How to Successfully Lead a Team of Key Account Managers

What’s it like leading a team of Key Account Managers (KAMs)? No two teams are exactly alike, but you can get a good feel for what it’s like to lead a team of KAMs and how to do it better by examining what’s worked for others in the past. Addressing the challenges of a key account management team can take time, but the rewards of a successful team can far outweigh the time taken to correct any imperfections.


What Are Key Account Managers Like?

In order to work well in a team of people, it’s good to understand the attributes and personalities you may be dealing with. Your team may not match these traits exactly, but these are the basic characteristics of many KAMs:

  • Driven

Most people who work as KAMs are self-motivated, driven individuals with clear goals for themselves in their careers. This same drive carries over to working with accounts, and KAMs will be some of your most motivated employees. Many KAMs will take initiative and will work well in an environment with adequate supervision.

This goes along well with organizations that want to empower employees. KAMs do well in environments where they have a lot of control over negotiations, decision-making, and other authority conditions. This comes as part of the desire to see their actions turn into profitable, successful outcomes for the customer and their own company.

  • Visionary, Focused on the Goal

KAMs are not short-term thinkers; they are visionary, long-term thinkers. Their entire job revolves around the long-term success of the partnership between customer and company. If the customer doesn’t see growth and benefit from the company or vice versa, the account suffers. So, KAMs are dedicated to looking as far ahead as possible to anticipate problems, observe opportunities, and make the necessary changes to end up with a great outcome.

Other departments in a business are often more focused on transactional accomplishments, rather than long-term goals or partnership success. This focus is very short-term and does not mesh well with what KAMs are trying to do in their work. KAMs do not think in terms of transactions but are more concerned about strategic thinking and big picture success. One-time sales and transactions are not as impressive to a KAM as a long-term partnership that helps a key account to grow.

  • Action Oriented

You won’t find a KAM sitting around and waiting for others to do all the work. These managers are usually on the front lines with everyone else, communicating with accounts and doing the legwork to make things happen. KAMs are very actively involved in what’s going on with their accounts. They do not delegate every task because they want to maintain a strong connection between themselves and what’s happening with the accounts.

KAMs know that action is necessary for a partnership to work. Without the KAM pushing forward, the partnership could eventually fade away from a lack of attention. So, to make sure connections are thriving, KAMs put their money where their mouth is and do what they say they will.

  • Prioritizing Customer Relationship

The entire job of the KAM revolves around the success of a customer and keeping them satisfied with your company. For this reason, KAMs tend to make customer relationship the absolute top priority. In every area of work, a KAM is most concerned about how the move will affect their customers and how to make the outcome as beneficial for customers as possible.

Good customer relationships can make or break a partnership. KAMs need to have their priorities focused on the customer, or they may lose sight of making decisions that will have a positive impact on accounts and their own company.

  • Customer Advocates

As well as having the customer relationship in mind, KAMs act as the advocate for their accounts within their own companies. If their companies are not acting in the best interest of the account, KAMs will speak up to make sure their accounts have a voice in the discussion. This is an integral part of the role of a KAM because much of the benefit for an account comes from having an advocate in the decision-making centers of your company.

  • Creative Thinkers & Problem Solvers

KAMs are there to make things work out well for customer accounts. This often requires creative thinking and problem solving on their part to come up with the best solutions for both parties. There is no luxury of cut and paste solutions for KAMs because everything must be tailored to fit their accounts specifically.


Challenges of Leading Key Account Managers

A team of KAMs may not operate in the same way as some other teams in the business would. Because of the traits described above, KAM teams tend to be self-motivated and may not need much supervision. However, that doesn’t make it easy to lead a team of KAMs.

You need to gain the trust of your team before you’ll be able to accomplish much. If your team cannot trust you, it will be difficult to get your KAMs to follow your initiatives and get on board with your goals. They must see that you’re working for their benefit and the benefit of their accounts before they will be interested in committing to long-term goals.

Building trust requires you to have your team’s back and support them in their efforts to achieve success for their key accounts. It also means you will need to demonstrate your intentions to help your KAMs get better at their own jobs through development, training, and otherwise. A commitment to developing your team shows that you are looking to make your existing team into the best it can be, and many KAMs will look forward to an opportunity to build up their own skills and knowledge.

