On 8th June it was a full house for the PM Forum’s popular workshop “Towards KAM and ABM – Helping fee-earners with client relationship management”. Amongst the many delegates from across the UK there was also one joining us from Warsaw, Poland and another who had moved from a lawyer role into Marketing and Business Development. There was an even split between those who had established KAM programmes and those who were embarking on KAM for the first time. This article summarises the themes that arose – both in KAM processes for the entire firm and the processes for individual key clients. It is intended to supplement the learning resources from the session. Delegate poll results and key takeaways are shown below. I’ve condensed the main points into Six key KAM lessons – Education, Expectations, Exemplars, Emergence, Extending and Evolution.
Before attempting to design and develop a KAM or ABM process we talked about the need to engage everyone – from the management Board and through all levels of fee-earners and even other support departments (especially technology, know-how and HR) – in KAM communication and education.
This was to clarify the general aims, benefits and principles of KAM so that everyone understood the reasons behind the initiative. These sessions needed to be interactive – in a team or workshop environment – so everyone had the chance to ask questions and share their ideas and insights.
This type of early engagement also meant buy-in was secured from the outset. This is easier than designing a KAM programme, process and tools and trying to impose them which will inevitably lead to resistance and push-back. By early education and consultation, partner and fee-earner views on the best way to proceed and the potential barriers could be identified and addressed.
People have very different views about what a KAM or ABM approach involves and is likely to deliver. So we need to explore different people’s expectations – whether the board, the client relationship partners, other fee-earners and the M&BD professionals. And even the clients – some firms are resistant to the idea of talking to clients about them being part of a KAM programme whereas others involve clients from the outset on the planning process.
Expectations link closely to the need to set clear objectives. And ensuring that they align with the firm and team’s overall aims and strategies. A simple example at the session showed a gap analysis looking at what proportion of a firm’s future revenue growth projections might be achieved through a key client programme (KCP) as opposed to other means. It can be significant.
Several of the firms represented had short term and sales-oriented aims. So we explored a variety of other goals e.g.
- External (client facing)
- Service preferences
- Satisfaction and loyalty
- Collaboration and integration
- Contextualised solutions and new products/services
Building a business case – with both the expected results and the significant costs (primarily in M&BD and fee-earner time at the outset but also research and technology costs) – is an important step in managing internal expectations. Sometimes KAM programmes can add a lot of cost to the relationship management process without generating sufficient returns for the firm.
Ongoing communications and regular communication of results helps to maintain momentum in KAM programmes – and prevents some of the impatience when KAM programmes don’t deliver immediate results.
As mentioned above, rather than design and implement a KAM strategy from scratch within the leadership team and/or M&BD team it is good to involve fee-earners from the outset.
A helpful method is to seek the views and insights from exemplar partners who have shown natural skill or past success in developing key clients. We reviewed an example project of this kind.
Looking at what best practice exists in the practice is linked to ideas around identifying “bright spots”, harnessing supporters and champions to leverage influence and promoting stakeholder engagement and buy-in.
We noted that this best practice might be at a firmwide or team level as well as for particular key clients. We considered some case studies of how KAM had been tackled in large and small legal, accountancy and property firms.
Having regular reports on KAM successes and dashboards that both promote internal competition and recognise the efforts of leading teams were seen as being important for both motivation and momentum in programmes.
Many firms want to establish clear processes and systems at the outset of the programme. While it is important to outline the overall aims and main programme stages it is often best not to try and set everything in stone at the outset.
This was particularly true when establishing the criteria for selecting key clients. This is often an evolving process as a firm develops experience. Many firms have annual reviews of which clients to add to or remove from the KAM programme.
Somewhat counter-intuitively we explored the approach of allowing processes and plans to emerge by providing education, information, guidance and support (we discussed philosophies such as “tools not rules” and “pick and mix”) to one or two pilot key client teams to see how they tackled the task. Significant learning emerges this way and others are more willing to adopt practices that are “tried and tested” by their colleagues in the firm.
