Every senior manager knows that business success relies on successful performance. Successful performance depends on individuals and teams understanding and “owning” the right goals, targets, and performance objectives. They must know what to do, why they should do it, how well they should do it, how often they should do it, and for how long.
Giving someone a job description and a set of targets, putting them through a training program, and reviewing progress is easy, common, and not guaranteed to deliver success. Success relies on coaching—just ask any Olympic gold medal winner, NFL Hall of Famer, or tennis Grand Slam trophy winner.
What is Coaching?
Unless you, the manager, are a world-class KAM yourself, telling your KAM “how” to perform probably won’t result in high-level KAM performance. Coaching is a skill that brings out the best in the performer because the performer, in this case the KAM, “owns” their own performance. They focus on the business objectives of growing the key account, they develop the knowledge and skill sets they need, they use the resources the company provides, but they must have the authority to use the knowledge and apply the skills to the best of their ability.
Enabling the KAM to develop that ability is the coach’s role. Coaches are enablers. They help their players go beyond the industry norm to achieve outstanding performance.
KAM Traits, Knowledge & Skill Sets
Successful key account managers are well-organized, detail-oriented, inquisitive, and they value self-improvement. These traits are often innate in KAMs. The coach’s role is to ensure the KAM understands the power of employing the right traits in order to achieve their performance goals.
Knowledge is essential. Successful KAMs know their industry, their company, its products and services, the associated features, advantages, and benefits, and it is always valuable for them to know their competition’s strengths and weaknesses. The coach does two things:
- Provides the resources for the KAM to learn, record, and use what they learn
- Asks the KAM how that knowledge is making them better at achieving their goals. “Asking” is not the occasional conversation or the quarterly review discussion, asking is a pre-planned coaching session that results in improved or continued world-class performance. Effective coaches ask the right questions to raise key account managers’ awareness about their own performance levels, so they can relate their answers to their individual performance levels and business objectives.
Skills are obvious. Successful KAMs are good communicators, effective questioners, and purposeful listeners. They understand the purchase decision-making process, so they can apply their sales skills to that process. They have strong organizational skills, and they pay attention to detail, so they can follow up in order to solve problems and strengthen the relationship with the key account’s key personnel. The coach does the same with skills as with knowledge: ask, focus, apply, review.
KPIs and Metrics That Measure and Track KAM Success
Some companies rely on sales numbers as the primary, if not only, KPI. The metrics compare the KAM with regular sales team performance. However, the companies that see key account management as a different function from traditional sales performance introduce other KPIs and use broader metrics with the result that KAM performance improves.
Effective KAM performance impacts a company’s bottom line via sales performance, customer satisfaction and loyalty, market share, and overall profitability. KPIs and metrics should apply to these KAM areas. As the saying goes, “What gets measured gets done,” so the coach’s role is to focus on helping the KAM measure the right things. This enables the KAM to own their own performance.
Useful KPIs include:
- Overall Sales Units Achieved
- Overall Sales Revenue
- Sales Units and Revenue per key account (KA)
- Key account results compared to non-key account results
- Overall Profit by KAM
- Profit by each KA
- KA satisfaction rating
- KA retention
These KPIs keep management, individual KAMs, and the key account management team focused on overall KAM performance, and provide practical reasons for further training and coaching. They also demand that the resources are in place so the KAM can make best use of these KPIs to measure their own performance. The coach will explore—by asking—how well the KAM is using these metrics to self-measure their own standards of performance.
Effective Coaches Provide Appropriate Resources
The coach also manages and supports. As a manager, the coach provides resources that enable the KAM to perform at his best. Such resources include:
- Effective training programs, so they can continually improve their knowledge and skills. This resource also enables and encourages KAMs to focus on the traits that will support their own performance.
- Effective Voice of Customer (VoC) research, so KAMs know what the KA needs from the company, and from them as the KAM
- Frequent VoC surveys shared with the KAM team, so they can respond and act accordingly
- KAM team meetings to discuss their needs, problems, and successes. KAMs learn from each other, and management uses the meetings to decide how they can support, train, and coach appropriately.
- A comprehensive and easy-to-use records system to enable an effective handover process from non-KA to KA status
The Manager as Coach
Coaches know the system, the standards, and the goals. Their role as manager is to provide the corporate and personal resources KAMs need to succeed. As coach, their role is to use the corporate objectives as parameters and stay on top of the KAM’s agenda and performance. The KAM is the day-to-day expert, the key account expert, and the expert on their own, individual needs.
When managers better understand the KAM-coach relationship, making themselves available and knowing when to get involved will become automatic.