Key Account Manager attributes
Key account managers are responsible for everything to do with the customer lifecycle. From service delivery to account growth, to customer retention, and everything between. Because the job is so varied and involves many different tasks, you need a lot of skills to do it well:
- Strategic thinking
- Business management
- Change management
- Innovation and creativity
- Solution design and positioning
- Relationship building
- Project management
Phew! And that's off the top of my head.
The good news is that you're not expected to be good at everything. You're a key account manager, not a superhero!
You're surrounded by skilled teams of people who have the skills you don't. Ask for help when you need it.
But don't ignore your weaknesses.
You want to achieve better results for your clients, your company and your career, right?
I've put together a description of the 10 most important skills for a key account manager to develop.
And I've looked all over the Internet to find 20 free key account management online courses that will help you get better at your job.
10 essential skills for key account managers and where to learn them for free
Each client has their own problems that need solving. Key account managers need to come up with new ideas and relevant insights. Because, as Henry Ford said, "If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got."
You must be curious, keep an open mind and use your imagination.
- Creative Thinking Techniques and Tools for Success. This course will give you a creative "toolbox." You'll learn behaviours and techniques that will make your natural creativity shine.
- Unleash Your Potential: Innovation and Enterprise. Learn about innovation and business, and how to come up with and evaluate your own ideas.
- Innovation Generation: How To Be Creative. Learn from a renowned innovation expert how to spark your creativity. This proven method will make you more open-minded and productive.
- Making Creativity and Innovation Happen. Creativity and innovation are about new and better ways to do things. Learn where creativity comes from, how to develop it, and apply it at an organizational level.
Ideas aren't worth much if they never happen. As a key account manager, you always give your clients advice and suggestions. To get them to listen, you need to share these ideas in a way that inspires them.
Key account managers have authority, but they don't have power. Instead, they manage by influence. To make decisions and get things done, you need the help of other people. When things get tough, you can't tell people what to do; you have to find other ways to convince them to cooperate.
- Framing Your Communication to Inspire and Convince. Discover how to get management's support and inspire your team by communicating effectively.
- Introduction to Negotiation: A Strategic Playbook for Becoming a Principled and Persuasive Negotiator. Learn how to analyse negotiations and shape them with convincing arguments. Predict, understand, and change the behaviour of the people you're bargaining with.
Key account managers work with many people in their company and with clients.
And often, they know more, and are smarter, than you. Which is exactly what you want. The trick is to leverage everyone's knowledge and use it to solve problems and reach common goals.
- Teamwork and Collaboration. Learn essential teamwork and collaboration skills to lead, build and motivate teams.
Sometimes you have to make decisions without knowing all the facts. When that happens you have to adapt your strategy, tell people about the changes, and make them happen.
Key account managers embrace change with a positive attitude. Remain open-minded, professional and flexible, especially in challenging situations.
- Decision Making Under Uncertainty: Introduction to Structured Expert Judgement. Don't let the absence of data or the lack of appropriate data affect your decision-making. Find out how to use expert opinion to measure uncertainty in a rigorous way.
5. Emotional intelligence
Key account managers work with others, in dynamic, high pressure situations. It's hard to predict how people will react.
Sometimes, people will push your buttons... hard.
That's why emotional intelligence is an essential skill. It's your ability to recognise, assess, and respond to your own and other people's feelings.
- Empathy & Emotional Intelligence at Work. Learn skills that build empathy and trust and make it easier to work together. You'll come up with more ideas, get more done, and be happier at work.
- Emotional Intelligence at Work. Find out how emotional intelligence helps us understand ourselves and others. You'll learn to resolve conflict and build better relationships.
To be a leader, you don't need to have a title. Which is just as well because key account managers have little official power. They earn their authority through influence and helping everyone work together.
You need to be inclusive, open to new ideas and and listen to people's concerns. When things go wrong (and they will) you have to step up and make sure those problems get solved.
- Becoming an Effective Leader. Learn the importance of self-efficacy, social capital, and leadership style.
- Becoming a Successful Leader. Learn what successful 21st-century leaders look like. and how you can adopt their inclusive leadership style. Using research and best practices, you will practice empowerment, accountability, courage, and humility. These are key leadership skills linked to inclusive, successful teams.
Key account managers help their clients reach their business goals. That means finding ways to lead your client from where they are now to where they want to be in the future.
You'll need a plan to agree objectives, define outcomes and goals and keep track of all the related tasks.
And when things change you have to think on your feet and adapt your strategy so you stay on track.
- Foundations of Strategy. Learn the basics of strategic analysis. Understand how the competitive environment and internal resources and capabilities impact performance.
- Business Strategy from Wharton: Competitive Advantage. Learn how to make plans and put them into action to get ahead of the competition.
- Critical Thinking and Problem Solving. Learn to analyse a situation, come up with a solution, and then win in a competitive scenario.
8. Business Analysis
Every key account manager needs to know how to do simple business analysis. Find out what your client's business problems are and how to fix them so they can get results that matter.
- Analytics for Decision Making. Learn to analyse various data types and quality to make smart business decisions.
- Excel for Everyone: Data Management. Further your Excel skills to manage larger datasets and more complex data wrangling, management and modelling.
9. Relationship Building
Key account managers work with people from different parts of their client's business. Nurture those relationships and expand your network so you can find more people to help.
