Reinventing the Key Account Team

Do you want to star in Mission Impossible? Try the job we used to have as Key Account Manager at Upsales. The role came with many fascinating surprises that typically would make you miss out on your prime responsibility as a business developer. It was a job for a stuntman. 

 

That’s why we changed everything. 

 

But the new formula we wanted to test prompted most staff at our company to raise their eyebrows. Folks said: “This new thing sounds messy.”

 

That was before the blueprint became a hit and everyone felt a little more like movie-stars than stuntmen. 

 

How did we upgrade to KAM 2.0?

 

Before I show a way of upgrading a KAM (Key Account Manager) it’s important to know their specific situation. In complex sales you cannot separate sales dialogue from the launch of the product. Implementation and sales go very much together. This is key. 

 

Yet it seemed for a long time to make sense that part of KAMs job was making sure the implementation worked in the way our KAMs had agreed on in the written contract. But we were wrong. We needed a couple of supporting actors to the KAM.

 

Here is how we upgraded our KAM to our latest version 2.0. 

 

Instead of forcing our KAM with the classical responsibility for the customer, we organized ourselves into a number of Customer Teams with different skills and shared responsibility for approximately 100 clients each.

 

KAM is the leading actor and the team leader, but is joined by an important co-star; CSM (Customer Success Manager) whose task is solely to focus on technology, details, and getting the implementation right for the customer (remember we are in complex sales with a versatile product and getting off to a good start is crucial).

 

Now the KAM won’t get caught in the crossfire of details and can focus on his or her role as a business developer, keeping an eye on the Big Picture with the client. 

 

To each team we then casted a BI developer and a Systems integration developer from our consultancy department.

 

Now different parts of the crew have different kinds of responsibilities for the client and they work together at the set with the same goals and incentives. But they are all part of the same movie and work along the same script - so to speak. 

 

(The developers actually used to work in a separate unit at our office and had assignments from different parts of our organization. Sometimes, their goals and incentives where not aligned with Sales. We even had a person who kept our developers in line and lead them - we no longer need that role. Instead we became more efficient and autonomous.)

 

A lot changed as we built our customer-teams.

 

  • The team became autonomous.
  • Everyone has the same goal in the team.
  • The customer has one contact group.
  • Everything the customer needs is found within the crew.
  • The team works closer with the customer.
  • The team is measured for the same KPIs and bonus.
  • The crew has more fun and it matters as it also creates strong joint responsibility and clear decision making.

 

Even a professor at Harvard could see this. However, it's probably not common enough that companies help KAM via a team solution. On a general, level it makes sense to align the experts of the company in small independent business teams. What you don’t want is departments with competing goals.

 

As a CEO, you always want to push decisions and responsibilities as deep into the organization as possible. It’s when you have independent experts in autonomous teams with clear goals, working close with the clients, that you start noticing complex decisions being made on the fly by the teams. Everyone has each other’s backs. This also ramps up the responsibility everyone feels for the client. It all matters.