adoption, usage, and effectiveness.

Five Ways KAMs Can Collaborate with the Product Team

  1. Determine a communication path and cadence. With the Product team, this may be a monthly, bimonthly, or weekly meeting, depending on your product cycle. Use some of this time to understand the development cycle and how you can prioritize requests for the Product team. Then, provide context information with each request since the Product team may not be ready to research a new feature for six months or more. Leverage technologies like notes or customer conversation recordings to capture additional context and related information on the request.
  2. Set expectations on what you need from the product team. You may want visibility into the product roadmap, so you know what’s coming and how to best communicate it to the customer. You can request usage metrics to share with a customer during an upcoming QBR or KAM-specific training that talks about how to position a feature, functionality, or product based on the larger ecosystem that you’re expected to know in working with your customer.
  3. Establish strategic customer exposure guidelines. Ask the product team what types of calls they want to be on. Are there specific topics that they’re trying to do additional research on? What is the baseline expectation of the level of conversation you should hold prior to including them on a customer call?
  4. Discuss roadmap influence. Being able to understand an insertion process and visibility into the product roadmap is helpful when it comes to product requests. Then if you have a pressing request, you’ll know how and if to proceed with the request.
  5. Close the loop. The Product team is doing a lot of hard work, translating those customer requests into technical requirements. So, don’t forget to say thank you, to acknowledge that work, and share customer feedback and the impact the new release is having.

Taking these steps can help you move toward a more customer-centric product.

Understanding the Implementation Team

The Implementation team gets customers from signed contracts to go live. Their primary focus, especially when it comes to software, is getting customers live as quickly as possible. This team is also interested in understanding the broader customer use case and where the product is going so the customer is set up for longer-term success and expansion.

Five Ways KAMs Can Collaborate with the Implementation Team

  1. Define a communications path and cadence. Your engagements with the Implementation team are likely more project-focused, given their role. This is where you want to understand when KAMs should be involved in the implementation process since reps don’t necessarily need to join every call. You also want to designate milestones where you want to be alerted when a customer hits them.
  2. Set expectations of what you need. For example, being notified if there are some signs of risky behavior so the KAM can jump in to address it before it develops into churn risk. Or, getting introduced to new stakeholders who join during implementation unexpectedly.
  3. Define internal swim lanes. Defining who owns what part of the process enables you to effectively guide the customer on whom they should interact with for specific needs or requests.
  4. Help define ‘done.’ Delineating what is included in implementation helps prevent scope creep that could lengthen the initial kickoff period. Missing this deadline makes you look bad in the eyes of this buyer. So, Implementation needs to alert KAMs of unexpected requests during onboarding so you can either communicate them clearly with customer executives or postpone them for a second implementation period.
  5. Identify persistent data. There’s information gathered during the implementation process. These details need to be documented in a central location where team members across your organization can access them as needed in the future.

Understanding the Marketing Team

Marketing is focused on creating brand visibility and ultimately capturing leads for sales. From a corporate marketing perspective, they are doing things like events, ads, and brand campaigns to drive general awareness in the market and generate leads for sales.

Five Ways KAMs Can Collaborate with the Marketing Team

  1. Determine a communication path and cadence. This may be a monthly meeting and/or a project or event-based engagement. Communications with Marketing may include getting visibility into upcoming events ahead of time to allow sufficient time to invite customers or advance notice of upcoming marketing campaigns to prevent surprises when speaking with customers. Then you should funnel industry trends and customer feedback or pain points back to marketing during these meetings.
  2. Set expectations on what you need. Your needs might include things like ABM to help break into a different arm of an organization, visibility into event registrations, or hosting a customer-focused event based on common customer requests.
  3. Prepare to support Marketing. Gather information and document it in your CRM or account management tool where Marketing can easily access it as needed. This can include things like what customers are doing or requests Marketing has made of customers like speaking at webinars, customer reference calls, and case studies. Tracking Marketing requests helps you avoid repeatedly asking the same customers for favors, potentially damaging those relationships.
  4. Gather and track logo rights. These rights allow your marketing team to leverage customer success stories on your website. Unfortunately, larger customers, like key accounts, often have bigger procurement and legal teams that love striking out logo language on contracts. But continue to understand and show value to these customers, then if they are unwilling to allow logo rights in their contract, they may grant one-off approval for a case study in lieu of blanket approval.
  5. Create an advocacy menu. Our easiest conversation with the Marketing team is case studies, but that’s not the only way that a customer can do marketing with us. Outline and understand what the various options are so you can present those to your customers at the appropriate time. These might include speaking at a webinar or having them do a G2 review. Understand what is involved, including the time commitment for each option.

The KAM team’s relationship with Marketing is often reactive. Taking some of these steps helps you shift to a more proactive relationship and enables you to both hit your goals more easily.

Understanding the Finance Team

Our relationship with the finance team can sometimes be limited to budget season and headcount requests. If you’re only having those conversations with your finance department, most of your conversations are justifications that aren’t strategic.

The Finance team cares about driving revenue through new sales, retaining existing customers, and upsells. They’re also interested in expenses like adding headcount and considering tools.

Five Ways KAMs Can Collaborate with the Finance Team

  1. Determine a communication path and cadence. Confirm that Finance has access to all the renewal and upsell information that they want to see. You can also use this opportunity to better understand the budget approval process and how you’re tracking against the budget.
  2. Set expectations on what you and your finance partner need. Get clarity and alignment on each other’s needs. For example, you can agree on triggers for the KAM hiring process and get visibility into margin levels prior to contract negotiations.
  3. Understand how the business works. Sit down with your finance team and ask them to explain how the business works and what the levers are. The finance team wants you to understand this and will be excited that you asked. They want you to be able to make informed decisions by knowing their impact on the overall trajectory of the company.
  4. Billing and Accounts Receivable. It is important for the Finance and KAM teams to collaborate on billing and AR. We all have the same goal of being a successful business and part of that means making sure our customers are paying us. Gaining visibility into billing issues so you can reach out to customers to assist with collections when needed is extremely helpful.
  5. Be a good negotiator. As you approach renewals and upsells, make sure you’ve told the value story, and that you minimize discounts and freebies. Hold the line as much as possible.
    Leveraging these collaboration tips will enable you to become a strategic partner to the Finance team.

Become a More Collaborative KAM Team

Emily acknowledged that many of the things she discussed are table stakes that you may already be doing today. However, there are likely at least a few that you aren’t doing, or aren’t doing effectively.

She challenged us to put more thought and strategy into the cadence of meetings we’re having with these teams and how we are collaborating with them today. Making slight changes like documenting more customer information or gaining a better understanding of how each of these teams impacts the business can go a long way. Collaboration across these teams creates a more cohesive, customer-centric organization that generates better outcomes for your customers and your business.
Looking for additional ways to drive better outcomes? Register for KAMGenius PLUS. The next cohort starts on October 12th.

Senior Engagement Manager at Kapta
Jennifer is a Senior Engagement Manager at Kapta