Key account management needs to go digital. Source: Shutterstock

Key account management needs to go digital. Source: Shutterstock

How is technology disrupting key account management?

KEY ACCOUNT management has traditionally been a role that demands a high-touch, customer-first approach and aims to delight top clients, usually in a B2B model.

Managers have been at the beck and call of key clients, often going the extra mile to support them, as a way of showing their appreciation and gratitude for being awarded the business.

For high-tech companies manufacturing robotic arms and assembly lines, large manufacturers often represent key accounts, and those managing the relationship tend to go above and beyond to nurture, build, and deepen the relationship.

However, according to McKinsey, key account management as we know it today needs to be digitally disrupted as it doesn’t serve customers well.

In fact, according to the think tank, “digital and advanced analytics are changing the game for B2B businesses, even for the largest of customers, and those that get it right see the rewards: the five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of total returns to shareholders for digital leaders is almost double that of all other firms.”

McKinsey’s evaluation of key account management practices followed by digital leaders revealed three areas that use technology to provide more value to customers:

# 1 | Specific customer support

Although the approach to key account management hasn’t changed for more than three decades, the reality is that many of the businesses that are categorized as key clients have climbed the digital maturity curve and identify as “digitally savvy”.

As a result, McKinsey believes that account managers need to be smart about how they engage with these clients.

“They prefer digital channels, as opposed to face-to-face or phone, across the customer decision journey. They evaluate suppliers using comparison websites, benchmark prices with online information, and read customer reviews when deciding whether to sign up or renew with a specific vendor,” McKinsey’s whitepaper explained.

In order to provide the most value to these digitally savvy key accounts, managers need to evaluate each request to see which ones can be completed online and which ones require a visit to the customer.

Being able to use digital channels to effectively support and engage with clients also reduces turn around time. In a digital-first world, that’s a valuable metric when evaluating customer experience provided to key accounts.

# 2 | Personalized content

Marketers and key account managers often need to work together to help large businesses understand the product on offer and make a decision about its suitability.

In the digital age, key account managers can help digital marketers create effective account-based marketing (ABM) campaigns to target large businesses effectively.

McKinsey explains that ABM engages decision makers at key accounts with personalized content through web pages, email, and digital ads, as well as through professional social platforms such as LinkedIn.

“Key accounts are prime targets for ABM, given the volume of their business and the depth of knowledge about the accounts, which make it easier to truly tailor marketing content.”

The most important thing about using ABM effectively for key account management is to ensure that the objectives are defined clearly right from the start — that’s what differentiates campaigns that perform from those that don’t.

# 3 | Effective management tools

Key accounts are generally large businesses with decision-makers spread across geographies — this makes it important for sales and relationship managers to work more collaboratively across a number of offices and divisions.

To manage the engagement with large businesses effectively and to provide them with better value, key account managers need the right tools.

“Account-planning software can help enormously. It can translate an offline, static account plan into a dynamic ‘democratized’ version that is visible to all the relevant parts of the sales organization,” explained McKinsey.

Investing in such a solution, however, is the easy part. Building a culture and environment in the organization that adopts it whole-heartedly is what makes all the difference when dealing with key accounts effectively.

If implemented well, good account-planning tools can not only make key account management easier but also boost success rates for organizations. After all, McKinsey did highlight that “the five-year CAGR of total returns to shareholders for digital leaders is almost double that of all other firms”.