Think KAM and CSM are separate entities locked in competition? Think again! This episode explodes the myth and reveals how these roles are, in fact, a power duo working in tandem to drive unbeatable customer value. Join Warwick Brown, your favorite KAM Coach, as he delves into the distinct strengths of KAM and CSM, exploring how they collaborate, not compete, to deliver:
Together, they create a holistic customer experience that fosters loyalty, advocacy, and ultimately, thriving businesses. Don’t miss this insightful episode that will transform your understanding of customer success and empower your teams to collaborate for explosive results!
So what is the difference between key account management and customer success? And does it even matter? Well, in the fast-paced world of SaaS, retaining and growing your customer base is everything. Understanding how KAM and CS work hand in hand is the secret sauce to maximising customer lifetime value and keeping those churn rates low. And we’re going to talk all about it in this episode of The KAM Club podcast.
Which is the best? It’s potentially a controversial topic because we all have our own definitions of customer success and key account management and what they do, what they shouldn’t do and where they sit in the organisation. I’m just coming at this from my perspective, having had 20 plus years in the business, in the profession, long before customer success in its current form, in its sort of identity, was ever even a thing. Key account management has been around more or less since the. Although it became a lot more recognised as a professional role in the customer, success started around the early 2010s, kind of really started with the whole growth of SaaS, the explosion of the SaaS model.
And that’s really where customer success had its origins. But it’s obviously grown since then to encompass a lot more kind of definitions and perspectives and responsibilities. So I’m not here to have an argument about what is what. I’m coming at it from my perspective, what I think. Definitely all ears would love to hear your thoughts and comments about what I’m sharing in this episode, because that’s what it’s all about, constructive dialogue.
So feel free to chime in. Absolutely. Would love to hear that. But there is no one definitive version of either, really, especially as we continue to adapt and evolve and business models change and client expectations change and the way organisations want to contribute and add value to those relationships changes. So, having said that little disclaimer out of the way, here’s kind of where I think the distinction lies myself.
Certainly in an organisation where you have two. Where you have both a key account manager and a customer success manager. So this is really the perspective of this episode. It’s where both of those people exist in the same organisation. Who’s going to do what?
How do we carve up the responsibilities? So from my point of view key account management works with the highest value clients within an organisation. Their primary goal is to nurture the strategic partnerships with those key accounts. The focus is on driving significant revenue growth and ensuring these clients are your biggest advocates and maximising retention. So that’s in a nutshell.
The foundations think of KAM as a trusted advisor. They’re deeply understanding the client’s business goals. They’re tailoring solutions to fit them perfectly and to make sure they achieve the results they want to achieve. And they’re all about building strong, influential relationships with decision makers. They’re about negotiating complex deals and organisations and ensuring these accounts remain the cornerstones of your business, that they stick like glue.
Now let’s move on to customer success. I see them as the champions of overall customer satisfaction. Their mission is to make sure that every single client gets the most value out of your products and services. They’re the guides that help customers onboard smoothly, that troubleshoot issues efficiently and that maximise product usage. They interact with internal colleagues to make sure that things operate operationally.
Is that what I was trying to say? That operationally things go well and that they make sure that the requirements of the customer day to day are communicated internally to the product team, to the service team and to other stakeholders. Now that might sound a lot like key account management, but here’s the difference for me. Let’s just reiterate. For me, customer success takes a broader, holistic view and focuses on the entire customer journey.
They’re focused on the very first day, the onboarding, right through to the renewal and beyond. They prioritise engagement, adoption and happiness, making sure the customers love working with you. Think of them as two sides of the same coin. On one side, the key account manager drives the strategic growth, sets the goals. The long term goals translates the customers objectives into the solutions that you can provide and then customer success ensures that foundational satisfaction makes sure everything works like clockwork, right?
They’re not in competition, they’re complementary forces. They’re working together towards a common goal, which is basically loyal, thriving and profitable customers. To make these relationships work, you need to communicate and collaborate. Key account managers rely on customer success insights to understand client needs and tailor their approach. And customer success benefits from key account management’s strategic vision to ensure their efforts align with the bigger picture.
So, win win, right? Now, here’s where things get interesting. Key account managers take that long term strategic view. They focus on expansion and upsells. They’re all about building influential relationships with decision makers and weaving the client into sort of the fabric of your company right to making sure that they’re embedded, that they’re sticky, that they’re loyal.
Customer success is all about here and now, right? They want to make sure today and yesterday and tomorrow that your customers are actively using and loving your product. They’re focused on things like adoption rates, engagement metrics and proactive support. They’re also like the first line of defence against churn. They’re resolving issues before they escalate, before they become problems that actually damage your partnership or put it at risk.
Now, ultimately, both of these are crucial. You can’t really say one is more important than the other, particularly when you have both roles existing within an organisation. Both are crucial at keeping customers happy and both are important at growing their value. Key account managers might secure the big wins, the strategic partnerships, the renewals, the big upsells. But customer success ensures every client feels valued and every client feels supported.
And every client feels that the organisation is there to make sure they get the best results from working with them. I might even go as far to say as customer success is the foundation. It’s like the base of the pyramid, right? And with that stable, solid foundation in place, key account managers are able to build upon it to drive further growth.
