A few decades ago, the role of the salesperson was viewed as superior to the role of an account manager. The salesperson was viewed as "the hunter" and the account manager as "the farmer". Hunting was the more intense and demanding role. Farming was seen as a low key endeavor, which primarily focused on re-actively keeping clients satisfied. Organizations applied great care to finding hunters. Farmers roles were often filled with people who had great customer service skills.
How the world has changed!Today, the most aggressive hunter is viewed by buyers with suspicion. Even the most professional hunters find it increasingly difficult to hit home runs when they get their chance at bat. Singles and doubles are the order of the day. Why? One reason is trust takes time. Buyers often dabble with new suppliers until they have proven that they are reliable and consistent. Another reason is buyers operate with far more complexity than they did a few decades ago. Solutions must be properly integrated in their environments to work. Moreover, potential suppliers need to understand the complexity of these environments and the interests of multiple stakeholders before they can cultivate sufficient demand for a solution.
Enter the Key Account ManagerUnlike the traditional salesperson, the Key Account Manager does not think transactionally. He thinks strategically. He doesn't pursue every account equally. He selects accounts very carefully. Rather than approach a key account thinking of how he can sell his products and services, he approaches the account to figure out:
- what is their corporate strategy and is it sound?
- what are their markets?
- how do they differentiate themselves in their markets?
- how are they performing financially and where do they need to improve?
- how does the strategy cascade down to the business unit leaders?
- what are their strategic initiatives?
- what external pressures are they facing?
- what operational or tactical challenges are they facing?
- what is the strategic relevance of their suppliers?
- how might we help them achieve their goals?
The Pay OffAs a result of paying attention to these issues over time, the Key Account Manager becomes well-versed in his client's business; sometimes more than some employees who have a narrow view or who lack the historical context. It is this intimacy with the account that enables the Key Account Manager to take a leadership role and craft solutions that are relevant and financially viable. Unlike the traditional salesperson, the Key Account Manager does not fly blind. He has specificity with respect to how his products and services can advance his client's business. He is regarded as a strategic resource by his client and by his employer. Ideally, the Key Account Manager has traditional salespeople taking direction from him and pursuing sales opportunities in the context of an overall account plan.
While the Key Account Manager may not get numbers on the scoreboard as quickly as the traditional salesperson, when they do get their chance at bat, they are often hitting home runs that dwarf the transactional salesperson and significantly reward their patience and hard work.
As time runs out on traditional selling, every organization must begin to figure out who are the accounts that really matter and the characteristics that they share. Once these accounts are identified, they must decide who are the individuals that possess the right skills and attributes to develop strategic relationships with these accounts. The skills and attributes of the traditional salesperson are often the opposite of what is required in a Key Account Manager. Therefore, one should select key accounts and Key Account Managers with utmost care. In doing so, you will see that the Key Account Manager will outperform the traditional salesperson every time.