Football Season: Key Account Managers as Quarterbacks

What do football and business have in common? Unless you work for the NFL, probably not much when you look at the surface level. But, dig a little deeper and you’ll find a lot of similarities in some player positions and company roles. For instance, did you know that Key Account Managers are a lot like quarterbacks?


What Does It Mean to Be the Quarterback?

Quarterbacks have a certain number of roles they play, some of which are very similar to what Key Account Managers are meant to do in their positions. You probably won’t be throwing a pass for the winning touchdown anytime soon. But, as a Key Account Manager, you will have the responsibility to constantly make decisions with huge consequences.

Key Account Managers likely don’t carry the same level of authority as a quarterback, nor are they the sole reason for success or failure of the Key Account Management strategy. However, they do typically share these roles with the football quarterback:

  1. To be in control of the way forward

Just as quarterbacks have a playbook full of strategies to use each play, Key Account Managers need to have an understanding of their options ahead of time. You don’t have to create a literal playbook, but you are the one who will be in charge of what’s going to happen. You will cast the vision and show people your plan to reach it.

Casting vision is a vital part of the Key Account Manager’s job. It’s necessary to keep everyone on the same page. If your team has a different vision than your key account clients, you may not be able to secure success because you will both be working towards different goals. Just like a quarterback, Key Account Managers need to have a vision and a plan on how to reach that vision.

  1. To control the flow of resources to key accounts

The quarterback throws the ball. In that case, the ball is the only resource needed to reach success. He gets to choose who to throw to, when to throw, and everything else concerning the ball. Key Account Managers have a lot more resources to deal with, but they are the ones in charge of how those resources should be used.

Each key account will have different levels of need. Some companies may have more resource demand in certain quarters and less demand throughout the other quarters. An example may be package delivery service, which will likely need more resources in Q4 to compensate for the holiday workload. That same company may have drastically different needs in Q1, once the holiday rush is over. Key Account Managers are responsible for controlling the flow of resources to key accounts to make sure they are working to reasonably fulfill their needs at any given time.

  1. To be directly involved in every strategic move

While the coach of a football team may be the one responsible for how the team is set up, who plays, and other board decisions, the quarterback is directly involved in strategic decision-making. Coaches are more like CEOs of a company, who should not be expected to have their hands in everything that’s done on a daily basis.

Key Account Managers are the ones who have to look for opportunities all the time. To do this, you must be directly involved in what’s going on in your department, with all of the key account clients you are responsible for. Just like a quarterback does not ask ahead of time which long receiver will be open for the throw, Key Account Managers cannot expect opportunities to be presented clearly beforehand. You have to be there on the ground, consistently looking for the most strategic move.

  1. To communicate in real time and orchestrate the movements of a team

Teams do not automatically communicate well or work together. Quarterbacks are communicating with their teammates in real time on the field, just like Key Account Managers need to be communicating with their team members. It is your job to orchestrate the whole team and make sure everyone knows what they should be doing and when they should do it.

That’s a huge part of your job! If you don’t orchestrate the team and direct them, who will? You don’t want a team of people interacting with your key account clients without each one having a clear idea of their role and goal. Huge mistakes can be avoided by keeping your people and your key account clients informed about what’s going on and what they need to be doing at certain times. You don’t have to tell everyone the intricacies of how things work together, but you yourself need to know and understand it.

  1. To think and act strategically for long-term success

We touched on this a little with the point about being directly involved, but it’s worth mentioning again for emphasis. Key Account Management involves a high level of strategic thinking. Without a clear strategy, you cannot hope to find opportunities that will benefit you and your key account clients. As a Key Account Manager, you are the one who needs to look ahead and think strategically about how to make the best of every opportunity or challenge. That’s how you will reach success.

Key Account Managers Lead the Charge

The strategy of Key Account Management requires you as the Key Account Manager to lead the pack. Executives may be involved in some of your strategic moves, but they should not be doing the strategic thinking work for you or directing your every move. You must lead your team and take them towards success, just as if you were the quarterback of an NFL team trying to reach the Super Bowl. If you want the big win, you have to put in the efforts beforehand to make it a reality.


Christine is a content specialist for Kapta. She graduated from Radford University with a BBA in Management, concentrating in Entrepreneurship.