Key account managers are responsible for retaining the most valuable clients a business has acquired. These are customers who spend the most money on your products and services, often refer other customers, and improve your reputation in your industry. Key account managers build long-term relationships with these clients and foster trust and rapport.
Key account management involves using customer relationship management (CRM) software to organize their relationships with key accounts. Salesforce Essentials gives key account managers a 360-degree view of all of their client interactions to ensure that they are kept happy as partners. Visit their website to sign up for a 14-day free trial.
What Does a Key Account Manager Do?
The main role of a key account manager is to foster strong relationships with a business’ most valuable customers. These are the clients who spend the most money, will likely buy more products and services, will serve as advocates, and will improve your reputation.
They offer support, resources, training, and develop custom solutions to unique customer needs. They usually have scheduled meetings to address any current issues and forecast solving potential issues proactively.
What Are the Benefits of Having Key Account Managers?
According to the Harvard Business Review, customer satisfaction improves by about 20% if you implement a key account management program and revenue can increase by up to 30%. Promoting your best account managers and hiring experienced, proven key account managers helps retain your most valuable customers by giving them top-notch customer service and support.
When you have long-term customers that your business supports for several years, it’s important to dedicate a go-to person to support them and keep the client satisfied. This encourages loyalty and makes it less likely that you’ll lose them to a competitor in your industry.
What Skills Do Key Account Managers Need?
Key account managers need a myriad of skills to be successful, grow major accounts, and retain customers. Examples of skills the best key account managers possess are:
- Robust and proactive communication skills
- Excellent organization skills
- Outstanding attention to detail
- Good research skills that allow them to stay on top of industry trends so they can better anticipate what their customers will need
- A deep understanding of the company’s products and services so they can articulate any change in prices, offer custom solutions, and cross-sell to customers effectively
- Exceptional collaboration skills within other layers of the organization to help develop custom solutions
- Robust negotiation skills when developing new solutions
- The ability to self-manage themselves and juggle many tasks at one time
- A commitment to professional development to acquire new skills and strategies that best support and protect their dedicated accounts
What Is Included in a Key Account Manager Job Description?
In order to recruit and hire the best key account managers who will help you reach your business goals, you need to have clear, comprehensive job descriptions to help candidates determine if they are a good fit. Start with a job brief describing the role, such as:
Our business is seeking a skilled key account manager to manage relationships with our most important clients. This person will be responsible for retaining long-term clients, crafting solutions that meet their business needs, and anticipating future needs.
Next, include the job responsibilities in your job description, such as:
- Developing relationships with high-value clients to foster rapport and identify challenges and opportunities
- Crafting custom solutions for key accounts with other team members
- Tracking key account customer satisfaction and providing reports on satisfaction and revenue increases or decreases from each account
- Experience using CRM software and other programs used internally, or the ability to learn them quickly
- A commitment and passion for going above and beyond for each key account
- Leadership skills and management skills to train junior account managers
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills
- A relational personality that can quickly establish rapport and credibility with people
What Tools & Software Do Key Account Managers Use?
Just like salespeople, key account managers use a broad range of tools and software to manage their daily activities and organize their workdays. Examples include:
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software
Using a CRM helps key account managers track conversations with clients, automate follow-ups with reminders, store important documents, and more. For example, Salesforce Essentials is an excellent CRM that gives key account managers the ability to collaborate with other members of the team, store robust client details, create custom reports, and more.
Going back and forth to schedule meeting times over email with key accounts can be cumbersome and wastes valuable time. Many key account managers use scheduling tools like Calendly that connect directly to their calendar and provide a custom link so their customers can easily view their availability and schedule a time to meet. Then, the event is put right onto both of their calendars.
Pro tip: When I worked in sales, I would put a link to my personal Calendly link in my email signature, so clients always had easy access to my availability to schedule meetings.
Video Conferencing Tools
Many key account managers meet with their customers in person, but it’s not always feasible due to geographic restraints. When you can’t meet in person, a great tool to use is video conferencing software so you can view body language that you can’t see on a regular phone call. An excellent tool is Zoom because it’s easy to use for both parties and offers meeting recording and screen sharing, accommodates multiple meeting members and chat, and provides great audio and visual connectivity.
“Do not wait for clients to bring up issues. Always be several moves ahead and check in with your key accounts to confirm they are content with what you are providing. Be as communicative as possible and let them know of updates or evolutions of your business and what you’re offering. When you are open and transparent, you build a better rapport with your key accounts. This, in turn, makes doing business less burdensome for all.”
