KAM – Less is more and take a different perspective

At the recent PM Forum – PM Forum workshop on “Towards KAM and ABM:
Helping fee-earners with client relationship management”
we were joined by delegates from across the UK in legal, accountancy, actuarial and engineering firms. I’ve summarised the delegate aims, poll results and key takeaways below as an addition to the learning resources for the session which covered: a) Understand – KAM context, aims and strategy b) Plan – KAM process, data and systems and c) Implement – KAM activities, skills and motivation. KAM – Less is more and take a different perspective. 

Less is more on KAM 

Experience shows that often firms try to do too much when they establish a KAM process. They sometimes attempt to establish a KAM for too many accounts. Then neither the MBD team nor the fee-earners have sufficient time to support the programme. Or they are unclear on their aims and try to do too much where the expected results are unclear – an unfocused programme.

Many delegates – at the end of the session – agreed that they should attempt to do less (but achieve more) with their KAM programme. This involved either reducing the number of key accounts (perhaps by reviewing the criteria to select a key account), streamlining the process for the firm or key accounts, having a pilot scheme or focusing KAM activity on particular projects or areas (e.g. training or reporting).

It is better to attempt to achieve a small, focussed result and achieve it than have grand ambitions that are unobtainable with the resources available. Several firms reported that their KAM programmes ran out of steam or lost momentum after launch. This conclusion – to do less but better – was reflected in the key delegate takeaways. 

  • Keep it simple
  • Focus – Don’t try and spread yourself and colleagues too thinly. Sometimes less is more.
  • Review our current programme and focus on less but doing it well
  • Consider which accounts are in the programme and why
  • Prioritising relationships grid – map out loyalty/seniority
  • The process (looking at our next initial stages in our program)
  • Improve upskilling and training
  • Embed training and support for colleagues
  • The importance of having a plan and reporting on it
  • Review our current reporting practices for key accounts
  • The importance of sharing success stories
  • Coaching fee-earners before they make certain calls
  • Look at best practise within the firm and share/replicate it
  • Motivate colleagues to support KAM programmes

Take a different perspective on KAM

Typically, the KAM or ABM programme is led by the marketing and business development (MBD) team with the support of the senior leadership team. But what if we took a different perspective to designing and implementing the KAM process?

What if we let the firm-wide and client specific KAM processes just emerge?

KAM programmes often start with a central team trying to design the relevant systems and processes for KAM at a firm-wide and client level. But what if we adopted a more agile approach and simply focused on what behaviours and activities in different teams generated the most successful client outcomes?

Many KAM programmes seek to identify the best practice key client teams. And then capture what those exemplar teams do and use it to help others. We know that there is rarely a “one size fits all” KAM approach – different teams, practice areas, offices and clients demand that we flex the process to meet their needs and situations more precisely.

By allowing different KAM processes to emerge throughout the organisation, and focus on identifying successful approaches, we could offer those learnings to other fee-earners so that they can adopt those practices which suit their clients best.

What if we asked our fee-earners to design the KAM process?

What if we shared with the fee-earners what we wanted to achieve – whether this was revenue or profit improvement, client satisfaction and referrals ratings, cross-selling ambitions or something else – and asked for their views on how best to go about it?

Taking a different perspective might suggest that something else needs to be addressed rather than a KAM programme. For example:

  • Changes to the way the firm is structured and organised
  • Improvements in client service and client delivery
  • Client planning processes
  • Changes to the way systems deliver client data and knowledge
  • Different training and coaching solutions
  • Time recording system changes
  • Changes to the recognition and reward policies and systems
  • Pricing, billing and contractual changes
  • Improved internal communication

Having the fee-earners involved in identifying the best way to achieve the goals would mean that they are more likely to participate in the programme – buy-in would be built-in.

What if we let the client listening team lead the KAM process?

Most firms will have some form of client listening process – occasional or regular research processes looking at quantitative data (e.g. Net Promoter Score Client satisfaction benchmarks – How do you measure up? (kimtasso.com)) or qualitative data (e.g. post matter reviews and annual client service interviews).