Team size is usually an issue for organizations that are practicing key account management. It’s not efficient for KAMs to take on too many clients at once but having too few KAMs could mean overworking your staff. When thinking about scaling, team size can become a very contentious issue because you need to stay the right size to keep up with business, but you also need to keep your KAMs as familiar faces that can be recognizable to your key accounts. Too few team members may be inefficient, but too many could be ineffective.

Possibly one of the largest challenges you’ll encounter leading a team of KAMs is balancing out the need for empowerment with the demands from other parts of the organization. It is challenging for KAMs to do their job satisfactorily if they are unable to make any important decisions themselves when dealing directly with the customer. If they must come for authorization all the time, it can hinder communication between the two parties.

However, unfettered decision-making authority for KAMs could lead to strategy conflicts and a long-term disaster for your company. Finding the balance can prove to be a large challenge for team leaders who want to avoid frustrating their KAMs but cannot afford to give them too much control over the direction of each key account.


How to Lead a Team of Key Account Managers to Success

Overcoming the challenges of leading a team of KAMs can be difficult, but there are certain things that will lead to success more often than not in this context. You can enhance your chances of leading a successful key account management team by trying to incorporate these principles and practices:

  • Be a KAM to Your KAMs

Not all organizations are particularly KAM-friendly. If the structure of your team or organization does not accommodate the needs of your team, you need to act as their advocate and seek the necessary changes. Just as KAMs are advocates for their customers, you as the team leader need to be their advocate to get the resources and company structure necessary for them to work effectively in their roles.

If you want KAMs to succeed, you need to be fully committed to making their job not only possible but as simple as possible. They are your main point of contact for your organization’s most important customers. If your KAMs are having difficulty doing their job for any reason, act as if you KAMs are your key account and you are their account manager. Do your best to get them the resources they need to find success.

  • Lead Based on Customer Needs

Customers are the first priority for your KAM team. It’s their job to always think about how their actions and the company’s actions will affect their customers and act in the customer’s best interest. Therefore, if you want to succeed with a team of KAMs, you also need to consider the impact of your decisions and actions on your organization’s customers.

Consider the needs of your customers first, so you can approach you KAMs with initiatives, solutions, and otherwise, that revolve around making relations with customers better. If you cast a vision or decide on a strategy that doesn’t consider your customer’s needs, your KAMs will have difficulty reconciling their mission with your directives.

The needs of customers help to dictate the actions of KAMs. Something that isn’t going to help the customers will also not be beneficial to KAMs. Focusing on customer needs will help you to make decisions that your KAMs can also get behind.

  • Communicate Well

Because one of the main missions of a KAM is communicating with customers and your company, you need to excel at communicating with them as well. Surprises and unexpected changes don’t work well when you have large accounts waiting to hear from you. Your KAMs need to be able to plan things out for a long period of time, so you should be keeping them as far into the loop as possible when it comes to big decisions on the horizon and the strategy moving forward.

In fast-moving industries and competitive environments, excellent communication is even more important. Your customers need to get knowledge as soon as possible to make good decisions and to get the most benefit from your partnership. Therefore, you KAMs need to know what’s going on as soon as possible so they can make adjustments in their strategies and plans early.

  • Support KAM Efforts

As the leader, you cannot just dictate the direction for KAMs, you also have to stand behind them and be their support in the company. KAMs don’t always have the same ideas as executives and other leadership teams when it comes to how things should be done. But, they do know your customers and they represent your customers’ needs. They need your support to implement the strategy successfully.

Because key account management is a company-wide effort and not isolated to a single department, you need to be supporting your KAMs by ensuring that the rest of the company is on board. As the leader, you are partially responsible for reconciling company goals with KAM goals and creating a strategy that’s supportive of both. This will allow your KAMs to have a clear path forward with you supporting their efforts to the rest of the company.

Leading a team of Key Account Managers is a challenge for most organizations. However, a well-organized team of KAMs can be instrumental in helping to retain top customer accounts and to grow sales in those same accounts. When led well, KAMs are a valuable part of your organization, and they can help you achieve greater long-term success.


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CEO at Kapta
Alex Raymond is the CEO of Kapta.