15 Reasons Why You Might be a Bad Account Manager

What makes a bad key account manager?

Bad key account managers fail to build business relationships and achieve results. But you can quickly improve with a little work and reflection. Discover fifteen things you should stop doing and what to start doing instead.

Here are fifteen signs you might be a bad key account manager and how to turn yourself into a good one.

1. Too reactive

A bad key account manager responds to situations instead of controlling them. They react when things go wrong and they don’t have the authority or command over what happens next.

Putting out fires instead of preventing them.

You need to take charge, make decisions and set goals for your customers so they can achieve success.

Do this instead:

  • Plan your week around your priorities. Schedule large blocks of time for specific important activities.

2. Has no plan

Which clients need an account plan? Only the ones you want to keep!

Account plans are help you define your key account strategy.

  • Define a vision and mission that aligns with your client's objectives
  • Set goals.
  • Commit to targets
  • Plan activities
  • Coordinate resources
  • Manage risk
  • Get results.

Key account managers without an action plan will fail. They have no strategic vision that defines what, why or even how they're doing it. They waste time on meaningless tasks and busy work that adds no meaningful value.

And that can lead to disastrous consequences.

Like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry says, "A goal without a plan is just a wish."

Do this instead:

Have a conversation with your client and ask these five questions.

  1. Where are we? What's going well, what isn't and how did we get here - was it luck or planning?
  2. Where do we want to go? What would bring the most value if there were no limits or obstacles?
  3. What changes should we make? Compare where you are to where you want to go: what needs to stop, start or continue?
  4. How do we make changes? What resources, budget, people and time to do you need to get to where you want to go?
  5. How will we know when we get there? Set targets, define return on investment and the metrics you'll use.

3. Not focused on the customer

The biggest mistake you can make with clients is to put your needs first.

If you approach customer relationship building thinking, "What's in it for me?" you'll never earn the trust and credibility you need to make an impact.

Clients will see you're inauthentic, and only motivated by what you can get out of it. Instead, start with what your customer wants.

Know your key contacts' businesses, competitors, challenges, and goals. Knowing this makes it easier to find ways to help your customers.

Always think, "How can I help?" and not, "What can I get?"

Do this instead:

View everything through a customer improvement lens.

  • Economics. Top line, cost reduction, fair price.
  • Relationships. Greater responsiveness, stability or expertise.
  • Quality. Improve reliability, scalability or innovation.
  • Efficiency. Reduce hassles, reduce effort, save time, simplify.

And don't forget the personal, even emotional elements. Some clients may value networking, fun, personal growth or reduced anxiety to name a few.

The biggest mistake you can make with clients is to put your needs first.

If you approach customer relationship building thinking, "What's in it for me?" you'll never earn the trust and credibility you need to make an impact.

Warwick Brown // Account Manager Tips

4. Doesn't communicate

Key accounts have vast networks of stakeholders (internal and external). And a key account manager is the gateway to all these relationships.

  • Internal teams. You need to keep them informed of your strategy, any important changes and to get things done.
  • Clients. Improve information transparency and grow influence to convince them to act.

Business relationships are like any other relationships. When left alone they show signs of neglect:

  • Lack of trust.
  • Difficulty asking for help.
  • Feelings of rejection.
  • Dissatisfaction.
  • People pleasing.
  • Lack of empathy.
  • Anxiety or overwhelm.
  • Conflict
  • Procrastination.

Yeah, it's a long list.

So it's important you continue to develop your communication and relationship building skills.

Do this instead:

  • Create a contact plan. Schedule regular engagement with your clients. Create a maintenance campaign of 12 touchpoints over three months.
  • Avoid "checking in." Send useful information that is valuable to your clients and stimulates conversation.
  • Mix-up the channels. Client relationships aren't built over email - so pick up the phone once in a while or setup a face-to-face meeting.

5. No follow up

The fastest way for a key account manager to lose credibility and trust is not following up.

Think about it.

You've had a great meeting with a client where you talked about all sorts of things. You found problems that need fixing and opportunities that need exploring. You agreed some next steps and everyone left with a smile on their face.

And then your customer doesn't hear from you.

For weeks.

A bad account manager is all talk, no action.

