One can often see two ways of managing key accounts that are certain to fail. The first is management by chance – there is no control and there is no plan. No one can explain why we are winning the business or forecast how long our success will last. We do not learn from our mistakes or from our successes. This is at one extreme.
At the other extreme is management by formula. Here everything is documented, controlled and decided. I have seen one account planning process which demands that for every account, the team must hold a one-day orientation meeting, then gather information for twenty-one working days and finally, hold a two-day planning session. The timescale cannot be changed. The people who must be present never change. The documents that must be prepared are described in detail. The process is a good one, but it leaves no room for flexibility, common sense or the differences that exist both between accounts and departments.
We need a way of managing key accounts that is effective, consistent and flexible. We need a way of working that is simple but strong. We need discipline and we need creativity.
So, how is Key Account Management like an art?
Artists need discipline. Think of the discipline of a dancer or a singer, they know that they work best if they create inside disciplines of their art. A poet follows certain rules of rhyme and structure and a painter knows the disciplines of color and line.
Every artist expects to practice: The painter sketches, trying different compositions; actors rehearse until the words are coming perfectly; the dancer works at the bar to keep fit and to perfect every movement and musicians play the piece over and over again. The performance often looks easy, but we know that it took a great amount of work.
Discipline and practice alone will not make an outstanding artist. There needs to be a ‘spark’ – something special that allows the artist to see what many others miss and to communicate their understanding powerfully and clearly. The artist allows us to see and hear things differently.
Managing a key account needs all three parts.
Discipline helps us follow the plan, to be self-controlled.
Practice means that we do not expect to be perfect overnight – we think and plan and prepare for every important “performance”.
Creativity allows us to change the past, to find new ways to solve problems and to win opportunities.
If we think of Key Account Management as an art, then we will avoid the two dangers of working randomly and rigidly.
Most companies are looking for ways to manage their most important business relationships more effectively and more efficiently. It is not easy to do and it is not always enjoyable to do, but when a key account works well, it is extremely satisfying.