Have you ever wondered what sets sales and key account management apart? Or are you maybe curious to discover the surprising similarities that tie them together? Well if you are and you are ready to unravel the mysteries of sales and key account management, then buckle up because I am going to answer once and for all, what is the difference between key account management and sales?
Now, sales and key account management, they can be quite different. They’re two very different approaches to managing customers and achieving business growth. So let’s talk about the differences and then we’re going to hit the similarities, all right?
[01:08] Acquisition vs retention
Okay, well, look. Number one, sales focuses on customer acquisition, or key account management focuses on customer retention. And that’s one of the key differences between the two teams. Sales are looking to get new customers. They’re cold calling, they’re doing outbound marketing lead generation.
Key account managers are focused on retaining existing high value customers. So that means that the approach, the strategies and the goals of the two different teams are very different.
[01:34] Large customer base vs small customer base
Another difference is the customer base. Sales focuses on selling to a large number of customers. Or key account management focuses on managing a small number of important but high value customers.
[01:46] Individual deals vs overall relationship
Another difference is that sales reps are more focused on individual deals, while key account managers are focused on the overall relationship. Sales might just win a customer, but they’re only focused on winning the customer. Once they’ve won the customer, they’re moving on. Key account managers focus on building and growing the ongoing relationship with the customer. So that means that KAMs have a much deeper understanding of the customer’s business, their long term goals, and that’s going to mean they’re able to give much stronger strategic advice and support.
[02:13] Long term vs short term objectives
Another difference is objectives. The objectives of sales is short term. They want to hit the current sales quota. They’re typically quarter to quarter. They’ve got very target, quota driven KPIs.
The objectives of key account management, however, is much more long term. They want to build successful, influential relationships. They want to grow customer loyalty. They want to increase the lifetime value of the customer. And those things take time. They’re not just done in a single quarter.
[02:39] Nature of the sales cycles is different
Another difference is the complexity of the sales process. Key account management typically involves a longer and more complex sales cycle compared to general sales roles. Key accounts often have more intricate decision making processes. They involve multiple stakeholders.
They require a deeper understanding of the customer’s business landscape. The stakeholders chop and change over time. I’ve had accounts for three years and I’ve had a revolving door of key contacts.
Sales, typically, once the lead is qualified and in motion, will deal with one or two key contacts that are primary drivers of the deal and champions, until it either is one or close. So it’s very different in terms of the stakeholder and the complexity and the steps involved in selling and closing deals.
[03:23] Internal collaboration needs are different
Another difference is internal collaboration. Key account management frequently requires close collaboration with internal teams to align resources, address customer needs and provide a seamless customer experience. I have tackled this on the podcast before. I’ll put a link to episode five in the show Notes, which is all about how you can overcome internal conflict. But it’s a key feature of key account management that is very different to the sort of internal collaboration required from the sales team.
The sales team are typically dealing with individual sales roles. They often can operate independently. Maybe they’re working with bid writers, technical, sales engineers, but the number of people that are involved, that they need to collaborate with, and the duration of that collaboration is very limited in comparison to key account managers.
[04:10] Approach to customer advocacy is different
Something else that’s quite different is the element of customer advocacy. Because key account management involves being the advocate for the customer within the organisation. They kind of have to represent, be the voice of the customer within the organisation. They have to work closely with internal teams to address specific customer requirements, to resolve issues, to drive customer-centric initiatives.
This customer advocacy aspect is far less pronounced in sales. The focus there is more on transactions. And even when the sales manager is the advocate for the customer—is the champion, it’s exclusively to get the deal across the line.
The only driver of championing that cause for a sales manager is to get ink on the contract. Not so for key account managers. We’re doing this out of the love of the customer, of trying to make things better, more effective, more efficient, improve quality. And those things aren’t attached to revenue necessarily or a contract.
[05:03] Different contribution to revenue
Another difference is revenue contribution. So sales and account management, yes, they contribute to revenue generation, but key account management is often responsible for a larger portion of the company’s overall revenue.
I know. Crazy, right? What’s this? Key account managers are the revenue growth engine of a business? Shock! Horror!
