Account manager or a trusted advisor?

Winning business with existing happy customers is almost 10 times easier to win than with new potential customers, according to most research, and yet it is easy to take even the largest existing customers for granted. Sadly, by some distance, the most significant reason given by buyers for changing suppliers is poor customer service!

Often even experienced Key Account Managers will maintain good personal relationships with only a small selection of key contacts within a customer’s organisation and in doing so create a warm and comfortable feeling, that all is well. However these friendly relationships may actually obscure a Key Account Manager’s actual perceived value within the customer’s business. They make like him or her, but that’s not the same as valuing them.

To be considered as a trusted advisor by the most influential people in a customer’s organisation should be the benchmark by which Key Account Managers measure their relationship status. How those same people rate the strategic value of a supplier determines the security of a business relationship.

Ask yourself this question: on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 meaning ‘not at all’ and 5 meaning ‘completely’) how would your key accounts answer the following two questions?

  1. To what degree do you consider your supplier’s KAM to be a trusted advisor?
  2. To what degree do you consider your supplier to be your strategic partner?

While changing suppliers can be challenging for any customer, it can also bring many benefits. New suppliers will work harder for their business, often offer financial incentives and make stronger service commitments.

Therefore KAMs need to do a lot more than form friendly personal relationships with their favored contacts. They need to truly understand their customers in order to add real value.

Here are a few questions that all KAMs should be able to answer about their key accounts:

  1. What are your customer’s core values and principles – what they stand for and pride themselves on?
  2. What differentiates them from their competition or makes them better, in their view?
  3. What are their long term goals, objectives
  4. What are their specific goals and what is their key focus, for 2014?
  5. What are their strategies achieving these?.
  6. What challenges do they face in their marketplace that may prevent them achieving those goals?
  7. Who is who in the zoo…what does the organizational chart and stakeholder map, look like?
  8. What are their views on your strengths and weaknesses as a supplier? How does that compare with their view of your competitors?

If you can answer those eight questions comprehensively then you have the core foundation knowledge to be able to start to build a proactive and effective key account plan. A plan that will help you develop your true value within your customer’s business, from simply ‘friendly supplier’ to ‘trusted advisor of strategic value’

Customers may well change one friendly supplier for another…but they very rarely change trusted advisors, particularly when they are seen as having strategic value.

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