Busting the 5 Biggest Myths About Key Account Management

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About the episode

Step into a secret world where we uncover the real deal about managing key accounts. Forget everything you’ve heard; it’s time to explore what truly goes on behind the scenes in key account management.

Get ready for a journey that reveals the hard work and smart strategies needed to keep big clients happy and businesses thriving. It’s not just about making friends with clients; it’s a real adventure that shows how to win at the game of managing important accounts.

Are you ready to bust some myths?

Key Takeaways

  • Myth #1: Charm Over Substance: KAMs Are All Talk, No Action: While building rapport is crucial, KAMs need sharp sales acumen, strategic thinking, and negotiation skills to drive significant revenue growth. They go beyond “coffee and muffins” and delve into deep business needs and tailored solutions.
  • Myth #2: A Handful of Clients, a World of Leisure: There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the ideal client count. It depends on your company, industry, and account value. Exceptional time management and prioritization are essential to effectively manage your portfolio and meet expectations.
  • Myth #3: Always Saying Yes: The Client’s Puppet Master: KAMs are not pushovers. They navigate a delicate balance, representing both client and business interests. They’re skilled diplomats, constantly negotiating, adapting, and finding common ground to ensure mutual benefit.
  • Myth #4: Lone Wolves in the Organization: Collaboration is key! KAMs manage by influence, not authority. Building strong relationships across departments like marketing, product, and support is crucial for success. 
  • Myth #5: Automation Dooms the KAM: A Robot Takeover? While technology automates tasks and provides valuable data, the human touch remains irreplaceable. Building trust, navigating complex situations, and tailoring solutions are core human strengths that technology cannot replicate.

Actionable Insights

  • Reflect: What are your beliefs about KAM? Challenge your own misconceptions and update your understanding based on the realities revealed in this episode.
  • Educate: Dive deeper! Read books, articles, attend workshops (like Warwick’s!), and subscribe to The KAM Club podcast and the Account Minded newsletter.
  • Review & Adapt: Analyze your KAM strategy. Are you aligned with the actual demands of the role, or clinging to outdated notions? Make necessary adjustments to optimize your approach.
  • Advocate: Share your knowledge! Educate others within your organization about the true nature of KAM and its value beyond the superficial perception.

Episode Resources

Episode Timestamps

Introduction:

  • 00:00:00: The episode opens with an introduction to the topic of debunking common myths surrounding key account management (KAM).

Myth #1: Charm Over Substance: KAMs Are All Talk, No Action

  • 00:38:78: The myth is introduced, highlighting the initial misconception of KAMs as purely charming but lacking substance.
  • 01:09:44: The episode delves into the misconception of “invisible work” and emphasizes the true effort behind KAM accomplishments.
  • 03:50:31: The importance of business acumen, negotiation skills, and strategic thinking in KAMs is stressed.
  • 04:28:48: The challenge of convincing clients to renew and the importance of avoiding “sugarcoating” solutions are discussed.

Myth #2: A Handful of Clients, a World of Leisure:

  • 05:52:66: The episode clarifies that the number of clients a KAM manages varies depending on the company and industry.
  • 06:20:52: The importance of time management and prioritization skills for KAMs is highlighted.
  • 06:42:94: A relevant course, “Overwhelmed to Optimize: Designing the Perfect Account Manager Portfolios,” is mentioned.

Myth #3: Always Saying Yes: The Client’s Puppet Master:

  • 07:44:31: The myth of KAMs always being on the client’s side is introduced and debunked.
  • 08:02:93: The delicate balance of representing both client and business needs is explained.
  • 08:28:80: The episode clarifies the goal of KAMs as ensuring account satisfaction and fostering mutually beneficial partnerships.

Myth #4: Lone Wolves in the Organization:

  • 08:42:21: The myth of KAMs being isolated is debunked, emphasizing their need for collaboration with other departments.
  • 09:09:49: Studies on how KAMs get things done and the limitations of traditional authority structures are mentioned.
  • 09:42:88: A promise to share the study link in the show notes if found is made.

Myth #5: Automation Dooms the KAM: A Robot Takeover?