Client listening and/or research projects are often a major component of the KAM process. We need to measure current client satisfaction, identify weak spots in the client experience, learn about emerging client needs and find ways to really add value to clients.

So what if we let client listening drive the way our KAM teams and processes operated? It would certainly ensure a client-focused approach was adopted. It would also focus attention on those areas which clients see as having particular value or needing specific attention. Our KAM processes would be entirely focused on ensuring that the client needs were embedded at the heart of the KAM process.

What if we allowed our clients to design the KAM process?

It would take great courage, but we could ask our clients how they think the KAM process should be designed and operate. The experts in KAM all suggest that we involve the client in talking about the plan for the development of the relationship – but it is rarely practised.

We could explain to the client what we hoped to achieve – to strengthen the relationship so that it added greater value to them and to us. And then ask the client what we could do to achieve that. The client may suggest different processes and activities to those that we have thought about. And it would ensure a more collaborative approach to KAM.

This way the clients would see the value in the KAM programme and would be super-keen to work with us to design it in a way that suits them. Their expectations and needs would be totally the main priority. And they would be welcoming of the resulting process.

Delegate Poll Results

Delegates find it helpful to benchmark their views against other each.

Delegate aims

  • Refresh KAM knowledge
  • Ensure we are supporting fee-earners with our key accounts
  • Obtain a general understanding of KAM
  • Develop our roles to provide a really good client experience
  • Better engage with fee earners on improving their client relationships and therefore offer a better client service
  • Learn best practice and tips
  • Transition from marketing to a business development role
  • Learn what can realistically be achieved with KAM
  • Develop my role as account coordinator for a key client
  • Refine our KAM processes
  • Embed our KAM programme
  • Learn from other people’s and firm’s experience

My KAM/relationship management experience (0=low, 10=expert):

  1. 11%
  2. 22%
  3. 11%
  4. 22%
  5. 22%
  6. 11%

Have you had formal sales training?

  • 0%  Yes
  • 67% No
  • 33% Sort of

Techniques mentioned included: SPIN, PACE, inhouse

selling frameworks and models for the professions (law, accountancy) (kimtasso.com)

Book Review: Smarter selling – Next generation sales strategies (kimtasso.com)

Hope is not a strategy – the 6 keys to winning the complex sale (kimtasso.com)

Insight selling – building on consultative selling models (kimtasso.com)

Book review: Managing key clients (professional service firms) (kimtasso.com) PACE

Book review – Demise of dysfunctional selling (Khalsa) (kimtasso.com)

Classic management book reviews – The McKinsey way, Good to great (kimtasso.com) Strategic Selling

Book review: Sales Mind – 48 tools to help you sell (kimtasso.com)

Which is of most interest?

56%      KAM/ABM processes for the firm

44%      KAM/ABM processes for specific clients

Where do you see your main KAM role at present?

  • 10%      Part of client team
  •              Strategic input
  • 10%      Coaching fee-earners
  • 10%      Client listening
  • 30%      Research/developing plans
  • 30%      Process, systems and procedures
  • 10%      Administration and information

Are there clear aims/goals for your KAM/ABM? 

  • 64%      Yes
  • 27%      No
  •  9%      It’s complicated

Which goals do you have for your KAM (multiple choice)

  • 82%      Cross-selling
  • 55%      Revenue
  • 56%      Profit
  • 45%      Retention
  • 45%      Satisfaction
  • 36%      Referrals
  • 36%      New products/services
  • 18%      Other

To what extent do you think your fee-earner buy into the concept of KAM/ABM?

  1.   9%
  2. 18%
  3. 36%
  4. 27%
  5.   9%

Do you have an agreed firm-wide process for KAM/ABM?

  • 64%      Yes – and it’s used
  • 27%      Yes – but it’s no used
  •  9%      No

Do you think your KAM/ABM is most focused on:

  • 45%      Medium and long term relationship, revenue and profits
  • 18%      Protecting and retaining critical clients
  • 18%      Cross-selling
  • 9%       Short term revenue and profits
  • 9%       Collaboration and co-creation of services with clients

Do you have a process for developing each KAM client?

