The Seven Deadly Sins of Key Account Management

It’s easy to spot the biggest sin of all in client management: losing the account. But by the time that happens, it’s already too late. So what behaviors can you look for — and try to avoid — in the meantime?

In this post, we explore the Seven Deadly Sins of Key Account Management. And while that sounds serious, these are actually extremely common mistakes. KAMs who make these mistakes time and time again not only put their customers at risk of churn, but also fail to realize the full potential of the relationships they manage.

1) Being tactical instead of strategic.

Tactical account managers focus on the task at hand, delivering what the customer asked for. And while that’s important, it’s often only table stakes — and it might not be enough to grow the business. Strategic KAMs use every deliverable as an opportunity to ask questions, dive deeper, learn more about the customer, and understand what they are ultimately trying to achieve.

The truth is, sometimes customers don’t know what they want — or, they know what they want, but they don’t know the best way to get there. As a KAM, you want to be a trusted advisor, meaning, you want your customer to call you as soon as they recognize the problem, not necessarily after they’ve determined a solution. To earn that trust, you can’t just deliver — you have to also decode. You have to understand the strategic objectives behind every ask so you can present big ideas to solve them. That’s how you move from being a vendor who executes a tactic to being a trusted advisor who co-develops a strategy. And from a business development standpoint, that’s how you keep new work coming in the door.

The trick here is, sometimes moving from tactical to strategic means pushing back on your clients, or at least, presenting an alternative path forward. Most customers will appreciate the thinking and effort, even if they don’t take your recommendation. As long as you meet the tactical requirement, there’s generally space to explore the strategy more fully, and there’s almost no reason not to do so. At the end of the day, tactical key account managers tend to leave money on the table, whereas strategic KAMs tend to drive organic growth through bigger SOWs.

2) Being reactive instead of proactive.

Reactive KAMs are always going to find themselves dealing with unwelcome surprises. That’s because they’re not staying ahead of the knowledge curve, whether it’s with customers, competitors, or the overall landscape.

Being proactive with customers means staying in constant contact. You have to know if and when their strategic priorities shift; whether and how new leadership affects the plan; and how they’re impacted by shifts in the marketplace. As for the marketplace itself, B2B service providers can’t afford to wait for their customers to come to them with a challenge. They have to be looking down the road at all times, anticipating trends and making timely plans to pivot as necessary.

The current crisis is a good case study for reactivity vs proactivity. For the first few weeks, there was no choice but to react as quickly as possible. However, as we settle into the new normal, it’s time to return to proactivity, helping customers navigate the difficult road ahead with tools such as VOC and SWOT analyses.

3) Being self-centered instead of customer-centric.

Now more than ever, customer-centricity is the way forward. As markets become more crowded and customers demand more and more personalization, B2B clients will get lost in semantics if they try to differentiate themselves on paper alone. The difference has to be in the approach; being more customer-centric makes you more competitive, period.

Many companies understand that in theory, but they have a difficult time operationalizing a customer-centric approach. Building customer engagement requires not only intention, but also infrastructure: A team dedicated to customer engagement. A tech stack oriented towards customer results. And leadership that continuously underscores a customer-first growth track.

It’s important to note: This isn’t altruism. It’s sustainable growth. When your growth goals and strategies are rooted in who the customer is and what they need from you, you may end up with incremental vs explosive growth — but that’s the exact kind of growth that prepares you to weather a storm.

4) Not building account plans.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” We’re no Thoreau, so we say it like this: Your big picture strategies don’t matter if you don’t execute successfully.

A solid account plan is designed to translate pie-in-the-sky aspirations into discrete objectives, milestones, tactics and action items. Account plans help answer the question: “What do we do next?” They build and sustain momentum as you tackle a months- or years-long initiative, keeping teams focused on the big vision even as they are mired in day-to-day execution.

Account planning doesn’t need to be mysterious. The right tech stack includes a KAM platform, which should include an account planning framework, with integrations for Slack and other programs your team uses to get things done. Which leads us to the next KAM sin:

5) Using the wrong systems.

On the one hand, client management has and always will require a human touch, no matter how proficient technology becomes. On the other, if your KAMs aren’t supported by a data-driven, synchronized platform dedicated specifically to KAM, they’re going to miss opportunities — either because they don’t have visibility into key trends, or because they’re bogged down in busy work and can’t put in the right client face time.

We’ve written before about the right tech stack for KAMs. The main thing is to have a platform designed specifically for key account management. Going back to the point above about intention and infrastructure: you need a client management system that includes both a clear internal process and purpose-driven technology to support, accelerate, and amplify that process.

The truth is, your CRM won’t cut it. CRMs are designed to generate and capitalize on leads, but they’re not designed to build customer engagement through ongoing connection, strategic planning, and metrics tracking. If you’re relying on a CRM to build a customer-centric approach to KAM, you’ll be disappointed every time.

6) Not reporting value back.

The day to day work of keeping clients happy is strenuous, and often there’s no time for reflection. But the only way to make sure that work is not in vain is to periodically check in to confirm your clients are actually happy.

Periodic client reviews (note, not quarterly — that’s not frequent enough) are an excellent way to gauge client satisfaction, and they’re also an opportunity to present real results. The value of the work you do shouldn’t be hidden. Make sure your customers can see how you’re helping them reach their strategic goals. This is always important, but it’s especially important in a recession, when customers are watching every dime to make sure they’re getting value from their investments.

In order to report value back, you need a way to track it in real time. That means establishing KPIs for each initiative at the outset, and using your KAM platform to drive automated, real-time reporting.

7) Assuming everyone in the company understands the client.

For small organizations, or startups, where everyone wears many hats and interfaces with the customer at all times, this doesn’t tend to be a huge issue. But the larger you grow, the more you’ll need to divide and conquer to manage operations — and the more you’ll risk losing sight of customer needs.

Take, for example, the pharmaceutical industry. Marketing and sales are separate functions, and often, the sales team rolls their eyes at what comes from the marketing team, because those materials don’t reflect the actual, day-to-day interactions with customers.

To avoid this risk, make sure to be aware of if and when certain teams might not spend enough time with the customer to understand their needs. You don’t need to make every team customer-facing, but you do need to make sure customer-facing teams are in the room when important decisions are made.


Nobody wants to lose business. And everyone wants to grow the business they already have. Despite how clear those goals are, it can be less clear how to achieve them — and all too easy to fall into one of the traps above. To see how Kapta can help support strong KAM performance, schedule a personal demo today.

CEO at Kapta
Alex Raymond is the CEO of Kapta.