Do this instead:

  • Send meeting minutes. Get into the habit of sending meeting minutes within 24 hours of any meetings and set due dates for any actions.
  • Create a template. A meeting minutes template makes notes easier to read. You'll also avoid overlooking anything important.
  • Set reminders. Add due dates for any tasks you promised to do and create a reminder in your calendar to make sure you do it.

6. Doesn't understand their value proposition

A bad key account manager relies on marketing for messaging. They don't do their own research. They don't form their own opinions on what differentiates their solutions. Or what's going on in the industry or among competitors.

They only repeat what they're told. They have no real-world context about what makes them useful. And so they're unable to convince clients of their value.

Do this instead:

Do research to better understand your competitive advantage and value proposition. Start with a six factor SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats).

  1. 4Ps. Product, price, place and promotion
  2. Reputation. Of you, your customers and your partners.
  3. Internal resources. Financial, intellectual property, people, physical assets.
  4. External forces. Customers, competitors and suppliers
  5. Trends. Political, economic, social, technological, environmental
  6. VUCA. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

Analysis will produce a lot of information, so go item by item to select the most important. Remember, things change. So revisit this analysis a few times a year.

7. Ignores customer feedback

It doesn't matter if what a customer tells you is right or wrong, it's what their perception that matters.

Key account managers who don't act when they get feedback put their customers at risk. It doesn't take long for feedback to turn into a complaint to turn into churn.

Do this instead:

  • Close the feedback loop. Give specific updates on what you've improved because of what they said.
  • Combine feedback. If many customers say the same thing, then organize feedback by theme or category. It'll make it easier to connect the pieces and also to communicate back.
  • Set expectations. Clients want to know you're taking action, what the process is and when they can expect to hear from you next. Be realistic. If it's going to take months, years or never, say so (remember, it's OK to say, "No").
  • Manage internal bottlenecks. Key account managers are often the first point of contact for issues that belong to someone else to fix. It's not enough to forward the feedback and hope some other department takes care of it. Make sure you know it's actioned and hurry the reply along if necessary.

8. Forgets important information

Any key account manager that works from their memory is asking for trouble. It's unreliable, you can't archive it, and it's impossible to share. You will, without a doubt, forget something.

Something important.

That's why we have CRMs, project management tools and knowledge management systems.

Use them.

Do this instead:

  • Take notes. Even if you use pen and paper for notes, consider moving them to a digital notetaking app. Tools like Notion are excellent to capture and organise client information. It'll be easier to search, share and archive too. Use templates to keep your note system consistent.
  • Update the CRM. A study by Oracle said most salespeople would rather clean toilets than update the CRM. Yes it's an administrative burden, but it's also a single source of truth. And your boss is always on your back about it anyway, so you might as well make updating client information a habit.

9. Poor time management

Bad key account managers waste time on unproductive tasks. Their activities don't align with their client's objectives. They're distracted when they should focus on how they can help clients succeed.

They work on what's next, not what's most important. They have a to-do list, but no idea of how long it will take to complete. Which means they over commit their available time. And that leads to poor quality work, missed deadlines and chaos.

Do this instead:

  • Review your calendar daily. Break large tasks into smaller tasks and then block time to get important work done.
  • Eat the frog first. Do your most important, hardest task first thing in the morning so don't have a chance to put off until later.
  • Use technology. Productivity apps like ClickUp help you stay organized and accountable.

Time management isn't about getting more done. It's about doing less but accomplishing more.

ClickUp has all the features you need to manage your capture plan

10. Lack of preparation

Winging it is not a strategy. Bad key account managers don't prepare ... for anything. They think they know it all and their experience means they can deal with any situation.

Wrong.

You can't expect to have satisfied, loyal, and profitable customers when you don't prepare.

Do this instead:

Before each client meeting, take 15 (or even 5) minutes and write a few notes.

  • What are my objectives for this meeting?
  • What are my clients objectives  for this meeting?
  • Who's attending and why are they there?
  • What information do I need?
  • What questions might come up?
  • What is the logical next step for me and my client?

11. Always says "Yes"

When key account managers say "Yes" to every request, they're seen as order-takers, not equals. They get taken advantage of and boundaries aren't respected. They start to resent their clients.

Clients soon become unprofitable when more time, resources and solutions are given away.

Always saying "Yes" isn't healthy. 

For anyone.

