Key Client Management


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.

Persistence:

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.

Measurement:

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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Curiosity

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.

Courage

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.

Conviction

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.

Confidence

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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Ten qualities of a highly successful key client manager

Ten qualities of a highly successful key client manager

Two experts engineers in protective helmets and fluorescent vests showing the construction site and building activities after the successful project phase.

Working as a key client manager in a professional services firm is no easy task. Questas’s Annabel Miller looks at the variety of skills needed to succeed.

The most effective managers juggle a multitude of skills and wear a number of different hats, not least delivering work! Some client managers are highly analytical, others are charming extroverts.

Regardless of style, here are TEN skills that we believe every highly effective key account manager should have:

1. Understanding of your client’s business

Firstly, managers need to understand the client in terms of markets they operate in, competitors, objectives, challenges etc. They should be aware of the client’s Critical Success Factors including a knowledge of ‘horizon issues’ which allows them to be proactive.

2. Problem solving

An invaluable skill is having the ability to offer compelling solutions to client challenges. Managers should also understand their own firm’s wider offering so that they can tap into these for the benefit of the client.

3. Industry knowledge

The best managers have his or her ‘ear to the ground’ in terms of market intelligence, relevant industry news and gossip which he/she can pass on to the client. They should also have Trusted Advisor status with senior people at the client, allowing them to be in the best position to advise their client on how to progress successful in their field.

4. Innovative Thinking

This is the skill of bringing creative insight to client’s businesses, thereby helping them to deliver a competitive advantage and stay one step ahead of competitors.

5. Leadership skills

The person who builds and leads high-performing teams from cross-functional areas and isn’t driven by personal ego but by team success will be highly successful. Being a collaborative leader is vital as it encourages the team to create and deliver plans.

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6. Motivating others

The best managers recognise the importance of rewarding teams and celebrating success for achieving milestones. They can balance their own time between the requirements of the client, his/her firm and the team, and ensures that all members of the team are equipped with necessary skills.

7. A head for numbers

It’s essential to understand profit & loss and how to read financial reports. Successful key account managers also treat the account like his/her own business and is responsible for setting and achieving financial targets, taking responsibility for budget control and the allocation of resources.

8. Troubleshooting

The person who keeps an eye out for potential problems and manages potential concerns will become an invaluable asset, even more so by being brilliant at assessing risks and flagging them up to clients and their own management when relevant.

9. Relationship building

Great key account managers builds and manage relationships internally and externally with all relevant stakeholders. They also have the ability to relate to people at all levels, from CEO to ‘shop floor’, ensuring commitment and enthusiasm from all key people.

10. Managing relationships strategically

In our experience a key account manager who actively manages a ‘relationship mapping tool’ in order to ensure that appropriate ‘man-marking’ is taking place. He or she also encourages and develops the ‘Hidden Sales Force’, understanding their roles and developing relationships with them accordingly.

Developing Client Plans is an essential training to take your Key Client Management skills to the next level. This course will give you the skills to build client loyalty, uncover cross-selling opportunities and develop a long, mutually beneficial relationship with your firm’s best customers. 

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Developing client plans

Developing client plans

RETAIN / Client development

Delivering projects well is the first step in developing further opportunities but it’s not enough. We need to be proactive in building relationships, understanding our clients and their objectives, and positioning ourselves as trusted advisers.

Developing Client Plans

Who’s it for?

Client account managers and key individuals on the delivery team. Those responsible for and involved in winning work and delivering services to the firm’s most important clients.

Content overview

  • Defining key client management
  • Developing a relationship map
  • Decision-making processes
  • Understanding the client’s drivers
  • Horizon thinking and positioning
  • Becoming the Trusted Advisor
  • Cross-selling
  • Agreeing objectives and actions

Course format

This course can be run in a number of ways to suit the client: Option 1: Overview of client planning aimed at those new to the ideas. Option 2: Working on a number of clients within the same sector or market space, and bringing interested parties to the table to develop these plans. Option 3: ‘Deep Dive’ sessions focusing on a small number (sometimes just one) of clients where we facilitate a workshop with all internal stakeholders.

Outcomes

Client planning is essential to enable us to drive loyalty, uncover cross-selling opportunities and develop a long, mutually beneficial relationship with the firm’s best customers. Register Your Interest

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Questas Quote Marks CircleWe all very much enjoyed the session and I have already put it into use!” Principal, Momentum Transport Planning

The key to growth: key account management

The key to growth: key account management

Key Client Management keeping in touch This article originally appeared in the October 2017 edition of Pi magazine, published by Howden Insurance Brokers

Developing and implementing successful key account management programmes takes time and commitment. Gillian Sutherland provides advice on the steps you can take to ensure your investment pays off.

Businesses that are struggling to grow may exhibit a range of behaviours, from under investment in employees, through to reckless diversification that heightens risk profile.

With client retention and winning new business sitting near the top of the list of challenges faced by many professional services, Gillian Sutherland of Questas Consulting provides advice on maintaining effective client management programmes.

Professionals are naturally client focused, so winning the argument for setting up a client management programme is not usually a problem. The difficulty occurs when the programme appears to run out of steam; senior people start to ask what the business is getting out of it and, indeed, what the clients are getting out of it.

Why client management programmes falter

The most common reason is a lack of definition of what the business wants to achieve from the programme, which is why defining and agreeing this at the beginning is so important. In addition, expectations need to be set around timescales for making a difference. A client programme is a change programme and, as with all change, this takes time. Depending on the size and complexity of the business, it can take up to two years to see a noticeable shift.

Before you start a new client management programme

Prior to starting, I recommend a review of where you are now. Doing some analysis of your current client base allows you to understand the shape of your business, the number and size of your clients and how they are distributed by value and margin. This will help you to work out what you want the client base to look like and what type of programme you should embark on.