– Jon Brodsky, U.S. CEO, Finder
Alternatives to Key Account Managers
While key account managers are beneficial for companies with long-term clients who require a lot of time and attention, they aren’t necessarily suitable for every business. Consider how transactional versus relational your sales process is.
If you have a shorter sales cycle that’s more transactional (meaning the customer doesn’t require a lot of support after the sale), you may be able to support customers with account executives or general account managers who can support a higher number of customers. If there is a long sales cycle that requires consistent, comprehensive support, a key account management strategy is your best option.
“To achieve success in key account management, it is necessary to precisely define the strategic worth of each account. Remember, there might be a huge difference between an account of strategic worth vs the account holding financial worth. You need to define a clear distinction between the accounts of large size and the key account. Develop a comprehensive management strategy and identify a small number of key accounts.”
– Tim Uittenbroek, Founder, VPNMash
Key Account Management Best Practices
Every successful key account management sets a strategy with best practices for account managers. Examples of key account management best practices for any small business include:
Craft a Polished Handoff Process
It’s key to establish a clear handoff process from the account executive who closed the sale to the key account manager. If possible, do this in person, but if you can’t, have a video conference call or create a video using a tool like Wistia to personally introduce the client to their dedicated key account manager and describe what to expect next.
This ensures there is no confusion regarding who the customer should now be going to for support. In addition, it fosters rapport between the key account manager and the customer since they’ve been personally introduced by a sales executive they already have an established, trusting relationship with.
Identify Your Key Accounts Carefully
Establish clear criteria for key accounts, such as the amount of time they have been doing business with your company, the amount of revenue they spend, their cultural fit with your organization, the potential for growth, and the client’s current financial health. Sometimes, a current key account can even be downgraded to a regular account if you determine they no longer meet the selection criteria for a key account.
Review Your Non-key Accounts Regularly
It’s important to consistently review your non-key accounts through your selection criteria to determine if they should be upgraded to key accounts. This makes sure that every client gets the support and resources they need and helps keep them from being recruited by a competitor that is offering more support.
Schedule Recurring Check-in Meetings With Each Key Account
Don’t wait for your key accounts to come to you when there’s a problem or issue. Be proactive; set regular check-ins to manage issues and provide robust support. Depending on the level of support they need, this could be weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Work with each key account to establish a mutually agreed-upon meeting frequency.
“Provide individualized service and meet with key accounts regularly. What works for one client probably won’t work for another. Ensure you’re making a customized plan for every client, seeing every client’s individual needs and desires and adjusting your procedures appropriately. This can permit a superior working connection among you and your key records. The word ‘management’ in key account management is essential, and it is easy to manage key accounts if you have regular contact. Schedule meetings with your client or decision-makers over the phone or face to face to ensure you’re both are on the same track. This way, you can build your relationship and perceive areas for account growth.”
– Bryan Kesler, CEO, CPAexamguide.com
Limit the Number of Accounts Assigned to Each Account Manager
You don’t want your most valuable clients to feel like their key account manager doesn’t have enough time to give them the support they need. Two to four is a good number to test out to make sure they are able to give clients the attention, support, and resources they need. You can play with the number of assigned key accounts to each key account manager based on experience and proven success.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the difference between an account manager & a key account manager?
An account manager typically supports shorter-term clients or those who don’t spend a large amount of money on your products and services. Key account managers support a business’ most valuable long-term customers who need support over a longer period of time and protect them from being recruited by competitors.
Why is key account management important for small businesses?
Key account management is beneficial for companies that want to reduce churn by retaining their most valuable customers by providing a dedicated key account manager who has the time, skills, and resources to provide comprehensive, high-quality support and craft custom solutions.
What are the top skills key account managers should have?
The best key account managers are highly relatable, pay strong attention to detail, are solution-focused, well-organized, and are skilled at crafting unique solutions to complex problems.
Is key account management the right strategy for every small business?
Not necessarily. If your business has a short sales cycle with customers who don’t need a lot of support after the sale has been closed, you probably don’t need to support them with dedicated key account managers. Instead, you might be better off providing robust customer support reps and offering a comprehensive knowledge base customers can use to answer their own questions online.
Bottom Line: Key Account Management
Key account managers are a critical part of many small businesses’ strategy to retain their most valuable customers and protect them from being recruited by competitors in your industry. Foster a strong key account management team with team members who are dedicated to growing your revenue and providing the best support possible to their assigned accounts.
Key account managers benefit from using a CRM to organize their client information and collaborate with other team members. Salesforce Essentials offers simple set up and built-in intelligence features, a mobile app, an education platform, and more. It starts at $25 per user, per month for up to 10 ten users. Visit their website to sign up for a 14-day free trial.