The manner in which we communicate with others defines who we are in both our personal and professional lives. There is no doubt that in some career fields, the way we talk to one another is vital to how we develop and maintain working relationships. Without this level of communication, there would be no successful key account managers. Don’t believe me? See how long you can keep a key account without talking to them.
Diving deeper into communication, consider feedback and its many applications for your duties as a KAM. You rely on feedback to keep you on the right track with your strategic business partners, whether they be your colleagues or clients. It’s not just a flow of back-and-forth words.
Many people conjure up images of performance reports and annual review sessions when the read or hear about feedback. However, trethe skill of soliciting and processing feedback requires active listening, a solid understanding of your clients’ goals, and the ability to translate new information into a plan of action. It also requires the feedback recipient to process information from those unskilled in issuing constructive criticism.
Following are three reasons why it is important for KAMs to initiate dialogues about feedback from their clients. Of course, this information translates well to all your relationships, whether with members of your executive team, your key accounts or even your own friends and family.
1) A Dissatisfied Client Won’t Always Reveal that She’s Not Happy
Don’t wait until the wheel squeaks before you break out the axle grease. Your clients may have a sense of dissatisfaction with your service, but haven’t quite put their finger on the issue. When you initiate follow-up, you can help guide the client to an outcome that reinforces your relationship before they decide to try out your competition.
Some people are uncomfortable with conflict. Rather than resolve a misunderstanding or draw attention to their unsatisfactory transaction with you, they may put their feelings on the back burner until further down the road, expressing their issues at unexpected times or ending the relationship without warning.
2) Your Job is to Anticipate Your Clients’ Needs
Skilled KAMs are aware of their clients’ challenges and market environments. Proactive solicitation of feedback demonstrates your ability to empathize with your key accounts and predict future needs. Well timed requests for feedback on your current products and services cements client confidence in your ability to be present for them in the future, especially under challenging circumstances.
Before reaching out to a client, review your notes from previous transactions and meetings. Have your clients reported issues or concerns in the past? When bringing them in as a new client, what were their reservations? Identify potential client conflicts and be specific in addressing them. Reach out to your client with a brief, concise e-mail or phone call. Do not rely upon impersonal surveys. Here are some examples:
- I read about a new trend in your industry and wondered if we might need to make changes to our next project as a result. Using our last transaction as a guide, how can we tailor our service to accommodate this market shift?
- I just want to reach out and make sure your equipment installation went smoothly. Did you have any issues with the learning curve? Do you mind if I follow up with you next week to make sure everything’s going well?
- Before you came on board with us last year, you indicated that you weren’t certain your business had grown enough to require our services. I wanted to make sure you’re happy with the fit and to ask if I can help you make the most of what we offer.
3) Come with Solutions to Every Situation
Sometimes things go wrong and it’s obvious that you or your firm are to blame. The worst thing you can do is to leave it up to the client to stew in his displeasure.
As soon as an issue is brought to your attention—by your own staff or by the client—reach out and follow these steps:
- Identify and acknowledge the specific problem.
- Take responsibility.
- Ask how you can make it right (your golden feedback request moment)
- Listen carefully and consistently. Things change.
- Propose options for an actionable remedy. You should always provide solutions.
- Get it done. Inaction will be the quickest way to lose a key account.
Most clients understand that mistakes happen, but anxiously anticipate the process of conflict resolution. By stepping up, owning the responsibility, and offering solutions, you’re defusing your client’s anxiety and frustration, and assuring them that you do hear them and care about their needs.
Develop Feedback Processing Skills
Now that you know how to ask for feedback, how well do you process it?
Dale Carnegie once said, “To understand someone is to repeat back to them what they said better than they originally described it.” By validating your client’s concerns in your own language, you’re doing three things: You’re committing the client’s requests and concerns to memory, you’re asking them to confirm what they’ve related to you, and you’re assuring them that you are actively listening to them.
What do you do when your client unleashes scathing criticism in an emotional rant? One benefit of initiating the feedback and conflict resolution process is being in control of the situation. Avoid an ambush whenever possible, but no matter what, don’t react on an emotional level.
Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, authors of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well warn that emotional responses to criticism hinder our ability to process feedback.
“We have a very hard time listening to someone if we are angry with them, or if we feel they are treating us unfairly… this turns out to be one of the primary reasons we reject even useful feedback,” said Stone in a Forbes interview.
Practice asking for feedback with a trusted member of your team. This is an excellent way to facilitate open communication with your colleagues, opening doors for them to offer feedback of their own.
Once you become more confident in asking for–and giving–feedback, you and your key accounts will reap the benefits of a more defined relationship with spelled-out expectations from the beginning and throughout each transaction. Your ability to integrate feedback into your daily work activities will open paths to greater communication in all areas of your life. Practicing the use of feedback outside of work, and taking notice of how effective it is, will only improve your own job satisfaction as a KAM.
Curious to see how you can take your Key Account Management skills to the next level? Download this helpful ebook on how to create powerful account plans for your key customers or sign up for a demo of Kapta.