The use of client listening at the outset to understand the true needs of clients to address within a KAM programme was recommended. This sort of information is also valuable in persuading partners and fee-earners of the value and focus for initial KAM programmes.
We talked about the different data and requirements of CRM and KAM systems. And it was interesting to hear from two firms who had successfully developed their KAM programme without having a CRM in place.
Extending and Energy
Clarity on the roles and responsibilities for those leading and involved in KAM programmes is important. But these will vary depending on the maturity, culture, skills and motivation of the firm and its clients.
Sometimes there is not just one Client Relationship Partner (CRP) – there could be Co-ordination Partners, Liaison Partners, Matter Partners, Practice Partners, Territory Partners and Project Partners. It is important that both the firm and the clients know the reason for and scope of each role – and the value they intend to bring.
I shared examples of KAM programmes outside of the professions – where sometimes there were dedicated teams of over 30 people for key clients. And mentioned examples of professional service firms (including law firms) who used non-fee-earners in key client relationship management roles.
We looked at overall engagement strategies and activities – both internally and externally. Many of these are summarised in this evidence-based book: Executive Engagement Strategies by Bev Burgess (kimtasso.com)
Some delegates asked about ways to involve those below partner level in KAM. As well as supporting account succession, this can be a great development and progression opportunity. It can be achieved in a number of ways – for example:
- Shadowing and “ridealongs”
- Client Relationship Manager or Client Relationship Co-ordinator roles
- Delegating responsibility for projects (e.g. research, systems integration) and events (e.g. webinar and roundtables) to organise for a particular key client
There was recognition of the need for training, support, recognition and reward for those fee-earners who devote time and energy to KAM. Many firms still do not recognise time invested in key client programmes in reward and promotion policies.
There was also consideration of the various training programmes needed to support knowledge, skills, behaviours and systems in support of KAM – whether amongst fee-earning staff or those in support roles. As well as research and commerciality (for needs identification), interpersonal and conversation skills (for adding insight, challenging and selling) and relationship management skills were mentioned.
We also reviewed research on how clients prefer to receive and absorb information (I mentioned the research from Grist on this topic which is overviewed within this article: Professional Services Thought leadership update – (kimtasso.com) – However, there is no up to date research showing how consumption patterns have changed since Covid).
My advice was to start with a small and simple KAM programme. And to let the experience and learning from initial attempts inform how the programme progressed.
Inevitably, all KAM programmes evolve as the firm’s experience and client needs develop and people start to see the benefits and commit further resources. Expectations change too – what is today a differentiating KAM programme is tomorrow’s expectation – so KAM programmes need to adapt and deliver greater benefits over time.
A delegate asked me what I foresaw as the next major development in M&BD (following on from a sector approach and KAM programmes) and my response was that these naturally progress into innovation and new product/service delivery (particularly where there is collaboration and co-creation with clients) and ultimately onto pricing. The latter is an area that should (from a professional discipline point of view) be firmly within the M&BD’s remit but in too many firms it is tackled by specialists outside of the team.
Some key takeaways from the delegates on KAM
- The need for a KAM system to deal with key accounts
- Expectation management is key – it will take investment, lots of groundwork and ROI will be seen in 3-4 years
- Start small!
- As we’re just starting out, setting clear objectives and keep it simple!
- As we have yet to implement a process: set clear objectives and agree how we identify key accounts
- Keep it simple – focus on 2-3 clients to start
- The importance of having a simple, well structured KAM programme that won’t be overwhelming for lawyers and their busy work schedules
- Agree the firmwide criteria for KAM, the programme and clients within it rather than different areas doing their own thing in silo’s and not having a joined-up approach
- Importance of data to support KAM analysis
- Keen to explore methodologies that work in our context
- Training and getting key advisors/advocates on board
- More defined fee-earner trainings are needed
- Going to run an internal workshop on the role of relationship partner so they identify what training they need
- “Tools not rules” and different ways of leading (sales, culture, client care and/ or operational)
- The dashboard and table examples were interesting
The Cranfield University KAM programme was mentioned – Further details are here Key Account Management Best Practice (cranfield.ac.uk) The next three day session is in October (fee £4,250 + VAT).
