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Solve Key Account Growth Problems With The Right Account Support Structure

Post Series: strategic account development plans



How does your team strategically serve Key Accounts? Who is in charge of managing the account and driving sales and profits? The person who opened the account years ago? Does the local territory salesperson manage your key accounts? An independent sales representative firm? Or have you brought your large key customers in-house and you manage them internally? Another question we need to consider when solving the puzzle of key account development plans is: what are characteristics of a key account manager and what should the support team look like to give your company the maximum return from your key account development plan?


We have already determined why it is beneficial to have Account Development Plans.


We also discussed how to determine if account matches your companies’ ideal customer profile.


The next step in solving this puzzle was defining what a key strategic account is for your organization.


Now we need to assign the account to a key account manager and a team to insure this account achieves the desired profitable growth outcomes your company needs.


We often see sales problems when companies have the person who opened the account or the local territory salesperson manage key strategic accounts and their key account management plans.




The salesperson that opened the key account is a hunter; it’s what they do. They understand how to identify accounts that have a high probability of becoming customers and they know how to prospect, identify needs, and win the business. There are three reasons I have experienced why you don’t want your hunter managing a key strategic account.


  1. The skills set to manage and grow an account are different than those to open new accounts.
  2. Opportunity cost; your hunter has proven themselves very valuable doing what most salespeople struggle to do: identify, prospect and open new profitable business. Why burden them with account management when they could be using their time and skills opening additional key future accounts?
  3. You want someone who will live and breathe this account, strategically start new relationships and identify new opportunities that may not have a return on their time invested for years. Sales Hunters have what is called a “High Utilitarian Trait”. What it means is the way they are wired they are willing to take on difficult tasks if they see a personal benefit quickly.


For all those fellow hunters out there I can hear your “ Ya Buts’”.


Ya but what’s the incentive for me to hunt and land whale accounts if you will take them away from me?


Ya but I have built the relationship that opened this account.


Ya but no one knows this account like I do.


Ya but no one has the relationship with the key decision maker like I do


And the big one..


Ya but how’s this going to work in my goal plan and compensation?


All of these concerns and more can be strategically addressed proactively with the right expectations, compensation plan and account transition plan.


What about having the local territory salesperson manage the account?


Again the reasons they are not the ideal team members to manage key strategic accounts is very similar.


  1. The skills set to manage and grow an account are different than those to manage and grow a territory.
  2. Opportunity cost; your territory salesperson has proven them very valuable working with their distributors and growing their overall area of responsibility. They are gifted at keeping many spinning plates spinning while meeting and often exceeding their territory growth objectives. Why burden them with account management when they could be using their time and skills growing their territory?
  3. You want someone who will live and breathe this account, strategically start new relationships and identify new opportunities that may not have a return on their time invested for years. They will build and leverage relationships to create a powerful relationship matrix in this account. A territory salesperson does not have that kind of time.
  4. Key account managers have a much longer time horizon. Sales hunters and territory salespeople are focused (as you want them to be) on driving sales this week, month, quarter.


What does a key account manager look like?


What are some common skills and traits that I have seen key account managers have to drive the maximum results?


  • Project management skills and or training
  • Deeper product technical understanding
  • Has professionalism, presence, and confidence to meet with buyers and other decision makers as well as the C-suite team
  • Skilled at building and leveraging relationships within the account and with your subject mater experts internally
  • Strong networking skills and today they includes social selling
  • Strong financial understanding and business acumen
  • Understands SPIN selling and demonstrates its use frequently
  • Understands and can teach customers how to work with your company
  • Someone with high EQ and situational awareness
  • Customer focused approach / customer centric
  • Often acts as champion for the customer inside your organization
  • Understanding of your products and services and the value they provide, as well as the operations of your business and how to navigate known constraints
  • If you are familiar with Social Styles like DISC, this person would be a DC style but have their placement near the center of the chart to easily move in and out of styles as needed
  • Strong computer skills, ability to navigate your company systems and the customers
  • Social with strong customer entertaining skills
  • Strong communicator with your team, globally as well as the customers team globally
  • Strong negotiation skills
  • Strong competitive analysis capabilities and knows how to strategically differentiate your products and services
  • Its how they sell as well as what they sell that sets them apart
  • Team members of the key account often see them as one of their team and a trusted advisor


If a “hunter” opened this account think of your key account manager as a “gentleman farmer ‘ always working to maximize the return on investment from this account and aggressively looking for new field to plant.


Inside your organization you will want to develop your cross-functional team and establish cross-functional goals to tear down any silo’s that may exist.


Common members I have seen as a part of the Key Account Management team include:


Customer service

Sales support

Data analytics

Marketing/Product Management

Someone from pricing team

A representative from quality

A representative from engineering

A representative from operations

A representative from accounts receivables


Now I hear the company CEO’s and Presidents saying; “ We can’t afford that kind of overhead and still be competitive!”


You can create the cross functional teams to support key account sales because some of the team will be dedicated just to this account but many of the support members are not dedicated exclusively to the key account.


Who manages your key accounts?


Do they also have other accounts?


Do they manage a region or other salespeople?


Is the person driving the growth at your key accounts the salespeople who opened them?


What skill sets has your team determined a key account manager needs to have to be successful in your business?


To insure you solve your key account sales problems you must have the right key account manager and a cross-functional support team.


In the next post we will discuss creating an account profile and completing a needs assessment.

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