Differentiation from competitors

Working together for better KAM

Working together for better KAM

Working together for better KAM

This article originally appeared in PM magazine. For further details go to http://www.pmforum.co.uk.

Chris Founds and Gary Williams look at harnessing the power of collaboration to achieve successful Key Account Management.

Collaboration is a word used more in business now than at any other time in our careers. Management teams use it when they want their organisations to break down so called ‘silos’ and employees use it when they need the help of others to achieve their objectives. Clients use it when they want us to work with fellow suppliers.

There is plenty of scope here for the cynic to suggest that the client’s motivators behind this call for collaboration are less than totally altruistic, in fact one might argue that the very nature of business is about being better than our competitors and all the focus is on differentiation and how to become No. 1.

There is of course more than an element of truth in this view, but it is possible to become hugely successful by developing a collaborative ethos at the heart of the organisation. One of the ways professional and engineering services firms collaborate internally by cutting across discipline‘ silos’ that hamper them is through a client management programme.

First of all let’s define what we are talking about.

  • Collaboration: A working practice whereby individuals and/or organisations work together to a common purpose to achieve personal and business benefits. 
  • Key Account Management: Delivering services that meet or exceed client expectations whilst nurturing existing and building new relationships. Developing an understanding of the client that allows the supplier to help them achieve their objectives

In the table below is a list of ‘Habits of Highly Collaborative Organisations’ from a recent Forbes Magazine article. Below this we have added the principles of Key Account Management.


Highly collaborative organisations

Lead by example:

Employees follow their leaders, not so much what they say but how they behave. Most successful companies have a culture which is lived and breathed at the top.

Individual benefit vs Corporate benefit:

If it’s all about how the organisation will benefit as opposed to how this approach will help the individual, uptake will be slow and patchy at best.

Strategy before technology:

It is essential to have the mindset and the will in place before any technology platform.

Learn to get out of the way:

Guidelines and objectives are necessary but then we need to empower the individual. After all, collaborating with your fellow man is a purely human behaviour.

Create a supportive environment:

This encompasses remuneration and incentive schemes as well as training, mentoring and coaching. Too many firms reward individual behaviour over team behaviour.

Measure what matters:

Purely financial measures against an individual will drive certain (often divisive) behaviours. Measuring things like how many introductions are made internally and externally, for example, will drive different behaviours.


Don’t allow ‘Collaboration’ to become this year’s initiative and then move on to the next thing next year. To create a highly collaborative organisation it is essential to plan to change for good.

The principles of sound Key Account Management:

Executive sponsorship:

The programme has to have the backing and support of the executive. Without it any momentum will quickly diminish.

Capturing hearts and minds:

Individuals have to know what’s in it for them to invest time, effort and energy. In most cases there are no financial incentives and the success of the programme relies on the motivation of teams.

Systems and processes:

Whilst it is important not to make a KAM programme a ‘tick box’ exercise, it is important that everyone involved understands how KAM works and who is responsible for what, etc. Key Client Management training then becomes crucial. CRM systems can make the process work very efficiently and allow data to be shared easily, but the mind-set comes first.

Invest in creating a KAM culture:

When KAM works well, account teams believe they are there to protect and grow the clients in question and helping the client to achieve their goals overrules any internal ego and politics.


How will the account team (and the Exec) know if the programme is successful? Many firms make the mistake of only measuring output (increase in fees), without also measuring the inputs (e.g. number of new relationships, new services introduced, proactive ideas delivered, client feedback scores, etc.)

Meetings and momentum:

The team needs to meet regularly in order to maintain momentum, but these meetings can become monotonous and dull if all we are doing is looking back on what has happened since we last met. This information should be reported prior to the meeting to allow the focus to be on objectives and actions going forward.


Read more about the top five factors when establishing a new key account management programme: The Key To Growth: Key Account Management.

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Key Principles of Collaboration

The Institute of Collaborative Working (ICW) has defined key principles of collaboration set against a simple framework. There are three overriding principles that draw many parallels with Key Account Management:

  1. Common vision and leadership
  2. Right behaviours and culture
  3. Collaborative processes and tools

Let’s work together

So, successful collaborative working is as much about the behaviours and motivations of individuals as it is about bringing groups together to achieve a common purpose. This is absolutely true of any KAM programme where collaboration is vital in areas such as relationship mapping, common goals, team performance and adding value. It is key to the successful outcome of any project, framework or strategic partnership.

Working together and staying together are important aspects of collaborative working and very much core to the eight main objectives championed by the ICW which has led to the British Standard 11000 (now ISO 44001):

Phase 1 – Strategic objectives:

  • Awareness
  • Knowledge
  • Internal Assessment

Phase 2 – Engagement objectives:

  • Partner Selection
  • Working together
  • Value creation

Phase 3 – Management objectives:

  • Staying together
  • Exit Strategy

Accreditation for Collaboration

BS 11000 [now ISO 44001] reinforces what can be achieved through an accredited approach and says: “Effective collaboration will, over time, create an environment that engenders trust between organisations. This in turn will increase their ability to deliver joint efficiency improvements, challenge traditional working practices and explore new ways of working, enhance transparency and openness, strengthen their ability to challenge and innovate, understand and overlay each party’s governance and assurance processes.”