  • 10:10:24: The episode assures listeners that technology won’t replace KAMs, but rather complement their skills.
  • 10:24:01: The irreplaceable role of human interaction and strategic thinking in KAM is emphasized.

Actionable Insights:

  • 10:47:81: The episode encourages reflection on personal beliefs about KAM and challenges listeners to update their understanding.
  • 11:24:48: Various ways to educate oneself about KAM, including workshops and a newsletter, are suggested.
  • 11:50:14: A reminder to subscribe to the podcast is included.

Quotes

Anybody who says KAM is a dying role clearly doesn't understand account management or, quite frankly, how business relationships work.

Key account management is not about charming clients over coffee and muffins. It's about having deep business acumen, strategic thinking, and strong negotiation skills to drive significant revenue growth.

Technology can automate tasks or provide and interpret valuable data. But you still need account managers to build trust, navigate complex situations, and tailor solutions to individual client needs. Those things are not going anywhere.

Episode transcript

If you think Key Account Management is all champagne toasts and million dollar deals, well, buckle up, my friends, because we are about to bust the five biggest myths about Key Account Management. Starting right now.

[00:00:14.630] Introduction to KAM myths

Hello, heroes. It’s your favourite KAM Coach, Warwick Brown. And welcome to The KAM Club podcast, a show that is on a mission to help busy key account managers get results. Now, I thought this would make for an interesting topic because I live and breathe key account management, and not a day goes by when somebody doesn’t mention something that I think, you don’t really know what key account management is about, do you?

Because there are definitely some preconceived notions about what the job entails and what’s involved and how hard or how difficult it is. In fact, I’ve done a few videos, actually, that’s the word I was looking for, videos, on the topic. I’ve done one about what key account management is, and also a day in the life of a key account manager, which might surprise a few people as to the reality check of what’s actually involved day to day, how you spend your time. You can check both those videos out on YouTube. I’ll leave a link in the show notes at tkcpodcast.com/036.

But for today’s podcast, let’s set the record straight on a few of these myths and misunderstandings.

Now, I’m not too surprised that there are some of these myths around because I was a victim of them myself. I misunderstood what key account management was all about. I used to see key account managers swan, I used to say swan in and out. They rock up at 10, seem to just go about chatting to everybody, then leave at 12:00 for a long lunch, come back, collect their car keys, and disappear into the sunset. I didn’t realise what they actually did behind the scenes. I didn’t realise that that short day in the office was actually counterpointed by a much longer day on the road, travelling like six hours to get to and from a client, doing work after hours before hours. It was a very different perspective that you got when you looked at the veneer, the outside of how they might appear to you when you’re stuck at a desk in the corner of the office, to the reality of what they’re doing.

And also they’re playing interference with a lot of the things that you don’t ever see. You are getting a filtered, sanitised version of the things that come through from the client. They often tackle them directly, or they will say them in a much nicer way or do part of the work for you so that they only give you the nuts and bolts of what needs to be done versus the whole thing. You always have a good idea of what’s really going on. So no surprise.

And it’s one of the reasons why I tell my coaching clients and my training clients, don’t do invisible work. It’s one thing to make things look easy and simple and straightforward, but it’s also sometimes a disservice when people don’t understand that there is hard work involved, that there are challenges in getting things completed, that it involves collaboration and cooperation. And it’s taken a lot of effort to get the results, to get the thing done. And it’s not about tooting your own horn constantly and bragging or humble bragging, whatever you want to call it, but it’s about making sure that when it’s appropriate, your clients and your internal colleagues understand that this is an achievement.

The result you got wasn’t just by coasting. It was because of the result of your expertise, your persistence, your experience, your strategic oversight, your planning, your relentlessness, all of those things led to that outcome, not just it happened by magic or osmosis or by itself.

So as I go into these five myths, think about how you’re presenting your role. Think about how people think about what you do and how you do it, and how you participate in the outcomes for your clients or your internal stakeholders. Do they understand? Do they appreciate the value, the contribution? Because if they don’t, you might need to bust some of these myths yourself.