When it's time to put your ideas into action, everyone has an opinion on what needs to do and when. You must manage these different priorities to avoid deadlocks and get decisions made.
- Customer Relationship Management. Learn the benefits of strong, long-term customer relationships and how to build them. Understand relationship management strategies and best practices to win and retain profitable customers.
- Strategic Account Management. Learn the skills needed to maintain, retain and grow existing accounts.
People think that key account management is more like farming than hunting.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
It's a job that's all about growing revenue and improving margins.
Key account managers:
- identify and qualify opportunities
- align value propositions
- propose solutions
- understand buying decisions
- negotiate and close deals
Just like sales people.
And like sales people, key account managers are under pressure to make more sales. And to work faster, be more efficient and make clients more profitable.
Enterprise Selling. Learn essential concepts like the sales cycle, buying process, and managing enterprise customers. See the sales process in action, from prospecting, sales conversations and handling objections.
Find the course that's right for you
If none of these courses for key account managers appeal to you, then find one that does. Take a look at the course catalogues of the open learning providers:
- Coursera. Partners with more than 250 leading universities to offer flexible career-related online learning. Great courses to help build personal and professional skills. The average time commitment is 4 to 12 hours and there are 2,500+ free courses available.
- edX. Open online course provider created by Harvard and MIT. It hosts online university-level courses across a wide range of disciplines. The courses are generally free unless you want a certificate to prove you completed it.
- OpenLearn. Over 1,000+ free courses on a wide range of subjects. They have a good library of business strategy, leadership and management content. I like that they have short courses from 2 hours or more in depth courses up with 24 hours of study. So you can always find something to learn no matter how busy you are.
- Future Learn. There are thousands of courses from short tracks to online degrees. And 600+ of these are on business and management. FutureLearn is generally free but exclude certificates and tests. Also, once you enrol, you've got 2 weeks to complete the course. I quite like the limited learning time as it motivates me to get studying right away instead of putting it off.
You don't have a job; you have a career. So why not invest some time in yourself to brush up your skills? You're worth it.
How to identify your skill gaps
The pace of change is only getting faster. To keep up, key account managers have to keep learning new things, and adapt how they approach their role.
You can only come up with ways to improve your skills if you know where they are lacking.
But first, you have to figure out which skills need developing, so here are some tips.
Think about what your career goals are. What does it look like to succeed in your current (or future) role? Do you want to :
- Gain more experience?
- Make a greater contribution?
- Be more fulfilled?
- Manage others?
- Get promoted?
- Get a pay rise?
When you know where you want to go, you can better figure out what skills you need to develop to get there.
- Build competencies and expertise
- Work better with your boss
- Build relationships and visibility
- Understand and fit into the company culture
- Improve business acumen.
What goals do you need to achieve?
You didn't get to this point in your career without developing some serious skills. Some may have served you better than others.
To figure out where to start, make a list of what you need to achieve in these three areas:
- Relationships. Identifying, building and developing relationships with influential stakeholders and decision-makers.
- Revenue. Improving profit by growing revenue and increasing margin on your key accounts.
- Retention. Improving retention and securing long-term partnerships with your clients.
Where are you falling behind? What skills do you need to improve to get the results you want?
Once you have a list of skills, prioritise those are most urgent. Start at the top and work your way through the list till you're done.
Reflect on past projects
Think back to some past projects, both the successful and unsuccessful ones.
- What challenges came up and how did you respond to them?
- Did anything take you by surprise?
- What would you do differently next time?
Ask for feedback
Your colleagues (former and current) can give you a more objective view of the skills you need to develop. Have a casual chat with them and ask them where they think you can improve.
Let them know you want honest, constructive advice.
Some may be uncomfortable to give it to you face to face. Or people's schedules may make it impractical to talk to everyone. So you could send a short two question survey for some feedback.
The other benefit of surveys is participants can be anonymous. That might encourage them to be more open with their feedback.
What are you afraid of?
Another way to find out what skills need attention is to consider what tasks you avoid or struggle with. Ignoring the need to learn won't help you in the long-run.
We make excuses for our lack of ability all the time. Have you ever said something like, "I'm lousy at math," or "I'm not good with technology?"
So what if you're not naturally gifted at some things?
Education is the only way you'll get the knowledge you need and be able to hone your skills.
But you must take responsibility for your professional development. No-one can do it for you.
Put the fear of failure or the need for perfection behind you and embrace a learning mindset.
Need more help to improve your key account management skills?
To be a key account manager, you'll need a University or Technical College degree in a related field. For example, a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Business or Bachelor of Science.
A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is an asset, and may give you an advantage, but not required.
The good news is that the more related work experience you have, the less need for a formal education. So, if you don't have a degree, you need at least 5 years experience selling to businesses and proof that you can keep accounts and grow them.
I had been an account manager for 10+ years before I earned my Bachelor of Business. And no one has ever asked me about it since.
All roles ask for industry knowledge. A hiring manager would rather candidates came from within the industry. It makes the onboarding much easier, and the candidate's ramp up time shorter.
Don't let that put you off.
You'll also need to be proficient in Microsoft Office Suite (Word, PowerPoint and Excel). So if you're not great with these programs, take free courses at Microsoft 365 Training.
Some basic accounting knowledge would be useful too. Key account managers are in charge of the Profit & Loss Statement (P&L). This is how companies know how well they generate sales, manage expenses, and create profits.