 

Ask questions like:

  • Who are the big/key clients?
  • Does the 80:20 rule apply (80 per cent of your business comes from 20 per cent of your clients) or is it nearer 90:10?
  • How long is the ‘tail’ of small clients?
  • What is the revenue spread across different sizes of clients?
  • Which clients are profitable?

This type of analysis will help you work out where you want to focus your efforts.

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What makes the programme a success?

Success depends on a number of factors and will vary from firm to firm. However, in my experience, the five factors below have a major impact on the success or failure of a programme:

1. Visible buy-in at board or executive level

Without real, visible buy-in at the top of the organisation, the programme will not work – if you do not have it, do not start! The programme should be on the board agenda and the programme leader should be reporting to the board on a regular basis. The board needs to buy into the long-term aspect of the programme. No matter the ultimate goal, this programme should change the culture of the firm and this takes time. You can only move at the pace of your clients – growing a long-term client relationship takes many years. Regular updates to the business from the board sponsor will position the programme as a crucial part of the firm’s activities.

2. Clear programme objectives.

The organisation needs to know why it is running the programme and what it wants to achieve out of it for the firm, the clients and the individuals involved.

Having done the analysis to understand the make-up of your current client base and asked some questions around what the ideal would look like, you should now be able to set clear goals and objectives for the programme and communicate them to the business. Goals and objectives could focus on:

  • sales – to increase profitable work
  • client care – to improve client satisfaction that leads to increased repeat business
  • culture change – to achieve a client-centric culture
  • key clients – to increase attention on the top clients and potential top clients to move these from transaction to relationship-based clients

3. Ability to measure success

A good, usable client relationship management (CRM) system with clear reporting will allow you to see how you are doing month by month. Without this, it is subjective. If you don’t have a CRM system, you must work out a way of communicating, reporting and measuring progress. The reporting needs to reflect achievement of the programme’s goals. It is important to measure both inputs and outputs, as without inputs the outputs will not happen. Examples of these include:

Inputs

  • Number of review meetings with the client
  • Number of sales meetings held
  • Number of social interactions
  • Number of opportunities identified
  • How often we are sole sourced
  • Number of introductions to new services
  • Number and type of innovations presented to the client

Outputs

  • Growth of the programme
  • Growth of clients, turnover and margin
  • Growth of pipeline
  • Additional services sold
  • Additional locations introduced
  • Bid win rate
  • Client feedback scores

4. The right account leads.

Enthusiastic client account leads who have the right behaviours and the interests of the whole firm in mind will make the programme a success. They should have good client awareness and preferably an existing relationship with the client. They need to be recognised and rewarded accordingly. Time spent on account manager selection is a good investment. It is highly unlikely that you will have a perfect set of client account managers within your firm.

In most professional firms, account leads are allocated from the partner group, who have usually had no formal training in this area. Training and coaching can greatly enhance the skills and, therefore, success of the managers. Once the account lead has been selected, they should identify the top internal team, who will drive the programme. This is usually six to eight people, however everyone who works with the client will be part of the wider team. Inclusion and good team communication will make the programme fly and will enable others to help develop the client.

5. A committed programme lead.

Someone needs to run the programme, drive the actions and coach the account leads. The programme lead needs to be senior, with a commercial outlook and direct access to the board. They need to have the respect of the senior teams leading the client accounts in order to be able to drive activity. Finally, in order to run a successful programme, you must involve your clients. This is not something you can do to clients, it has to be done with clients. Once you have laid the foundations for your programme, it is wise to consider – what’s in it for the firm, what’s in it for our clients and what’s in it for our people? This should give clarity on the important question of ‘why’ you are doing it.

 

For more help to build your best key account management team in the professional and engineering services industry, Questas offers a unique training course aimed at your industry’s challenges. See our Retain: Key Client Management Courses here.

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Make your Key Account Planning successful

Download your guide to grow your key account management skills.

Get it now

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Essential Key Account Management Training

Essential Key Account Management Training

RETAIN / Key client management

Existing clients pay your wages. Proactive client management ensures that you deliver services on time and on budget while meeting their expectations and nurturing a positive working relationship.

Key Account Management

Our Key Account Management courses will help your team identify potential growth and strategic solutions to benefit both you and your clients.

Who’s it for?

Partners, Directors, Senior Fee Earners who are responsible for managing key accounts.

(Participants are quite likely not to be trained sales professionals, but executive decision-makers who are well-placed to sponsor key account management programmes and deliver cultural change to promote KAM.)

Content overview

During this course, we will identify your key clients looking at profit and potential and then we will focus on:

  • Understanding the client and how they make buying decisions
  • Analysing what we need to do to retain and develop the client
  • Learning how to become the Trusted Advisor by developing key relationships
  • Maximising what the client buys and discovering hidden cross-selling opportunities
  • Using the wider team to strengthen and broaden relationships through collaboration and breaking ‘silos’
  • Putting together the client plan to be used by the key account manager, delivery team and working with the client themselves.

Course format

One day on-site workshop for up to 12 people.

Questas Consulting is based in London, and travels internationally to deliver sales training.

Outcomes

Participants will find an increased awareness of what needs to be done to achieve client retention and growth, leading to the increased profits of mututally beneficial client / supplier relationships.

They will also be equipped with the skills and resources needed to implement of a practical plan of action for their organisation to establish the best practice of Key Account Management culture.

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Questas Quote Marks CircleGary and his team have both inspired us and provided us with the tools to manage and expand our key client base.”

Dr Alan Barr, Managing Director, RPS, Northern Ireland

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Account Management Training Designed for the Professional and Engineering Services

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