  • 0% Yes – the same across the firm
  • 55% Yes – but it differs for some teams, territories and clients
  • 18%      No – each client team adopts their own approach
  • 18%      No – we are developing it at present
  •  9%      No

How good are your KAM information systems? (10=excellent)

Intapp leads the way with client lifecycle management (CLM) solution (kimtasso.com)

At a previous session a delegate said they were using Nexl and here is a case study from January 2023 Strategic Account Management for Law Firms in the Age of Remote Working – Nexl

  1. 18%
  2. 36%
  3. 18%
  4. 18%
  5.  9%

Are there agreed criteria in your firm for a key account?

  • Yes it’s all agreed
  • Yes but it changes
  • No

Which of the following do you use to support KAM implementation

  • 82% Dedicated KAM meetings
  • 73% KAM information systems and reporting
  • 73% MBD as part of key client teams
  • 64% Regular internal communications
  • 36% Fee-earner skills training
  • 27% Kam as part of fee-earner assessment and reward

Do you have a job description or terms of reference for your KAM or key account partners?

  • 91%      Yes
  •   9%      No

How do you report KAM/ABM success? (multiple choice)

  • 60%      Teams present at departmental meetings
  • 60%      Regular updates to the Board
  • 60% Regular report for firm overall (by M&BD)
  • 40% Regular reports for each key client (by M&BD)
  • 20%      Dashboard for senior management
  • 10%      Intranet – automatic updates
  • 20%      Regular reports for each key client (by CRP)

Related KAM articles

Key Account Management (KAM) programme (kimtasso.com) February 2016

Meet Account IQ: Our New Feature Aimed at Helping You Shine in Every Call (linkedin.com) November 2023

Key Account Management (KAM) – Research companies (kimtasso.com) June 2023

Enhancing your ABM strategy: The power of tools and technology – Inflexion Group June 2023

Grant Thornton – The power behind the client voice – PSM The Professionals (psm-theprofessionals.com) March 2023

Strategic Account Management for Law Firms in the Age of Remote Working – Nexl January 2023

Fearless feedback at Mills & Reeve – Meridian West October 2022

Six key KAM lessons – Education, Expectations, Exemplars, Emergence (kimtasso.com) June 2022

Beating Six Barriers to KAM and Training (Kim Tasso) June 2021

Top picks from KAM training workshops (October 2020) (kimtasso.com) October 2020

KAM Basics – Bowties and Diamonds (kimtasso.com) October 2020

client portfolio management with dinosaurs – Be more T Rex (kimtasso.com) July 2020

Managing key client meetings – Key Account Management (kimtasso.com) July 2017

Baker McKenzie Gains Global Visibility Into Its Key-Client Relationships Case Study • Intapp

Key account management best practice – training and pruning (rnapierconsulting.co.uk) May 2023

KAM Book reviews

Executive Engagement Strategies by Bev Burgess (kimtasso.com) August 2020

A practitioner’s guide to Account-Based Marketing (ABM) (kimtasso.com) February 2020

Book review: Managing key clients (professional service firms) (kimtasso.com) June 2019

Malcolm McDonald on value propositions – How to develop them (kimtasso.com) May 2019

Successful Large Account Management (Key Account Management) (kimtasso.com) Book review June 2015

Book review: Effective client management in professional services (kimtasso.com) January 2015

Book review seven keys to managing strategic accounts (kimtasso.com) June 2013

For PM Forum members

Bidding & listening strategies for winning work and retaining key accounts (pmint.co.uk) March 2024

Tom Ash, Digital Executive, Simmons & Simmons (pmint.co.uk) May/June 2023

Manage clients for success by Darren Francis, Pepper BD/Account Managers Academy (PM Magazine April 2022)

Why client account management (CAM)? by Laura Dawson (PM Magazine March 2021)

Making account management work by Francesca Ayers, Get Serious (PM Magazine April 2020)

KAM culture – ten years on by Elizabeth Corcoran, Eversheds Sutherland  (PM Magazine April 2019)