So how about we hear a word from our sponsor, me. Now, I know you enjoyed the KAM Club podcast, but have you ever thought about sponsoring an episode? Imagine reaching a highly engaged audience of sales, key account management and customer success professionals without having to leave the office. Plus you get to support the show and help me bring even more amazing content to you. So if you’re interested in learning more about my available sponsorship packages, head on over to tkcpodcast.com sponsors and cheque it out.
So thank you for listening and let’s get back to the show.
So when it comes to the differences between customer success and key account management, there are no hard and fast rules. They are defined by your organisation and by the practitioners in the business, the people that are doing the job. And that’s really the secret here, right, is that don’t stick to these firm predefined notions about what you think you should be doing. Take a good hard, long look at reality. Figure out what needs to be done and who is best suited to do it, so that you’re driving value for your business and for your customers.
It’s kind of as simple as that, right? Make your own rules, do a bit of job crafting if it’s necessary, but do it together. Otherwise you find yourself going down these divergent paths and that’s where I see a lot of frustration come into play because you’ll have customer success thinking a key account manager should do something and cams thinking the CS person should be doing something and either in the end nobody does it or they both do it and you end up with all this wasted effort or conflict. So here is sort of a few things you might want to start to do to improve the situation and to get greater clarity and cooperation between you as customer success and key account managers. Number one, just map your roles, look at all of the things that you need to do and then sketch out a bit of a ven diagram.
Create those circles, those intersecting circles, and you can have as many circles as you wish. You can have three, you can have two, you can have five. Whatever you like. And where they intersect is the areas where your responsibilities are similar and where they over or overlap, I should say whatever it is. And then where there’s no intersection is where they’re different.
That’s going to give you clarity on how the roles work together and where the potential synergies lie and where you maybe need to cooperate and collaborate a bit closer. Now, probably didn’t describe how to do a ven diagram very clearly here, so in the show notes which you can firstname.lastname@example.org 35 I’ll leave a link to somebody that knows what they’re talking about when it comes to ven diagrams. So the other tip I have for you, number two out of five, is to shadow the other side, walk them on in their shoes. Spend a day with each team. Immerse yourself in the daily activities of both key account management and customer success.
This first hand experience is going to give you empathy. It’s going to help you understand what’s actually going on in the day to day role. Not what it says on paper or what you think, but what’s really happening. And it’s going to help uncover more collaboration opportunities and better ways to communicate so highly. Recommend that it’s an incredibly valuable use of your time.
My third tip is to have a cross functional workshop. Bring together your key account managers and your customer success teams and share best practises. Discuss challenges, brainstorm solutions together. This open communication is going to drive alignment and break down silos and just improve the way that you work together. It doesn’t have to be a whole day, you can just join in at each other’s team meetings once in a while.
You could set aside an afternoon, every quarter, once a month, whatever it might be, to have these conversations and just have that continuous improvement lens on keep an open mind when you attend. It’s not about finger pointing and you should do this and you should do that and you didn’t do that. And you let me down here and you’re the problem. No, you’re the problem. That’s not constructive.
Go in there and think about the best ways that you can help each other out. I always like to go in there with the approach of like, I just want to make working with you easier. You tell me what I could do to make things easier for you so that we can work together better, so that we can make sure we do things faster, more efficiently, more effectively, more creatively, more impactfully, whatever it might be. But I try and take the view that I’m here to improve the way that I work with you, not I want you to improve the way that you work with me. That attitude, that mindset really helps me when it comes to participating in these sort of cross functional workshops.
Otherwise I get defensive. I’m already going in there thinking I need to change. I can do things better so I can help you out and I’m willing to consider it, not making promises I will. By the way, I’m just talking about making sure that I keep an open mind. Number four is to data dive, right?
Analyse the data that you share together. Look at the data together. Look at trends in product usage, churn rates and engagement metrics. There could be things that you’re not identifying because you don’t see the data in the same way. You’re not trying to tell the same story.
So having that joint view together of some of your core clients and gaining each other’s perspectives on what those numbers mean and what you would do based on the evidence those numbers are presenting. Like what’s your action that can really help? Or what story would you tell to the client? Doing that data review together can be really, really powerful. So I highly recommend that, again, not something you need to do all the time, could be something you do with a few select clients around the business review time.
Very useful. And finally, assess your communication channels. Look at how information flows between sales, account management, customer support, customer success. Where are the opportunities to improve communication and collaboration between these groups? Because you’re all interdependent.
Business comes in from sales. You have customer success and account management working together to implement it. Then you’ve got customer support helping as the customer starts trading and using your solutions. Think about how you can cast the net a little bit wider and communicate better and more effectively, and share your insights about customer health and what your clients are looking to achieve. So, my friends, that is a wrap on this episode of the KAM Club podcast, all about the differences between KAM and customer success and the similarities, two distinct roles, yet intricately linked in the pursuit of customer value.
Remember, it’s understanding the differences that will help you foster collaboration and unlock the full potential of both roles. So thank you for tuning in. As a reminder, you can find all the show email@example.com 35. If you found this episode valuable, be sure to subscribe for more insights into the world of b two b sales key account management and customer success. And as always, I’ve been your favourite KAM Coach, Warwick Brown.
With over 20 years of expertise as a Key Account Manager, I founded The KAM Club – a unique community designed to empower and elevate the role of key account managers worldwide.
I’m motivated by a desire to replace overwhelm with success, and through the KAM Club offer the perfect blend of tools, mindset, and hands-on experience to guide key account management professionals towards achieving their fullest potential.
Join me on my mission to inspire and transform the world of key account management.
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