[00:03:50.310] Myth 1: KAM is all about maintaining relationships, not sales.

My first myth is that key account managers, it’s all about relationships. They’re not salespeople. They’re farmers, not hunters. This is one of the biggest bugbears. It really gets under my skin because, yes, we do need to be likeable. Yes, we do need to build strong, influential relationships with our key stakeholders and decision-makers and all that stuff. But we need a lot more than charm. It’s more than just turning up with coffee and muffins. We have to have deep business acumen. We’ve got to have strategic thinking. We’ve got to have strong negotiation skills to understand client needs, tailor solutions, and drive significant revenue growth.

Believe me, when a client comes to you from sales, they think they’ve bought everything there is to buy. They don’t think they need anything else. Sales have told them, sign on the dotted line, we are the answers to your problems. To continue to grow that account when they already feel like they’ve already spent as much as they should is challenging.

When it comes to renewals, it’s also challenging because you’re not selling the dream anymore. Salespeople get to promise the greener pastures on the other side of the fence, just on the horizon. When you’re an account manager, you’re selling the reality, and sometimes the harsh reality. The clients know how things work, right? It’s not their first rodeo, and they’re not going to fall for the same tricks twice. What’s that? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. So yeah, when you’re a key account manager, promising upgrades, upsells, new solutions to old problems, that things will be different or better the next time around if they renew, whatever you might be doing to try and convince the clients to stay, it has to be believable. It has to be grounded in reality because you can’t invent some fiction or sugarcoat a solution just because you want to win the client.

It won’t fly because they’ll know it’s bullshit. So key account managers are salespeople, right? Case closed. I don’t want to hear any more about it.

[00:05:52.660] Myth 2: Key account managers only handle a few clients.

Now, myth number two is that KAMs only work with a handful of clients.

So KAMs do work with a handful of clients, but the reality is It’s more nuanced because you may have high-value accounts, but the number of those clients can vary depending on the company and the industry. There’s no professional standard that says a key account manager should only have six accounts or 20 accounts. That doesn’t exist. It’s very dependent on how your company thinks about account management and what they require you to deliver in your role.

Key account managers really need exceptional time management and prioritisation skills to effectively manage their portfolio, and they need to be crystal clear on what they’re supposed to be delivering as a key account manager, where the boundaries are between what’s included and what needs to be charged for, and to make sure client expectations are met so that everybody’s clear on what you are supposed to be doing as a key account manager.

Now, actually, if you’re a member of The KAM Club, check out the course, Overwhelmed to Optimize: Designing the Perfect Account Manager Portfolios. I did a whole workshop course on this, which is around how to determine the optimal number of accounts, manage your workload, and also, if you’re a leader, how to support your team if they get a overwhelmed. So check that out.

And listen, while we’re at it, how about we hear from our sponsor, me. The KAM Club is the world’s most amazing community of key account managers. Inside, you will find training, templates, guides, courses, and one-to-one coaching with me even. I have open office hours every Tuesday and Wednesday, so we can always get some one-to-one time to talk about whatever you need to talk about to help you get unstuck, even if it’s just an event. Everything is member-driven, so whatever I create in there is because you guys as members have asked for it. So check it out. I’d love to see you inside. It’s www.thekamclub.com. Let’s get back to the episode, shall we?

[00:07:44.310] Myth 3: KAMs always side with the client, avoiding conflict.

Myth number three is that key account managers are always on the client’s side. They always say yes, they never want to say no. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Key account managers have to trade a very delicate balance between representing the voice of the customer to the business and representing the business to the customer.

And they’re constantly being diplomats. They’re constantly playing trade-offs. They’re constantly revisiting, renegotiating, adapting requirements and expectations and deadlines, and playing this very pivotal role in finding the compromise, finding the medium ground, or the medium ground? Middle ground. Middle ground. That’s what it does. The middle ground between what the client wants and what they can actually get and what you can deliver successfully as a business.

So they are definitely not always on the client’s side. The goal of a key account manager is to ensure account satisfaction, to proactively identify potential issues, and then to foster an ongoing partnership that benefits both parties.

[00:08:42.210] Myth 4: KAMs are isolated from the rest of the organisation.

