Ideally, everyone at your company is focused on delivering for the customer. But on a cross-functional team, it’s easy to get distracted by a specific role and the day-to-day stress of getting things done. That’s part of why Key Account Managers (KAMs) are so critical to maintaining a customer-centric approach.
Key Account Managers are the voice of the customer in the room. Their job is to know the client better than anyone in the organization—and sometimes better than the client knows themselves. This knowledge is an indispensable asset to the team.
There are several tasks and responsibilities that fall under the key account management role (it is, after all, a full-time job); however, we’re not going to dive into the KAM to-do list here. Today we’re going to talk about behaviors of successful KAMs.
In our experience, great KAMs practice:
- Accountability to themselves, their team, and their customer
- Consistency and clarity in their communication and documentation
- Active communication, including asking good questions and listening attentively to the answers
- Priority management, staying focused on the big-picture goal rather than running down rabbit holes
- Genuine customer curiosity, on a professional and personal level
- Persistent professionalism, rather than overly personal reactions to feedback or conflict
The first 3 are fairly self-explanatory, so let’s take a closer look at the last three in this list, including how they inform day-to-day work of —and how purpose-built technology can help reinforce the behaviors that make KAMs successful.
KAMs stay focused on the big picture goals, letting the Action Plan they made with their customers dictate the course of their work, rather than reacting at random along the way.
It’s not just time management. It’s priority management. By staying focused on big picture goals, KAMs avoid burning their time and their customer’s resources on rabbit holes. Sometimes this means keeping the customer in check as much as the internal team.
For example, a great KAM may receive an off-the-cuff email from a client sharing an idea they had for an additional deliverable. (Sidenote: That’s a positive sign. Clients reaching out proactively to share ideas before they’re fully baked means they trust you and want your opinion.) A good KAM will acknowledge the thinking and the idea; a great KAM will place it in the context of the overall strategic objectives the customer is trying to achieve. If the idea makes sense, a great KAM will see that it makes its way into the action plan, so rather than just blindly executing, the team can execute right. And if the idea doesn’t make sense—or doesn’t make sense right now—a great KAM can talk their customer off the ledge, park the idea in a Future Considerations lot, and stay focused on more relevant tasks at hand.
Tools like Kapta help KAMs stay focused on the big picture. Our Account Planning templates are grounded in the customer’s big picture objectives, working methodically to translate those goals into action items for the team. Because every action item ladders up to the big picture goal, the rationale is always clear: Here’s why we’re doing what we’re doing today. When the relationship between the what and the why stays visible, it’s easier to stay on task.
Genuine Customer Curiosity
It’s easy to say you want to put the customer first. It’s hard to really do it. It helps, tremendously, to be fueled by genuine curiosity.
Successful KAMs are always digging deeper to learn more about their customer’s organization. Not only the reporting structure and strategic goals—although those are important—but also the internal dynamics. What makes things tick? Is the founder a charismatic leader and engaging speaker, but a difficult person to work for? Are there competing ideas about the best path forward? If so, how do decisions get made? Who do you call when you really want to get something done?
It’s not about gossip or office politics. For successful KAMs, it’s about understanding the internal clockwork of their customer’s organization, so they are better able to navigate those dynamics, and help their customers achieve what they’re trying to achieve.
Successful KAMs aren’t just interested in their customers as pieces of an organizational puzzle. They’re also interested in them as people. What motivates their customer? What drives them crazy? Do they want to be copied on emails as an FYI, or would they rather keep their inbox clear? This is the kind of knowledge that drives truly satisfactory customer relationships—and starts to make the key account manager indispensable to a customer.
Genuine curiosity about customers means that getting to know them isn’t a chore—it’s interesting, engaging work for KAMs, which makes it interesting and enjoyable for the customer, too. Everyone likes to be heard.
It’s helpful when a KAM is naturally a “people person,” and over time, the KAM talent pool tends to self-select that way. But even our natural strengths are stronger with structural support. That means not only hiring KAMs with a genuine interest in people around them, but also supporting them with infrastructure that prompts and rewards successful behaviors.
Kapta helps fuel customer curiosity by helping KAMs dig deeper with Voice of Customer tools, SWOT analysis tools, and dynamic customer profiles. Kapta also provides a mechanism for capturing the answers in highly visible ways, so the whole team can benefit from the KAM’s knowledge and efforts.
Successful KAMs keep their cool. Customers can be demanding and critical; sometimes their feedback is fair. Sometimes it’s not.
Let’s pause a minute for some frank talk. Putting customers first doesn’t mean customers will always be easy. Some are just difficult. But when successful KAMs hear antagonism (or silence) from their customers, they don’t take it personally. They follow up persistently and get to the heart of the issue, dealing with the feedback like the pros they are.
It’s not because successful KAMs are saints. (Although they are, by virtue of experience, somewhat desensitized to criticism.) KAMs are able to respond professionally to customers because their organizations create time and space for them to do so.
We talk a lot about the 3 pillars of customer-centricity: People, process, and technology. A key part of the “people” piece is that you designate a team dedicated solely to client management, separating that team at least one degree from the team responsible for doing the bulk of the work. Why? Because people are more likely to remain calm and collected in the face of criticism when they’re just a little bit separate from the work itself. And they are better able to compose themselves (and, more importantly, their response) when they aren’t completely buried in other tasks.
Separating and designating the key account management function creates structural support for an extremely successful behavior: Responding professionally and persistently, rather than personally, to feedback, criticism, and silence from customers.
Reinforcing Good Behaviors
As a manager or leader in your organization, your hiring practices should in some way reflect these behaviors. Ask about them in interviews and when calling references. Look for evidence in candidates’ past experience. But remember: It’s not enough to hire people with a natural inclination towards successful behaviors. You have to provide structural support.
Consider an aviation analogy. Professional pilots are a self-selected group. They have good spatial reasoning and they feel comfortable operating machines. They don’t panic easily. They are careful and conscientious. But despite their talent and natural “fit” for aviation, they all use checklists, for every aspect of flight, no matter how experienced they are. A pre-flight checklist; an in-flight checklist. Checklists for taking off and landing. Checklists are a big part of why commercial aviation is so safe.
Process and technology act as “checklists” for great Key Account Managers. They prompt successful behavior and capture the output for future learning.
It’s not enough to understand the roles and responsibilities of good Key Account Managers. You also need to understand and support the behaviors that make them successful.
To see how Kapta supports successful behaviors in key account managers, schedule a personal demo today.