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Key Account Management vs Sales: Spot the Difference


About the episode

Key Account Management vs Sales: Different roles or two sides of the same coin? In this episode we take a provocative look at what sets sales and key account management apart. And the surprising similarities that unite them. Get ready to unravel the mysteries of sales and key account management, and learn the answer to the age-old question, “What is the difference between key account management and sales?”

You'll Learn

Join us as we dive into the captivating world of sales and key account management. Discover the surprising similarities and differences that set them apart. From customer acquisition to customer retention, individual deals to overall relationships, and short-term objectives to long-term growth, we’ll explore it all!

🕑 Timestamps:

  • [00:00] Introduction: Unlocking the truth
  • [01:08] Acquisition vs retention: The first distinction
  • [01:34] Large customer base vs small customer base: Exploring the customer landscape
  • [01:46] Individual deals vs overall relationship: A closer look at the focus
  • [02:13] Long term vs short term objectives: Goals that shape the approach
  • [02:39] Complexity of the sales cycles: Understanding the sales journey
  • [03:23] Internal collaboration needs: The power of teamwork
  • [04:10] Approach to customer advocacy: Elevating the customer experience
  • [05:03] Different contribution to revenue: Key account management’s impact
  • [05:58] Customer value orientation: Going beyond transactions
  • [06:53] About Apollo: Our sponsor’s message
  • [08:18] Similarities between Sales and KAM: Where they converge
  • [08:26] Relationship building: Building bridges with customers
  • [09:00] Revenue generation: Driving business growth
  • [09:25] Customer focus: Putting the customer first
  • [09:52] Communication skills: Art of effective persuasion
  • [10:11] Results orientation: Measuring success
  • [10:54] Summary: Bridging the gap

Don’t miss out on this eye-opening episode that will transform your understanding of sales and key account management. Hit that subscribe button to stay tuned and elevate your skills! 🚀


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 In this episode

Key Account Managers and Sales: Frenemies or secret allies? This podcast episode challenges assumptions about how these vital customer leadership roles differ and connect.

Episode transcript

[00:00] Introduction

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

So before we move on to what are the similarities, how about we take a break to hear from our sponsor? This episode is brought to you by Apollo, your ultimate sales co-pilot. So if you’re ready to supercharge your sales strategy and unlock new opportunities, then look no further. Apollo is a cutting edge sales intelligence and engagement platform that’s going to take your sales game to the next level. Say goodbye to tedious prospecting and hello to a world of possibilities.
This is crazy. The database has more than 250,000,000 contacts and more than 60 million companies. So you have a treasure trove, a treasure chest of potential clients at your fingertips. I am absolutely loving the platform. It’s free. Did I mention that? It’s free. Obviously, there’s limitations with the free tool, but even the paid platform is incredible value.
I’ve been using this to search and engage key contacts. I have put them into, like, email sequences. I’ve been able to craft personalised strategies that resonate with them, and I’ve been able to identify and nurture those leads from start to finish. And Apollo has you covered every step of the way.
So check out their website, see how their platform can revolutionise your approach to sales. I promise you, it’s worth checking out, it’s worth testing. It’s free to get started, 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.

[10:11] Summary

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.

[10:54] Outro

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.
Now don’t forget to hit that subscribe button to stay updated on our latest episodes. Hey, and if you’re on Telegram, how about following The KAM Club over there where I announce all my blog posts, my YouTube videos, and podcast episodes as soon as they’re available.
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.
Bye Heroes.

Meet Your Host

Warwick Brown, Founder and Instructor at the KAM Club

Warwick Brown


I was tired of hearing stories about great key account managers losing their way, left stuck and let down. 

I wanted to create a space where key account managers could thrive and be their best. To give them the right tools and mindset that gets results. And to eliminate overwhelm.

And so The KAM Club was born – the world’s most amazing community of key account managers. 

I’ve spent more than 20 years in the field as a key account manager. So I know what works, and what doesn’t. 

I’m now on mission to share the knowledge I’ve gained, to inspire and help key account managers everywhere reach their potential.

You can find me on YouTubeLinkedInmy blog and of course, The KAM Club podcast. 

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