Myth number four is that KAMs are isolated from the rest of the organisation, they’re out of touch.

They don’t really know what’s going on. In fact, KAMs are far from isolated. They manage by influence, not by authority. They have to collaborate closely with other departments. They have to get to know people in marketing, product, support. Otherwise, they’re They’re not going to get anything done. They’re not able to just say, Hey, you need to do this. I said so. It doesn’t work like that. There have been definitely some studies done around how account managers get things done.

It’s usually by persuasion, by relationships, by informal networks, very rarely do organisational processes underpin or support things getting done independently. If the account manager wasn’t there and didn’t have friends in high places or no people in other departments to cut corners or jump the queue, stuff wouldn’t happen. It’s actually a bit of a problem. It shouldn’t be like that. It shouldn’t be up to the individual account manager to succeed on getting things done because they know people. It should be embedded in organisational processes.

If I can find the study, I’ll dig somewhere in my archives, and if I can find it, I’ll pop it in the show notes so you can take a look. It’s a really interesting study about how work actually gets done and the problems with the way most organisations structure account management authority and influence. You can check out the show notes at tkcpodcast.com/036.

[00:10:03.920] Myth 5: The role of key account management is becoming obsolete with AI and automation.

Now, the last myth I want to bust, which is myth number 5, is that key account management is a dying role in the age of automation.

This is absolutely not true because while technology plays a role, human interaction and strategic thinking are going to remain critical and crucial aspects of key account management and of B2B partnerships.

Technology can automate tasks. It can interpret and provide valuable data. But as account managers, You still need us to be able to build trust, to navigate complex situations and organisations, tailor solutions to individual needs. Those things are not going anywhere. And anybody that says they are clearly doesn’t understand account management or, quite frankly, how business relationships work. Case closed.

Now, in light of what we’ve discussed in this myth-busting episode around account management, here’s a couple of things I want you to think about, some action steps you might want to take as you ponder this episode.

[00:10:56.800]  Actionable steps

  • Reflect on your beliefs. Have a think about what’s your on key account management? Whether you are in the role or want to be in the role or just happen to be listening to this, what do you think key account management is about? Do you have your own misconceptions? Things change all the time, and perhaps some of your beliefs around account management are rooted in an older version of yourself or an older version of the role, and you might need to challenge them. And recognising your misconceptions is the first step to overcome them.
  • Second thing I want you to think about is to educate yourself. Dive deeper into the world of account management. You can read books, articles, attend webinars, workshops. I host monthly workshops. You can sign up to my newsletter at accountminded.me I just rebranded it. That’s why it’s not tripping off the tongue. accountminded.me. You can sign up for my newsletter. And of course, if you haven’t already, subscribe to the podcast.
  • Now, the other thing I want you to think about is to review your KAM strategy. If you are a key account manager, take a look at how you’re approaching the role. Are you aligned with the realities of the role? Or are you inadvertently buying into some of those misconceptions? Are you clinging to outdated notions of what an account manager is? Make those adjustments if you need to.
  • And then finally, share knowledge. Spread awareness within your organisation about the true nature of key account management. Don’t let those people in the corner of the office that see you coming at 10:00 AM think that you’re just working part-time. Make sure that people understand this isn’t a 9:00 to 5:00 job, right? I promise you, for every hour I’ve ever knocked off early, I’ve paid it back double, almost the very next day. It’s a very challenging role that requires you to be flexible and to be able to roll with the punches. You know what I mean?

[00:12:37.700] Final thoughts

Well, that’s a wrap on this episode of The KAM Club podcast, Heroes. I hope you’ve gained a deeper understanding of what key account management truly entails and have dispelled some of those myths the role. There’s always more than meets the eye, and key account management is a profession that continues to evolve in our ever-changing business landscape. Don’t forget to check out the podcast show notes at tkcpodcast.com/036. I’ve been your favourite KAM coach, Warwick Brown, and I’m going to see you in another episode real soon. Bye.

Meet Your Host

Warwick Brown, Founder and Instructor at the KAM Club

Warwick Brown

Host

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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