Collaboration as a factor in successful tendering

Recent procurement by a number of major national infrastructure organisations identified and sought to include collaboration as a new mandate. This required suppliers, consultants and delivery organisations to demonstrate their behaviours, cultures, values and how they have worked together collaboratively. This involved tenderers having to attend assessment centres where their approach to and competencies in teamwork and collaboration with other organisations were examined.

Executive sponsorship

Like any commitment of this type, to be successful requires a huge commitment from the Executive level down to those involved in delivery at a project level. The appointment of a Senior Executive responsible is a key step to securing senior level sponsorship, and coupled with clear objectives that have been mutually developed, this provides an excellent platform for collaboration.

Trust is the key-stone to collaboration

The essence of all relationships is that organisations (and individuals) learn from each other, build trust and become stronger, more rounded and progressive as a result.

So, collaborating, like key account management is all about working together to achieve a better outcome than we would achieve if we worked in isolation. Breaking down barriers, working out where synergies exist, admitting weaker areas and combining strengths can deliver incredible results.

The link between good Key Account Management and Collaborative working has never been stronger and those organisations who create a collaborative culture are more likely to be successful. This includes collaborating with clients in the pursuit of highly effective account management. Without their input we are in danger of simply ‘doing’ KAM to our clients in the hope it will lead to more opportunities. Where we embrace the ethos of collaboration from the outset with all stakeholders – internal and external, we can develop long-term profitable and rewarding relationships for all involved.


Chris Founds is the Business Development Director for Capita Infrastructure.

Gary Williams is the Managing Director at Questas Consulting Ltd, which provides Key Client Management and Client Account Planning training to professional and engineering firms.

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In most cases our competitors are technically as good as we are, many also have the track record and experience that clients are looking for. There may be a difference in the fees they charge compared to you but as long as we’re comparing apples with apples there’s unlikely to be a lot of difference in the price either.


So how do we answer the question ‘Why choose us’ in the mind of the client?

There are things we can do and say that will firmly differentiate us and our offer and they are not “we’re better than them” or “we’re cheaper than them”. They fall into the following categories:

  • Curiosity
  • Courage
  • Conviction
  • Confidence

By demonstrating these four things you will firmly position yourself and your solution, head and shoulders above your competitors.

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An innate sense of professional curiosity is an essential skill that the best business developers have naturally. Really understanding your client, their challenges, their objectives (including personal KPIs) their hopes, fears and aspirations will provide you with the intelligence to be proactive and genuinely help your client.


There are times when we know better than our client, after all, this is our area of expertise. Having the courage (and tact) to push back on clients’ wishes is something Trusted Advisors do but be wary – you have to earn the right to challenge your client. We also have to be courageous in other areas, for example, only bidding for opportunities we know we have a really good chance of winning, asking for referrals, picking up the phone to a potential new client etc.


Linked to courage we have to stand by our beliefs and our ethos. We must stand for something and be known for it. An example of this is a firm of engineering consultants we work with, who are known for the quality of their design. They refuse to compromise in this area, and will not cut corners when submitting a proposal which means sometimes they price themselves out of a project.


This comes across in every interaction with clients, from how we come across on our website and marketing material to our discussions with clients and prospects, and our proposals. Clients like to work with people who are confident in themselves and their offer. Beware though, people do not warm to arrogance and there is a fine line between the two.

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Differentiation from competitors

Differentiation from competitors

Differentiation from competitors

The challenge

Operating as independent service silos


Our approach

Large businesses with multiple departments and many technical disciplines need to be smart with their marketing and business development activities. We help our clients move away from being transactional providers of single services and move towards becoming the trusted advisor or the ‘solutions architect’.

We bring together groups of people from different disciplines and get them to share what their market proposition is, with a view to identifying new opportunities.

It’s not enough to say, “Yes we do all this and we’re really good at it.” The way to differentiate yourself from competitors, is to say, “We understand your world and the issues and challenges you face. And we can apply all our disciplines to help you achieve your overall goals faster, more efficiently, and more profitably.”

Recognise this challenge? Get in touch

questas steaming coffee cupTurning the listening up to 11!

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Questas Quote Marks Circle

Questas’s Gillian Sutherland says:

“The best marketing or business development tool anyone ever has is referral. If you create a strong reputation in a narrow marketplace – by being disciplined and focused, and demonstrating to the market that you understand their world – you will get referred.”

From our blog

Working together for better KAM: harness the power of collaboration

Collaboration is a word used more in business now than at any other time in our careers. Management teams use it when they want their organisations to break down so called ‘silos’ and employees use it when they need the help of others to achieve their objectives.

Read more

The challenge

Lack of ability or experience leading a ‘client-centric’ business


Our approach

We work with people to recognise what it really means to be client-centric. To really understand your client’s world, the way they like to work, their unique issues and challenges. It’s all about client intimacy, and it’s how you will become a trusted advisor. We use the metaphor of an iceberg. Above the waterline is the information that’s easy to know because it’s in the public domain or it’s what the client is telling you. But the 80-90% that sits under the surface is the why, the context, the inside information. Taking the time to find these things out – without going into delivery mode or ‘selling mode’ too soon – is how you become truly client centric.

Recognise this challenge? Get in touch

Questas Quote Marks Circle

Questas’s Gary Williams says:

“Those that go deep beneath the surface will find that when they put their proposal in, it’s a perfect fit. They’ve understood the inside information like budgetary issues, internal politics, timing and so on. They make themselves really easy to buy. That’s what being client-centric does.”

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