key account manager B2B

Dr. Riviere, we already know each other. But could you please introduce yourself to our readers.

I am a passionate European – with a French passport – who has lived in Munich for the last 20 years. After completing my Ph.D. in material science, I went on to work for technology-orientated companies in the area of marketing, communication, and sales. Since 2009, I have been working as a consultant with a focus on sales excellence, key account management, marketing and solution selling. In the last 3 years, I had assignments in over 15 different countries.
Dr. Riviere, you focus heavily on KAM training. Why do you think KAM training is important for B2B companies?

It is not just about “a training”, but about developing a real key account management practice. Training and coaching events are only means to an end, serving a greater purpose, namely the identification of key clients and the specific development of relationships and business transactions with them. And when I refer to key clients, I mean those few customers, who are of specific strategic importance to the company.
In your opinion, what changes has sales undergone in the last 10 years?

It has become increasingly difficult to gain new buyers. The potential decision-makers are being swamped with contact requests and they have no other choice but to protect themselves from unsolicited commercial contacts. That is why it is so difficult to gain meaningful access to key contacts in B2B. On top of that, some purchase decisions are becoming more and more delayed. A number of studies have shown that an increasing number of B2B buying decisions are in the end not even made at all. Of course, you do not have to abandon the process of customer acquisition altogether, but in this context, it has become very important to utilise the full potential of your existing B2B customers. This is where predictive sales analytics plays a crucial part.
Where do you see sales and key account managers in 10 years’ time? What do you think will your job look like in 10 years?

For most B2B companies, the world of sales will become polarised between a very automated sales model and a key account management model. This evolution has already started.

The automated model is based on marketing and sales automation and inside sales. Based on changes in purchasing behaviour and the sophistication of digital tools, this model is able to address almost all of the traditional sales scenarios.

The key account management model is suitable for clients and scenarios, where the offered solutions and services would need to be customised in respect of the clients’ specific requirements.

Modern key account management also means a collaboration between the client and the supplier , in order to define a complete solution. Some companies already use the existence of considering such a collaboration as selection criteria to consider a customer as a truly strategic account.

The sales manager has to provide directions, articulate the sales strategy and guarantee that the sales management system functions efficiently. They also have to position themselves as the first coach of their team. Key account managers will have to become a versatile entrepreneur inside their organizations.

“A sales leader has to indicate the approach, articulate the sales strategy and guarantee that the sales management system functions efficiently.”

Regarding the evolution of my work as a consultant, as my focus is on B2B and complex sales, I guess I will increasingly concentrate on integration and collaboration between marketing, sales and customer services, as well as on the development of influence-oriented marketing and sales strategies. As a consultant, it will also become progressively more important to have a broad range of experience, so that they can work with their clients as a coach, rather than a “know-it-all.”
What role do you think does digitalisation mean in regards to sales? Where role do you envisage for people?

There are two levels: one, which is linked to the entire company, and one, which is linked to marketing and sales.

Concerning the company level, digitalisation means a quick, cross-industry evolution or revolution concerning business models. This is a massive and permanent change in the business world, as well as society. In the area of B2B, this (r)evolution is often linked to a shift of the offering from products to solutions. This is almost always a tough challenge for the entire company, and especially for marketing and sales departments.

When looking at the level linked to marketing and sales, digitalisation means that a whole range of possible new tools is available to them. Mobile devices, software applications, and social networks offer a new way to exchange information and to encourage dialogue with clients. However, the person remains firmly at the centre of attention, and social intelligence is still needed as much as before. I think that is great and exciting.
You have seen much of the world. Have you noticed any differences in regards to B2B sales, depending on the country and culture? Between France and Germany?

I found that in international organizations, the company culture, as well as the personality and professional development of each person, is much more important than their nationality.