Do this instead:

  • Set expectations with your client. Tell your client what they can expect from you. Be honest and realistic about limitations.
  • Don't respond at once. If a client asks for something, you don't have to fill the silence or come up with an answer. Take time (even if it's a few days) to consider your options.
    • No. We can't do it.
    • Not right now. We could, but would need more time, resources or demand first.
    • Yes, but at a price (or with compromises.) We have capacity and capability but to deliver requires investment.
    • Yes. We can do it!

When you say "No" to your customer, explain why and offer alternatives. You may have different solutions that provide similar results with more realistic outcomes.

12. No executive level relationships

Bad key account managers spend time with people they already know and like. They don't make an effort to meet new people or expand their networks.

And they especially leaders and executives.

But that's a fatal mistake, because those are the people with influence (and budgets). They decide which suppliers get to stick around for the long term and which they show the door.

A strong relationship with your clients executives has other value too:

  • Strategy. Advice and insights on issues of major importance.
  • Tactics. Help with business operations and day-to-day activities.
  • Cooperation. Goal setting and collaboration between functional teams.

Do this instead:

  • Create a relationship map. Identify executive stakeholders and assess how they feel about you. Who loves you, hates you or is somewhere between?
  • Go beyond the job title. Learn more about the executives in your relationship map to find out what topics matter to them.
  • Ask for introductions. Get into the habit of asking your contacts to refer you to executives in their network.

13. Hates selling

Because key account management involves working with existing customers, people believe it's easy. They don't have to sell anything; all they have to do is keep the customer satisfied. As a result, they prioritise great service above all else.

But guess what?

Key account managers have revenue targets too.

A big part of the role is account growth and expansion. Expect to have quotas for upsell, cross sell and expansion.

So if you hate to sell, you will struggle.

Do this instead:

  • Change your mindset. It's simple to sell when you discover your customer's challenges and objectives. You'll figure out how to improve results by offering useful tools and advice. So what if they come with a price tag? It's well worth it if you get them closer to their goals.
  • Follow a system. It's easier to qualify leads and close deals if you follow a framework. MEDDIC is a personal favourite.
    • Metric. What's the economic impact of the solution?
    • Economic buyer. Who has creates budgets or has the funds?
    • Decision criteria. How will are suppliers, capabilities and financial benefits assessed?
    • Decision process. What's the timeline, validation and approval process to purchase a product?
    • Identify pain. Sell the cure, not the prevention. What's the problem right now and the related business consequences if left unresolved?
    • Champion. Who has power and influence to drive the opportunity on your behalf when you're not there?

14. Won't learn

If you think you know it all, you'll never be a good key account manager. Bad key account manager's fear failure. They don't take dedicate time to improve their performance or develop their skills.

Successful account managers are life-long learners. They stay informed on best practices, emerging trends and world events. They recognise mistakes are opportunities to learn. 

Do this instead:

  • Dedicate time to learning. Don't limit yourself to some courses or reading books and watching YouTube. Ask questions, get feedback from others and take action.
  • Create a career development plan. Focus on the soft skills that are in demand and will help you succeed in your role. Qualities like creativity, persuasion, collaboration, business analysis, strategy and sales. Grab the free Key Account Management Career Development Plan on Trello. It'll help you to develop essential skills.
  • Join The KAM Club. ~The fastest growing online learning global community of key account managers. Inside you'll find tools, templates, guides, training, coaching and lots more to help you get better results for your clients (and your career.)

If you don't learn, you can't change.

15. Thinks short-term

Key accounts are your company's most valuable, complex accounts. You don't want to lose them.

But bad key account managers give no thought to the future. They only think about today. They don't focus on building partnerships and co-creating value. They are not leading their client, but following.

Do this instead.

  • Review your client's vision and mission statements. Find inspiration by understanding who your client's serve and why the do what they do.
  • Create a long-term vision for your client. Go beyond this week, this quarter or even this year. What impact can you make? What results can you achieve? How will you show your customer they can achieve more with you than without you?

Final word

No-one sets out to intentionally be a bad account manager. So don't beat yourself up if you see yourself in any of these qualities. We all need to devote regular time to reflection to identify bad habits and traits we've picked up and invest in self-development to correct them.

The first step towards change is awareness.

Nothing to see here

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.


Tags

client relationships, planning, sales, strategy


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The KAM Club is a private learning community helping busy account managers get results.
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