The role of a key account manager is a challenging but rewarding one, with a wide remit and a whole range of responsibilities.
In this guide to key account management training and development I want to explore what key account managers get up to and what’s involved in their work. We’ll look at the job role itself, the training and ongoing professional development of key account managers, as well as how to measure success.
The Job Description of a Key Account Manager
In some respects it can be easier to think of key account managers as more akin to general managers than traditional sales managers. Although sales and selling are an important part of the job, it’s important to understand that strategic account management is so much more than a sales technique, requiring an understanding of wider business strategy and how various parts of the business and operational processes work.
Below are some examples of the day to day job requirements of a key account manager:
- Planning and delivering existing projects as well as planning for the future development of key customers.
- Capturing market, customer and competitive insights and using this this to sharpen approaches to the customer.
- Forging deeper and wider relationships with key customers to better understand their needs and achieve new insights and build trust.
- Identifying new opportunities with existing customers and creating strategies so these can be realised and capitalised on.
- Building and presenting the internal business case for appropriate investments to grow key customers.
- Aligning internal resources from different departments to build and deliver customer initiatives.
- Leading direct reports in different regions, as well as motivating and developing the teams behind them.
- Managing profitability by ensuring pricing is set right, costs are controlled and profits are being captured.
- Ensuring successes are appreciated internally, as well as effectively communicated to the customer so loyalty and a sense of momentum is built.
Training Great Key Account Managers
Training key account managers is an ongoing process that requires a blended approach to learning and development. This includes on the job experiences that provide depth and breadth of understanding and on the job coaching by line managers, mentors and coaches.
Key account management is not something that can be learned through an academic path alone and candidates should already possess some of the skills required to do the job, including strong relationship building competencies.
Training and development can come in many forms including toolkits, workshops, coaching and a whole raft of other activities. What is vital is that the approach is integrated. Consistency is key as well. An annual two-day course might have its place but only when part of a wider development campaign.
Here are just a few ways that key account managers are trained and developed:
- Modular training programmes: Increasingly a combination of face to face and online/virtual learning is in the training of key account managers. Face to face works well when highly focused and linked to live ‘case’ development but virtual programmes can be rolled out globally and allow the individuals involved to advance at their own pace and can save time out of the office – as well as travel costs.
- Qualifications in account management: Various formal qualifications exist such as the Diploma in Key Account Management accredited by the Association for KAM, Certification by the Strategic Account Management Association and various Masters degrees run by Universities. These provide a strong theoretical base and over time develop the thinking required by strong account managers.
- Developing general management soft-skills through workshops: Top account managers are increasingly being exposed to leadership training which covers strategy, change management and execution.
- Coaching: This can be from others within your business or through outside experts. Time spent one to one working through problems and supporting new thinking can be highly productive.
- Customer seminars, training courses and conferences: This is another important way to develop the deep customer appreciation required in strong account managers.
- Learning from other businesses: This can accelerate understanding of what to do and what not to do. Selectively attending best practice sharing groups and events can quickly provide key account management insights that it can otherwise take many years to gain.
It’s also important to stress that training and skill development for key account management should not just be focused on account managers. The practice of key account management requires a cross functional, organisation-wide approach. Joint workshops are a powerful tool to train cross functional teams and embed this business wide approach. Managers from all functions may be called upon for direct customer involvement and an integrated approach is vital to deliver the excellent execution of projects that top customers demand.
Measurement is required to ensure training and development is truly progressive. Setting clear objectives at the start of a training journey is vital. For those managing training and development programmes having a firm fix on commercial return on investment is also important.
Identifying success and proving return requires a structured process so experiences and tangible business gains can be fed back to key stakeholders. Revenues, profits, customer engagement, account manager confidence and future opportunities can, and should, be measured so that, as objectively as possible, business gains can be linked to learning and development investment. Insights gained will support the continuous development required to succeed in dynamic and complex markets.
Well managed key account manager training and development provides the competitive advantage that enables your account management programme to continually raise business performance.