If I had to make a comparison between France and Germany – and this is very much a black and white sort of statement – I would say that the differences between companies some 20 years ago were staggering. In Germany, sales representatives were the equivalent of the last stage of a rocket, who are only utilised at the end of a long process (marketing), similar to a striker in football, who would not be able to shoot a goal just by himself without the support of the whole team. The French, however, focused very much on individualism in regards to sales, much more autonomy, and less on teamwork than in Germany. This difference is no longer as evident and in many companies, it has all but disappeared.
How has the sales consulting business changed in the last few years?

Looking at the past seven years, the joint development of solutions and tools together with the client, as well as coaching seem to have become more relevant.

In your opinion, what role do predictive analytics solutions play?

Predictive analytics will play an important role in initiatives focused on sales efficiency and excellence. In particular, predictive sales analytics can be instrumental in driving a more precise evaluation of B2B customers, as well as in defining and measuring the expected contribution of each client to the implementation of a sales strategy.

“Predictive analytics will play an important role in regards to sales efficiency and excellence.”

Predictive analytics solutions are already being utilised in retail and insurance. What do you think are the most significant advantages for medium-sized KAM sales teams?

The first step of using predictive analytics should not be focused on KAM. The first aim should be to carry out a complete and absolutely relevant analysis of the entire client portfolio. This analysis is a mere requirement in order to increase sales performance. It will assist in relation to the making of decisions on the sales team structure and the respective client portfolios of each sales person. Then, in a second step, it is worth taking a closer look at the larger and/or truly strategic customer in order to identify the true key accounts. Once the large and key accounts have been defined, predictive analytics are very much relevant in order to define targets, develop account plans and to evaluate progress and results.
What do you think are current weak spots with respect to KAM sales?

Unfortunately, there are many! The definition of the word “key” is often much too vague. Many companies regard almost all of their clients as key accounts. That does not make any sense. Other companies automatically classify larger clients as key accounts, without asking themselves as to whether there is a real strategic relevance. The practical consequence of this is that companies are not investing their resources in the better clients. This problem is not so difficult to solve but experience shows that most companies do not even try to solve it and live forever with the subsequent inefficiencies.
We believe that many small to medium-sized companies are still using Excel as their tool of choice when it comes to sales analytics. Why is so much trust placed into a time-consuming tool prone to errors?

It is probably a combination of habit and of lack of out-of-the-box thinking. There might be as well some o hopelessness that a request for better tools would be taken into consideration by the top management or the IT department. There may also be other reasons. In my opinion, solving this problem and equipping sales and sales controlling with state-of-the-art tools should come for a dialogue between sales, controlling and IT.
In our blog article, we looked at sales in 50 years time. What do you think sales will look like in future?

50 years? I really do not know! I wish I could live long enough to read your article again in 50 years time, and either admire you or laugh out loud!
Thanks to the internet and social media, people seem to be more informed than ever. Have you notices a similar trend in your industry?

Yes, but the effect is not automatically a positive one. On the one hand, it is possible to find a lot of information on the internet and to exchange ideas and experiences with others in an informal way. That is very valuable indeed. But on the other hand, the internet acts as a filter and the fashion effect is sometimes problematic, especially in connection with marketing and sales. For example, there is not enough information available as to why so many CRM or sales excellence projects end in an unsatisfactory manner. Actual specialists often do not contribute to internet forums and discussions on many topics often do not reflect the real practice of the best companies. This could have a negative effect in regards to customer requirements.
Be it analog or digital – what do you think is the best sales measure?

First, look for the facts, then think, often rethink and finally act.
Thanks Dr. Riviere for this great interview.

About Dr. Olivier Riviere:
Dr. Olivier Riviere is a Consultant and Interim Manager focused on Sales Effectiveness, Key & Global Account Management, Complex Sales, Solutions Marketing and Influencer Marketing. His consulting approach leverages a long experience in R&D, Marketing, Business Development, Client Service, Key Accounts & General Management in global technology and consulting companies. Trilingual (French, English, German), he lives in Munich and Paris and operates across Europe and worldwide. Bio


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