In this guide, we’re going to share some insights on key account manager soft skills and attributes. Whilst there are many technical and commercial skills that can be acquired through training and development, it’s important to recognise that some people are more predisposed to succeeding in key account management than others. This often comes down to attributes linked to personality, such as emotional intelligence and natural leadership.
What Skills and Qualities do Key Account Managers require?
We’ve discussed the kinds of activities that key account managers get up to but what is it exactly that makes a good key account manager? The truth is that there is no single individual skill; wide ranging competencies and attributes are required.
A general business skillset is absolutely crucial to performing well in the job, as is emotional intelligence and a ‘customer first’ philosophy. Broad shoulders, thick skin and the ability to work well under pressure are also characteristics you’ll find in the best key account managers.
Below then are our top eight soft skills and competencies found in the best key account managers:
Key account managers are required to bring different parts of the business together and, as such, must have a broad working knowledge of how the business works. This includes market knowledge, financial understanding, product and service expertise, as well as strategic skills. They will need to understand many areas but not necessarily be an expert in all of them. A good key account managers will also know when to call in the right people or resources to get the task done.
Key account management is a very person-focused role and good managers will need to be effective and comfortable with communicating ideas and strategies to individuals and groups at all levels of the business, some of whom may not be directly involved at the ground level. This stems from the need to present a strong business case to internal and external stakeholders that explains clearly and unambiguously how investment is tied to increased returns and links the business’s resources with the customer’s.
As well as managing their own teams, account managers must also ensure the ongoing training and development of these teams, as well as acting as a bridge between the key account management team, the customer and other parts of the business. The ability to lead and bring often disparate parts of the business together is therefore a core asset.
Project management skills
Working and developing strategies with key accounts requires change management across various aspects of the business and this in turn requires key account managers to project manage various work streams. Good key account managers should act as a sort of ‘connector’, linking different internal departments, processes and budgets to coordinate the delivery of customer requirements, as well as linking longer term customer growth strategies with shorter term tactics.
It would be impossible to ignore the skills associated with sales and selling when it comes to key account management as they do play a significant role. Assets such as the ability to identify opportunities and deliver a convincing pitch go a long way in getting key players on board and bringing them with you.
Emotional and social skills are increasingly valued soft skills in key account managers. Attributes and characteristics include the ability to perceive and interpret the way people express themselves, develop social relationships, cope with challenges and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.
Resilience and tenacity
The stakes can be very high when it comes to working with your key accounts and that means the pressure can ramp up very quickly. Customers aren’t always easy to deal with, internal resources are not always compliant and on-high projects things often go wrong and need correcting. Dealing with these challenges as they arise not only requires resilience, but the tenacity to foster and maintain energy and commitment in others.
A ‘customer first’ philosophy
Soft skills may be one thing, but the right attitude can go a long way in fostering great key account managers. This ideal mindset is what I like to refer to as the ‘customer first’ philosophy. This is a deep appreciation of how and why the success of a business is intricately and inexorably tied up with the success of its customer’s business. This is most often expressed outwardly in key account managers through empathy and the ability to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and see the situation from their point of view.