I have just accepted the responsibility of a new customer portfolio in the company I recently joined. Here comes my Sales Director who hands me a file of about fifteen pages entitled “Key Account Database”. To be filled out, with no other explanation…. I dispose of one week! I immediately set out to read this document… only to discover that I am supposed to analyze my main customer down to the smallest details: Organization, Strategy, SWOT. I have known this customer only for a few months and, with them, the level of intimacy is as strong as between Stalin and JFK during the cold war! I’ve gotten myself into a fine mess… All the more as the objective of this exercise remains very vague to me… No way out, I’ve got to hit the ground running! I start to glean the maximum of information around me, especially from the internal teams and, by so doing I gradually come to a surprise…! I realize that we hold a considerable mass of information of all types at all levels: historical, strategic, operational, quantitative, qualitative information… What’s more, this information is not consigned anywhere else than in colleagues and collaborators’ minds… It eventually proves to be a true goldmine! It enables me not only to fill out the famous document which is to become the basis of a true Key Account Plan, but also to take a giant step forward in in my personal understanding of our customers’ reality on their markets and with respect to our organization.
Key Account Strategy
The “Customer Database” is then being shared and examined in details with my colleagues during a session on Key Account Management with our consultant-trainer H. Faucher, who pushes us to our limits. I then realize how long the road ahead is between what our (my) relationship with the customer is and what it should be, given the strategic importance that is being revealed at this occasion. I then decide to start myself on what seems to be the way of a true professionalization of Key Account Management within my division. What is at stakes, I slowly realize, is the safety of our activities in the medium and long term…Hence, the definition of a “Key Account Strategy”. I fall from very high, me whose strategy with my customers over ten years could mostly be summarized as MMO-TMB…: “Making My Objectives - Taking My Bonus”!! It still takes me a few months to achieve a true Key Account Plan… Now, once that piece in hand, I feel the most powerful man in the company since I manage at the same time the most consequent portfolio in terms of Turnover! Yet, at this very point in time, I find myself confronted with an unexpected challenge…
With the strong feeling that my Key Account Plan was the… “Key” to success, I come to realize that it does nothing much but adding new questions, even arousing doubt for some of my collaborators as our customer’s strategy, clearly expressed here, could bring about potential negative impacts on their business scope: budgets, resources or business… Stepping back is required, and I clearly feel that my personal objectives must be transformed into collective ones. As a matter of facts, you have certainly noticed that I no longer refer to “my” customer, but to “our” customer… In this endeavor, it is necessary to convince, and for convincing it is necessary to set a direction for each one! So, a new fight is in order… I thus harness myself with the Twelve Works of Hercules… Not without weapons, however.
- First of all, I learn by experience that the “Key Account Plan” must be used like a toolbox, from which only the essential tolls will be used according to the context.
- Then, this tool must be reformulated in order to be understandable and to allow its internal users to understand, “own” and adapt it to the company as much as to themselves!
- Lastly, it holds an ultimate weapon that makes it possible to open all doors: the definition of Strategic Objectives: a simple sentence on which it will be advisable to align everyone, particularly managers!
Once this Strategic Objective shared, aligned, validated… It is like a revolution! The strongest poaches of resistance disappear, the transverse teams and the resources then open up to me, in the name of collective interests, no longer personal ones… The results are then overwhelming… The projects swiftly follow on after one another, spread around with an unprecedented team commitment. Our Turnover explodes and our purchasing share of wallet with the customer reaches its maximum in 3 years. It is me who maintains the lead, as much in-house as with our key account. There is a real transformation as I start to spearhead proposals, even becoming the pilot of our Key Account strategy, while listening to those who, before, used to dictate their law in the sacrosanct Customer-Supplier relationship… We analyzed, we understood and we acted… And today, we are industrial partners to our customer. We speak on equal footing, in all transparency!
I have learned that you must step back in a job which sucks you towards “always faster”. You must also step down in order to define the course of the Key Account relationship, to share on all the levels of the company, to convince, give sense, meaning and serenity to collaborators towards a common objective…. In that, Key Account Management, as it is understood here, is a tremendous tool…. Today, yes, I believe that I am a Key Account Manager.