How Key Account Managers Can Overcome Internal Conflict | One Step Ahead

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Why is there so much internal conflict?

We aren’t here to compete. We are here to complete.

This is how I think about teamwork.

It's not me VS you.

It's me AND you.

Working together to create value for our clients and help our organization thrive.

Working together to reduce friction, make our jobs a little bit easier and get things done.

Working together to learn from each other, to support each other professionally and create an environment where we can each be our best.

So, why does it feel like a battle when we ask for help from another team? Don’t we all want what’s best for our customers?

Most of a key account manager’s role involves co-ordinating internal resources to get results for our clients.

But we’re all responsibility, no power.

Which means we need to manage a wide range of complex internal relationships.

But research has shown that key account managers constantly deal with some form of internal conflict.

Sometimes it’s short-term micro conflict right through to long term systemic conflict.

And instead of dealing with the problems, we become adept at avoiding them.

Like chameleons, we change our behaviour to ensure the best possible outcome and get our internal teams to work together effectively.

Whatever it takes to get a result, right?

We compete, avoid, accommodate, compromise and collaborate.

And sometimes the internal conflict is so great, it becomes dysfunctional.

Challenges:

  • Strategic clients are more demanding and it’s challenging to meet their high standards.
  • Key account management, customer success, sales alone can’t provide the level of support that clients need - it takes the whole organization.
  • Functional silos means teams work in isolation and potentially at cross-purposes.
  • Leadership power plays mean teams won’t “take orders” from account managers.
  • Key account manager as single point of contact creates bottle necks, delays and friction.
  • Development and investment is product focused not customer focused.
  • Matrix organizational structures means everyone shares authority but no-one takes responsibility.

Why aren't we doing more to prevent conflicts, given how common they are?

How do we begin?

How to improve the way teams work together

Here are some tips on how to take the lead to improve cross-functional collaboration.

Adapt your style

  • Be intentional about growing your internal networks and make time to deepen and strengthen those relationships.
  • Be transparent. Improve information sharing and knowledge transfer so everyone knows what’s going on.
  • Be reliable. Honour your promises and commitments to establish trust.
  • Compromise. Be flexible. Don’t say everything is “urgent”. Give reasonable deadlines and avoid creating custom workarounds to solve problems.
  • Be visible. Reach out to your internal stakeholders, make an effort to visit office locations, join team meetings and be available and helpful.

Create alignment

  • Educate other teams on account management roles and responsibilities so they understand what you do, and what you need to achieve.
  • Be a mentor. Invite colleagues out in the field or shadow virtual meetings so they can gain more exposure to clients and their needs.
  • Find executive sponsors. Get the leadership team on board with the key account management mission and get their help to advocate for you across the organization.
  • Understand others. Find out what your colleagues do, where you fit in the big picture and if there’s anything you can do to help make their life easier.
  • Identify conflicting goals. Find out what your colleagues are measured on and what their targets are. Are their any conflicting priorities that will make it difficult for you to get what you want?

Develop strategy

  • Create a join plan. Discuss your client’s goals and challenges with your internal teams and ask how they can contribute. Create an account plan and set mutual key performance indicators so that you work harmoniously toward shared outcomes.
  • Identify key accounts. Don’t just tell your internal stakeholders who your most important clients are, decide together. That way everyone is aligned on where resources and time should be spent.
  • Establish a shared purpose. It takes a village, people. Create a vision for you and your internal teams can work better together. Look for pain points and find ways to reduce or eliminate those.

Create systems

  • Use internal communication tools like Teams or Slack to share information quickly and easily.
  • Have regular meetings with your key internal stakeholders for two-way feedback.
  • Send short surveys to the wider organization to understand how well you’re working together and opportunities to improve.
  • Regularly review internal processes to understand how things are done and look for ways to reduce steps or eliminate.
  • Reduce reliance on the key account manager as the single point of contact by connecting subject matters in your client’s organization with your own.

Favourite things

I work from home all the time these days, so I wanted to improve my workspace from an ergonomic point of view (and to make it look good too!). I ordered the DeltaHub desk mat and wrist rest  and I am thrilled. 

The wrist rest is this tiny little pad that sits on the palm of your hand. It's different from any other wrist rest I've tried and glides with your hand as you move your mouse. It's so comfortable and minimal and I'm pain free.

The desk pad prevents scratches on my desk, doubles as a mouse pad and looks super stylish. 

It's also very reasonably priced.

So, if you want to give yourself a treat and show your desk some love, I can highly recommend the set.

In other news

  • Elevate Sales performance with these 12 sales practices. Based on Korn Ferry's global survey of 1,100+ companies, they identified 12 practices to help you raise quota attainment and win more deals. My favourite? Never stop learning by formalizing and structuring the coaching process.
  • 35 Free Sales Tools to Make Selling Simple. Rain Group have collected all their sales tools in one place. From checklists to templates, slide decks to frameworks you'll find lots of great resources to win, grow and retain accounts.
  • 25 Must-Read Books for Salespeople. The Daily Sales has put together their list of the top books all salespeople should read. How many have you read? What's your personal favourite sales book? Let me know.
  • Butter.us. A fantastic free new virtual collaboration platform with whiteboards, polls and breakout rooms. It's fun and innovative. I love the layout and the quirky avatars and the best feature is an integrated agenda with timer so you can stay on track during your meeting.
  • How to Match a Shirt and Tie. I don't wear ties too often these days, but when I do it's usually with a white shirt, because I have no clue how to mix different colours and patterns together. This fun article shows you how to pull off six different shirt/tie combinations including pattern-on-pattern!
  • The KAM Club. Learn more about the world's most amazing community of key account managers and get access to training, like How to Sell More and Account Growth Strategies for Busy Key Account Managers.

Quote of the week

None of us is as smart as all of us ~ Ken Blanchard

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Have a great week

Warwick Brown

Warwick Brown


Warwick Brown has led business development and account management teams in Australia and Europe for more than 15 years and worked with some of the world's most prestigious firms, including Merck & Co, Deutsche Bank, McKinsey & Company and Vodafone. As the founder at Account Manager Tips, his mission is to help organisations leverage the power of key account management to accelerate client retention and revenue.

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