Drives me nuts that people think account managers aren’t salespeople and that we have nothing to do with selling. We do. And in fact we’re the ones that keep companies going.
Yes, we have to do cold calls. Yes, we have to do pitches. Yes, we have to do contracting and negotiation. We have to upsell, we have to cross sell, we sell.
Okay, you got me on my high horse. Now, deep breaths. Warwick. Deep breaths. Let me move on.
Key account managers are focused on account growth, on maximising the value the customers create that can result in higher revenue potential rather than that individual one and done sales transaction—now we won the business, let’s move on.
[05:58] Customer value orientation is different
Another final difference is customer value. Key account managers place value beyond the immediate transaction. We want to provide ongoing support, strategic guidance, personalised solutions, all that kind of stuff that’s going to help our key accounts achieve their business objectives and, of course, our company as well.
Sales, on the other hand, are focused more on positioning products and services to meet specific customer needs in a transactional context. They want to get this deal closed. They’re not looking at lingering or hanging around. They want to find a problem, solve it with a solution, get a contract done, get it implemented, and get on to the next deal.
So these are some of the differences that highlight the shift between sort of sales focus and the strategic, account driven, relationship driven approach of key account management.
So sales is definitely vital for generating revenue. Not going to deny that. But key account management is vital for nurturing and growing high level, high value customer relationships for the long term.
[06:53] About Apollo
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and see the difference for yourself. All righty, shall we get back to the episode?
[08:18] Similarities between Sales and KAM
All right, Heroes, let’s get into the similarities between sales and key account management.
There are definitely some things where they cross over.
[08:26] Both need to expand and nurture customer relationships
Relationship building. That’s an obvious one. Both sales and key account management require building and nurturing commercial relationships with customers. The scale may differ, but obviously the importance of establishing trust, rapport, understanding customer needs remains the same in both roles.
[08:41] Both generate revenue
Revenue generation is another similarity. So yes, we’ve already kind of talked about this. Ultimately, both roles are aimed at driving revenue and achieving business growth, whether it’s closing an individual sale or it’s expanding a key account. Ultimately the end goal is to generate revenue and contribute to the organization’s bottom line. So again, very similar focus there.
[09:00] Both customer focused
Another similarity is the customer focus. Now, both roles, regardless of sales or key account management, have the customer in mind. The customer is at the centre of what they do. They both need to understand their customers challenges, their preferences, their goals, in order to effectively position products and services and tailor their solutions. So ultimately, if the customer is going to be a happy, satisfied customer, then both key account management and sales need to be very customer-centric.
[09:25] Same communication skills needed
There’s also a lot of crossover in the types of communication and the skills needed. Because effective communication is crucial in sales and key account management. Because both roles need to deliver persuasive sales pitches, they need to engage in strategic discussions, they need to be professional, they need to be able to influence and persuade and negotiate and build mutually beneficial partnerships. So communication skills is a very, very important quality in both sales and key account management.
[09:52] Both are results oriented
Sales and key account management need to deliver their metrics and their goals might vary. But success in both roles is usually measured by achieving sales targets, increasing customer loyalty, driving revenue and delivering tangible business outcomes. Case closed.
So, despite their differences, sales and key account management do share some core similarities in terms of customer centric approach, focus on revenue generation, need for effective communication and emphasis on achieving results.
So I hope this dissection or dissertation of the differences between and of course the similarities between key account management and sales has been helpful. I think recognising these commonalities and recognising where there are differences can help bridge the gap between the two functions because they do need to work closely together. Because account management has to implement what sales has won. They need to collaborate, they need to share knowledge. And the more harmony there is between sales and account management, I’m all for it, the better it’s going to be for everybody.
And that’s a wrap for today’s episode. I hope you enjoyed exploring the fascinating world of sales and key account management with me. Remember, whether you’re just starting your sales journey or you already have some account management experience under your belt anywhere on that spectrum, knowing the differences between sales and key account management can truly elevate your skills.
If you have any questions or topics you’d like me to cover in future episodes, feel free to reach out, please. There is a link in the show notes and I love hearing from amazing listeners like you.
Thanks so much for joining me today. I’ve been your host, Warwick Brown, and I’ll see you in another episode real soon.