Let’s get this out of the way before moving on: there really is no one perfect template for structuring your organization for successful key account management. Every company is different and implementing a Key Account Management (KAM) practice is a significant and often complex undertaking. There are, however, some general principles to consider when working toward that goal.
- Support for rolling out a key account management practice must come from the highest level of your organization.
- To be most effective, the KAMs need to be close to both senior management and to the delivery teams.
- KAM is a cross-team effort and is an ever-evolving practice which requires organizational flexibility and responsiveness.
Top level support
Since rolling out key account management as part of your business strategy requires coordination across most of your company, a good deal of resources, and, most importantly, time to successfully implement, not having buy-in from the highest levels means almost certain failure. This means all the way up to the Board level. It is important that everyone understands and supports the vision. This will not happen overnight and is an ongoing effort, but not having to constantly convince the Board and the C-suite of the value is critical, since implementing KAM takes years, not months.
KAM is not a sales strategy, it’s a business strategy. As such, it cannot be viewed as one department’s initiative. To be successful, there will be shuffling around of people, incentives, processes, policies, etc. Without the Board and Executive team’s blessing for this magnitude of change, you can imagine what is bound to happen. Strong leadership with the authority to make the changes needed to bring alignment throughout the organization is imperative.
Furthermore, KAM should have a C-suite sponsor to guide the transformation. This could be the CEO, the COO, the CRO, etc. The important thing is that the program has a high-level spokesperson continuously communicating its value and removing obstacles across the organization and the Board.
Easy access to C-suite and functional groups
Embedding your KAMs directly into your traditional sales team or customer success or services teams is not ideal. The tasks, the priorities, the metrics, the incentives, etc are different for KAMs than for those other functions. There is certainly overlap and there may well be people from those functions who would make great KAMs, but it is not the same role.
Whether you view key account management as a sales function, a customer success function or otherwise, the role of key account manager is much easier to perform if it has easy access to senior management and to those delivering the products and services to the key accounts. For this reason, it can be easier to implement KAM in flatter organizations. However, if you do have a more hierarchical organization, you can make it work. The important thing is giving your KAMs the same level of access to the C-suite as your traditional sales team and services team.
Most key accounts expect this level of access to ensure they and their needs are being well-represented to the company. Key accounts should be strategic partnerships, which means the customer is investing heavily in the relationship as well. The best partnerships will have strong relationships at multiple levels - executive, account management, operational. Structuring KAMs in such a way that they are a function that reports directly into the C-suite better allows for this.
At the same time, it is important for KAMs not be far removed from the other functional groups delivering the services to their customers. Since the KAMs will need to make special concessions or offerings for the key accounts, it is crucial for the KAMs to collaborate and coordinate with them to provide the extra attention the key accounts need. In addition to making sure all of these other functional groups understand the importance of key account management and work with the KAMs to make the practice work, it can be helpful to designate a person (or people) within those groups as point or lead for key accounts. This structure offers some continuity for the KAMs (and the customers they serve) in such a way that also allows for the functional groups to maintain smooth operations for the Basic Stage Relationships.
Flexibility is critical
As everything above reinforces, KAM is an ever-evolving, cross-functional, multi-year journey. Organizations that are very rigid in their practices, policies, and structure will have a difficult time succeeding in implementing a key account management program. Those that do succeed are comfortable with experimentation, flexibility, and some level of failure. There will be missteps along the way. The key is recognizing those missteps and responding them.
Allowing for flexibility at the outset of structuring key account management in your organization will make it easier to respond to unforeseen needs and challenges as they arise. It's natural to want to have things ironed out completely; but if you can stomach it, rolling things out incrementally and iteratively can be a good strategy.
Because every company is different - the team, the customers, the products, etc -and key account management is a complex undertaking, there is no one right way to structure key account management. Discovering how to position KAM in your own organization is the first in many steps and is also, in most cases, an iterative process. If you have top level support, position your KAMs with easy access to senior leadership and the functional groups, and allow for flexibility, you will be off to a good start. But that's just our $0.02; we'd love to hear what you think. Leave your thoughts in the comments or get in touch directly.