There is a rule of thumb that Key Account Managers (KAMs) should manage between 5 and 25 accounts. But I’ll let you into a secret. In my formative years I worked for a company that supplied clothing to Marks and Spencer. They employed more than 6,000 people. Key Account Management is sometimes seen as a new initiative, but way back then this company was doing something very similar. There was one customer; Marks and Spencer. (One year we tried supplying another High Street name, but it was a disaster, with lorries needing to be loaded differently, different quality standards, all sorts of ‘differences’, but that’s another story).
We were manufacturing and selling ladies wear and children’s wear. So there were two sales people. Along side them was a brilliant man (my boss) with a brain the size of a planet. His role was to plan the production in all of the 13 factories. He didn’t have an office. Instead he wandered around head office, from the design room to methods to purchasing to the cutting room and on to the garment warehouse. He clutched a rolled-up sheaf of paper on which was listed each of the 110 production lines; the line’s production rates; when each design was due to finish and which new design was replacing it, all in a Gantt chart. This was long before computerisation and, based on what I’ve witnessed over the years, this was just as efficient. Above these three was a Sales Director. Above the Sales Director was one of the joint Managing Directors. In total there were probably 25 to 30 people all talking to Marks and Spencer.
M&S seem to love change. They deliberately change where items are kept on their shop floor – so when you rush in for a chicken tikka you will discover that its not where it was the last time. They move stock around, apparently, so that instead of going blindly to the place you always go to, you have to open your eyes and look for what you are wanting. And the theory goes that you will discover something else in the process and spend more money on that visit.
And in my day, working for a supplier, M&S changed the heads of departments on a regular basis. The old joke was that if you had been really successful in the pork pie department then you would get moved over to ladies nightwear. (I mustn’t be too rude about this strategy because this was during one of M&S’s most successful periods).
The downside of this regular staff movement was that there were a lot of new relationships being formed, and some of the new people felt the need to make changes for the sake of it – to show who is the new boss. Luckily, the technical people underneath the heads of departments, those who knew all about fabrics and lace and whatever it is that goes into pork pies, stayed in place.
All this reminiscing has reminded me of the very early days of computerised MRP (or material requirement planning). I was working in the purchasing department at the time. There were 18 of us, and we had one computer ‘terminal’ – i.e. a black and green screen with a clunky keyboard. I was entering a purchase order ‘onto the system’ (what a quaint phrase) on this thing, that had its own desk at the side of the room. In those days you entered one line item and then hit the return key. The theory was that you would progress straight onto the next ‘page’ to enter more data, but often there was a bit of a wait. And on this occasion it was running particularly slowly, with 2-minute gaps between line entries. Suddenly I felt that I was not alone. Looking round I found one of the joint owners of the company standing right behind me, explaining to Lord Sieff and Lord Rayner what a marvellous bit of kit this was.
And I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole.
But, all those years ago I learnt about Key Account Management. It is an orchestrated discipline where everyone knows the role they are playing, and the initiative must come from the top.
I have found that traditional customer satisfaction surveys don’t work very well in KAM situations.
Researchers who belong to the Market Research Society (MRS) or MRA or ESOMAR are unlikely to attribute your feedback – their code of practice does not allow them to – and without knowing who said what, with all the data presented back in a summarised form, how are you going to spot the personality clashes?
Telephone surveys are viewed with suspicion. And there is the Cassandra Phenomenon, where 50% of respondents will wear rose-tinted spectacles (to avoid offending the KAM) if they suspect that their views will be made public.
Web-based surveys are generally dismissed or deleted, with average response rates of between 5% and 15%.
And the Net Promoter Score, posing just one question in a B2B environment, will not gather any useful or use-able feedback for you.
Let me show you just two pages from a typical InfoQuest report and you will see how we can drill down into the detail – analysing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the business relationships.
The first page below shows the responses for just one individual. Our client chose these questions from our library, but we are always happy to co-create new ones. By knowing who the respondee is, it is easy to establish if a political point is being made or what specific incident has affected their point of view.
The answers to this next page’s open questions are handwritten by the respondee. The sheet was folded and placed in the box with the deck of cards. After responding to up to 60 questions and statements from the deck, it can be assumed that anything that is written on this supplemental information form is important to the customer. Knowing who said what allows you to treat each customer as an individual – with their own individual needs and wants.
Here are three thoughts to finish with.
- In business you have to get on with everybody.
- In business, people buy from people.
- And, as they say in Yorkshire, there’s now’t ser queer as folk.