If you think your job is harder than it should be... you're right.
Key account management is a role that requires both sales skills and strategic thinking. You need to be able to identify opportunities, build rapport with key contacts, negotiate favourable contracts, and work collaboratively with your team.
It's not an easy job, made more difficult by a series of common challenges people in these roles face.
Read on to discover if you’re experiencing any of the same struggles as other Key Account Managers. Knowing what the problem is the first step to finding a solution.
25 problems that stop key account managers from doing their job
I have hundreds of studies I’ve collected over the years, and I thought they’d be fertile ground to source ideas for the podcast. The great thing about them is they’re based on research. Which means the findings are more than just opinion.
You can take these to the bank (or at least to your boss).
This study is called How Good Are Managers at Evaluating Sales Problems? It’s from 2002 and while the focus is on how managers assess problems (which we’re not going to talk about) there was a great list of issues that sales people face (which we will talk about)
I include key account managers that definition of sales people because it is a revenue focused role and these issues impact account growth and retention as much as they do account acquisition.
In the context of this study, a problem is defined as “tangible factors in the work environment that have the capacity to restrict performance”
So, with that in mind, let’s dive in:
General Market Issues That Cause Sales Problems
- National competitors wielding power
- Internal mergers/acquisitions
- Supplier mergers/acquisitions
- Customer mergers/acquisitions
- Unanticipated changes in customer needs
- Unanticipated changes in competitor activities
Knowledge Issues That Cause Sales Problems
- Lack of an organized and developed sales process
- Lack of knowledge about customer needs
- Lack of strategy for each account served
- Lack of coordination between salespeople and others within the organization
- Insufficient performance reviews
- Minor details cause more problems than they should
Product/Service Offering Issues That Cause Sales Problems
- Inability to customize products/services
- Sales representatives focused on too wide a product range
- Sales representatives focused on too narrow a product range
- Inadequate information provided by firm regarding products
- Not having the right mix of products
Leadership/People Issues That Cause Sales Problems
- Poor communications between sales locations
- Turnover among salespeople in an organization
- Salespeople have too many non-sales responsibilities
- Business unit strategy is not articulated and understood
- Structure of compensation
- Difficulties related to sales forecasting/budgeting
- Process of setting salesperson goals
- Management does not provide adequate strategic and tactical direction
Favourite books about problem solving
+ Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything. Solving complex problems is what we do in sales and account management. It’s an indispensable skill and one that you can adapt for every day decisions to business issues, organizational performance and any other challenge you can think of.
I loved this book - it follows a 7-step technique to problem solving and uses a visual system to help you break down and understand all the moving parts.
(I especially like this because I’m a huge fan of mind mapping - and MindMeister is my tool of choice).
It also includes chapters on how to brainstorm with teams and communicate your findings to convince your audience and get them to take action! I also like the author’s definition of problem solving:
Problem solving is decision making when there is complexity and uncertainty that rules out obvious answers, and where there are consequences that make the work to get good answers worth it.
+ What's Your Problem?: To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve. Another brilliant book which asks the question: are you barking up the wrong tree? Sometimes we rush our analysis, think we know what the problem is and jump right action. Then we stay the path, even when we sense we’re not getting results - because we committed to it. Then we blame the process, or lack of support, or whatever, when it might just be we were focused on the wrong problem to begin with.
A really enjoyable look at problem solving with a very simple framework that you can apply to any problem. This is simpler than Bulletproof Problem Solving so if you want to dip your toes into the topic of problem solving techniques, I’d recommend this one first.
Coming up: How to Build a Successful Executive Sponsorship Program
JULY 26 I'll be hosting a live workshop to explain how to create an executive partnership program that pairs senior executives with account managers to focus on account growth and retention.
Studies have shown that when account executives involve senior executives in deal negotiations throughout the process, they can close deals faster and establish more long-term relationships with clients.
But it's not enough just to ask for help. A formal program ensures account managers and executives remain focused on their joint strategy to maximise sales and account retention.
Grab your tickets here, while they last. And if you can't make it live, don't worry, the event will be recorded and shared with ticket holders.
Just for fun: #GorgeousGrandma Day
July 23rd is Gorgeous Grandma Day: Celebrate your gorgeous Grandma, or your favourite gorgeous Grandma from history
I had to give a shout out to my gorgeous grandma, Magda. She lived a rich and colourful life, which I only wish I knew more about. She had my mother in 1943 in Warsaw in the middle of World War II and 7 years later was in Bremen ready to join a cargo ship that would take her and her daughter to Australia. I can only imagine the strength it took.
I had zero information about her family tree until recently when I discovered the Arolsen Archives. It’s the world’s largest archive on the victims of Nazi persecution and I was able to find her immigration application and through that filled in the blanks on nearly 200 years of Polish family history. I even found a book on Polish theatre that includes references to my grandmother (she was a stage actress).
Highly recommended if you have any family history that extends to Europe.
By the way, I animated and colourized this black and white photo of Magda using the Deep Nostalgia app - it’s AMAZING. It made me cry when I saw the result. It's so life-like and it was wonderful to get a glimpse of my grandmother as a young woman.
Join the conversation and let the world know how gorgeous your grandma is using the hashtag #GorgeousGrandma.
In other news
+ 35 Problem-Solving Techniques and Methods for Solving Complex Problems. We all encounter problems big and small - from miscommunication through to business-critical issues. I enjoyed this article from SessionLabs because it is designed to help teams work through the process of identifying problems, discussing solutions and deciding which is the best approach.
The comprehensive list of techniques means you can find the perfect method to engage team in solving problems and be more efficient in the process.
+ The Power of Believing You Can Improve. Carol Dweck delivers a powerful TED talk on how we can grow our capacity to learn and to solve problems. And it's a simple binary look at problem solving when we can't figure out the answer: either we're not smart enough to solve it... or we just haven't solved it yet.
Dweck is the author if Growth Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and I recommend that book too if you'd like to explore ways to redefine success and supercharge your self-improvement (I read it after a former boss bought everyone our team a copy!)
+ The KAM Club. Learn more about the world's most amazing community of key account managers. And get access to tools, templates, guides and training, like The KAM Clinic where you can get 30 minutes 1:1 coaching every week to find help to get unstuck.
Quote of the week
"Happiness is not the absence of problems, but the ability to deal with them.” ― Charles De Montesquieu
Got an idea for The KAM Club podcast?
Do you have a suggestion for a topic you'd like me to cover in a future episode of The KAM Club podcast? Fill out this brief form and you never know, your idea might feature on an upcoming show.
Let me know if anything in this article caught your eye, I'd love to hear from you.
Have a great week