Great leaders know they lead best when their intelligence is clear, accurate, comprehensive and, most of all, pertinent. Solomon said: “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser.” Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops called him “The Little Corporal” because he spent time with them, learned from them, and used these insights to create his campaigns. He didn’t simply rely on what his generals told him. His battle plans are still taught in military academies around the world. General Omar Bradley, Eisenhower’s army field commander, said in an interview for the book American Generalship, “A thorough knowledge of your profession is the first requirement of leadership, and that certainly has to be acquired.”
Every successful business is led by a CEO and senior managers who have the knowledge to effectively direct the entire company, or their respective departments. We all know key account business is a major element of long-term success. Key accounts bring in more critical business, resulting in greater overall company profitability than non-key customers and clients.
Company leaders make strategic decisions based on knowledge – overall market knowledge and specific customer/client knowledge. They receive some of this from their key account managers (KAMs.) One key responsibility of KAMs is to deliver that knowledge, so senior managers make sound strategic decisions. As a key account manager it is your responsibility to ensure that senior managers make those decisions based, to some extent, on the intel you give them. If it was true for Napoleon Bonaparte, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley, then it is true for your senior execs. Unfortunately, not all KAMs deliver on that responsibility.
Why It Doesn’t Happen
In some cases the KAM either lacks critical knowledge, or the KAM has the knowledge but doesn’t share it. This can often be traced back to two common causes:
- The KAM relies on ad hoc information gathering, or only on customer surveys, instead of an integrated Voice Of Customer (VOC) research approach.
- Senior managers’ forward-planning strategies simply fail to collect and use that “thorough knowledge,” to reiterate Bradley’s comment.
Assuming a company makes best use of both surveys and VOC research, you as the KAM, must deliver that knowledge in ways it can best be used by those who drive marketing, product development, and production planning – these being the three strategic areas that are outside direct KAM responsibility.
Each senior manager and department head needs some of the available intel to use in their own way. Each manager, therefore, should communicate with you, so you know what they need. This will allow you deliver that thorough knowledge. As KAMs you should expect them to tell you what they need, so you can collect and then deliver the knowledge in the most appropriate format, and with the most appropriate focus. You may collect it as a normal part of your dealings with your accounts, as part of VOC research, surveys, or by specifically arranging meetings to obtain the information they need.
When you know why your accounts need your company’s products and services, you can sell them. When you know what else your accounts need–and you pass that on–your company can develop and market it, so you can sell more than you do now.
If your senior managers do not communicate with you to ask for your help it might be due to any of the following:
- They do not understand the importance of key account management.
- They do not realize that you, the KAM, have direct access to customer and client personnel who can give you the intel they–your senior execs–could use.
- They do not know how to ask you the right questions, or tell you what they need, resulting in you not being able to find answers.
- Your company does not have a communication/education process in place, so they cannot effectively communicate their needs up and down.
What Leaders and KAMs Should Do to Get the Intelligence
Successful business leaders keep the following questions at the forefront of their minds:
- How much of our next month/quarter/year of business do we want to come from our key accounts?
- How can we maximize our revenue and profitability from those key accounts?
- How well do we know our key accounts’ goals, challenges, obstacles, needs and wants?
- How well are our KAMs using the knowledge we gain from the SWOT analyses we carry out?
- How can each department in our company use that information in their own planning, so they deliver what the key accounts need?
- If that is how we can use that intel, how are we actually using it to ensure we deliver the products and service levels our key accounts need so they can best achieve their own goals?
- Is our current way of using intel increasing our sales, maximizing our profitability, growing the key accounts, and keeping competitors out?
- How else can we use that knowledge to help us develop improved, new products and service areas, or expand into new markets?
Integrating the Two
Effective communication is a two-way street. The KAM team must know to collect thorough knowledge by using VOC processes as well as the more reactive “customer satisfaction surveys.” KAMs should build intel-gathering into their account management practices. They should plan for goal-oriented meetings with individuals, teams, and focus groups within each key account as appropriate.
Your key accounts value research when they know you are collecting it in order to deliver better products and higher service levels that ultimately help them better achieve their own business goals.
It helps KAM performance if you know what they else you should build into your research, aside from what your own competence tells you. If you do not receive guidance from your own marketing, development and planning departments, you may not be well-equipped to provide the critical information those departments need. When you do gather all of the VOC and other intel that your internal departments expect, the company can effectively operate at a higher caliber of overall performance.
This integration has clear results:
- You deliver the “thorough knowledge” your senior managers need.
- By working together in this way you can and do educate them.
- The company-key account relationship becomes stronger, and both parties can plan ahead with more certainty. The result is a win for the key account, a win for the KAM team, which in turn is a win for the company as a whole.
Curious to see how you can take your Key Account Management skills to the next level? Download this helpful ebook on how to create powerful action plans for your key accounts or sign up for a demo of Kapta.