What skills to go from salesperson to Key Account Manager?

jose monsalve Published by Jose Monsalve – 11 May 2023

Skills and knowledge required to manage customer value and relationships

It’s usual to find in companies and salespeople a marked confusion between large accounts and key accounts, in the same way that companies believe that “Every salesperson who sells a lot has the skills to be a KAM”. Let me tell you that this is not so. Being a KAM means, in addition to being an excellent salesperson and negotiator, having the ability to manage VALUE and the relationship with the customer effectively over time. However, the path to reach this position requires a set of skills and knowledge that not everyone is willing to develop and this path involves a transformation of some of the habits that brought them to where they are today.

So, taking into account hundreds of hours of reading and training on key account management, several years of sales experience, plus the opportunity I have had to work with different KAMs and see first hand the common mistakes they make when dealing with their customers in the sales process, I want to suggest 7 competencies that I consider essential for a salesperson to become a successful KAM.

1. Identify and prioritize key accounts

Although it seems obvious, this competency is underdeveloped, as many salespeople and “KAMs” focus on having the biggest volume of accounts and giving them all equal service. The idea however, is that the KAM has the ability to identify the accounts that generate the most value and prioritize them to focus the company’s resources on growth actions other than “business as usual”.  Those accounts that are not strategic should be handed to another vendor, to perform data analysis and to also undertake strategic thinking to make decisions that will allow a selection of projects and business that I want to have in my client list and those that I can leave to the competition.

2. Develop and maintain long-term relationships

Although it may seem funny, a buyer does not want to relate to a salesperson who is trying to sell all the time.  More than 90% of B2B buyers look for the person in the salesperson who accompanies them in the fulfillment of their objectives.  Someone who generates value in each meeting, who understands their reality and the challenges of the role they play, as well as the benefits for themselves. We have moved from an era of short-term performance to a period of instability, in which solidity and long-term sustainability are even more valuable.

3. Understand and satisfy specific needs

As a consequence of the above and based on the creation of a relationship of trust, which is essential in this type of dicipline, there are two critical components.  The first is related to the fact that the construction of value solutions that are outside of “business as usual” puts at stake the results and credibility of the buyer within your account.  The second is related to the fact that to generate value solutions deep exchanges are needed, in which the parties must be able to express their needs, requirements, limitations, fears and hopes.

As shared by the U.S. firm Edelman, which publishes the annual trust barometer, they identify our period as “the cycle of distrust,” implying that “Businesses must lead the way in breaking this cycle. On all issues, by a wide margin, people want more business engagement, not less… The role and expectations of business have never been clearer, and business must recognize that its social role is here to stay.” So the KAM is looking to have conversations that allow them to explore “Sustainable Value Sales” about their business and market.

4. Industry and market knowledge

: A KAM must adopt a consultative and strategic approach, which is based on in-depth knowledge of the client’s market and industry, as well as their business challenges, including the competition,.  This understanding will help the KAM understand the hidden message of their customers, analyze the data and identify the essence of their needs and align possible solutions with the client’s strategy.

Team leadership and motivation: A KAM is not only an “account manager” but also a collaborative leader who works together with the different teams that go beyond the limits of the organization, where information is shared and different points of view are considered, so that the account plans are successful.  A KAM must earn respect and trust to convene the parties involved, which is why it is necessary to have clarity in the objectives sought by your company, in addition to coaching and leadership tools that allow you to delegate, motivate and manage teams properly. Competencies that can be identified with tools such as ATMAN.

5. Commercial assertiveness

In addition to needing strong communication skills, a KAM must be comfortable interacting with C-level executives, directors, managers and coordinators and have the ability to put “no” on the table and negotiate mutually beneficial agreements, while ensuring that their company’s interests are protected, challenging the client’s limiting beliefs.

6. Capacity for innovation and adaptation

In a market environment where the only constant is change, it is necessary to maintain creative and curious thinking, with agile responses to changing “market trends” with the ability to anticipate and see beyond the obvious to turn trends into value for the customer.

When you sell innovation or complex solutions, the answer should be: yes, tell me more.

7. Mastery of digital tools

In April 2023 McKinsey presented the result of its global survey in an article called “The Multiplier Effect: How B2B winners grow” where it is mentioned that it’s necessary for companies to invest in technological tools that allow them to keep the team synchronized during long and complex sales cycles, while minimizing the loss of critical customer knowledge and key inputs for decision making throughout the process. The way things are going, if you are not aligned with technology, you will be obsolete in a few years. Today it’s necessary, in addition to mastering CRM and office tools, to have an attractive and updated profile on LinkedIn, from which publications are made that add value to customers and allow you to become a market reference, in addition to developing a solid networking in order to expand coverage.  Today, you must know how AI helps to be more productive and efficient, however that is the subject for another day.

In summary, to become a true strategic partner to their customers, salespeople and KAMs must work to develop Sustainable Value Sales in their key accounts, through innovative solutions and relevant approaches, legitimizing their presence and developing a solid network of contacts that allows them to develop the value they can bring in various ways,  Customizing their solution to build an emotional bond between the customer and their company is critical. In doing so, the KAM will be contributing to the long-term success and growth of your organization.

  • Logo linkedin