Interestingly, the following day there was an hour PM Forum webinar presented by Darren Francis on “Clarity in client engagement” who echoed many of the messages at our session. (PM Forum members can access a recording PM Forum). Some of the points that caught my attention:
- “Create your own KAM process model”, “Communicate the model” and make it “Easily understandable”
- “KAM is not just liked by clients – it is expected. It is no longer a differentiator”
- “Choose a small, manageable number of objectives”
- “Firms are putting more resources into KAM”
- “Focus on around three criteria for selecting key clients”
- There was a useful tool to analyse base income, growth income and new income (similar to the gap analysis we looked at in the session)
- He suggested even a limited client listening programme before starting a KAM programme
- To promote “outstanding conversations” with clients – consider using PESTLE analysis (see a short video on PESTLE https://youtu.be/-TtgW1i-7gA) and asking clients about their three biggest challenges and three biggest opportunities.
Related articles on KAM
Reasons to invest in a Key Account Management (KAM) programme (kimtasso.com)
Books on KAM
One delegate indicated that her favourite KAM book was by Malcolm McDonald – Key Account Management: The Definitive Guide, 3rd Edition, Revised and Updated | Wiley
Delegate Polls and Takeaways
Aims for the KAM session?
This varied significantly between those delegates who were at firms who were yet to initiate a KAM programme and those who had established programmes:
- New KAM programmes
- Gain buy-in and engagement from the outset before we establish a KAM programme
- Learn about the KAM process to support our teams in developing/growing our existing clients
- Obtain tips on how to communicate the value of a KAM programme (see Key Account Management (KAM) programme (kimtasso.com))
- Consider how best to design and launch our KAM programme
- Encourage more self-sufficiency from fee earners with proactive key client management
- Just reviewed our list of key clients so timely to look at new ideas to bring into the programme
- Established KAM programmes
- Refresh and seek perspectives on our approach to lawyers running key accounts well with our support
- Embed a culture of relationship management. The first year was light touch so as not to “scare the horses”
- Generate energy and enthusiasm for our KAM programme
- Review our processes and keen to learn what improvements we can make
- Learn best practice/tips on relationship management and get insights from others on the training
- Establish some best practice
- Create a dedicated KAM role (for a former lawyer)
- Update on the latest KAM thinking and practice
Barriers and downsides to KAM?
- Time and resource required
- Getting buy in and engagement from busy partners
- Not all clients want ‘KAMMING’
- Spotting new opportunities
- Not focusing on the right client
- Could lead to conflict of interest against other clients
- Every partner wants their client to be a ‘key account’
- Balancing short term revenue and profit expectations with long term relationship building
- Lack of information and information systems
- Keeping information up to date
- KAM/relationship management experience was completely different across the delegates with almost equal numbers across the 1 to 10 self-ratings
- 53% had not had any formal sales training and 29% said “sort of”
- 76% were interested in both KAM/ABM for the firm as well as specific clients
- In terms of the delegates’ main role in Kam, the results were mixed:
- 24% strategic input
- 18% part of the client team
- 18% researching/developing plans
- 18% process, systems and procedures
- 12% administration and information
- 12% client listening
- 0% coaching fee-earners
- Are there clear aims for your KAM/ABM – 50% said yes and 31% said “it’s complicated”
- A mix of goals for KAM/ABM:
- 24% Satisfaction
- 18% Cross-selling
- 18% Retention
- 12% Referrals
- 12% None
- 12% Revenue
- 6% other
- 0% Profit
- 0% new products/services
- In terms of buy in from fee-earners – there was a spread of responses from 1 (not at all) to 10 (totally committed) highest response was for 5 (33%)
- When asked whether time on KAM/ABM was recorded:
- 53% Yes – for M&BD time generally
- 12% Yes – for time on KAM/ABM generally
- 12% Yes – for time spent on specific clients
- 24% No
- Do you have an agreed firm-wide process for KAM/ABM?
- 25% Yes – and it’s used
- 25% Yes – but it’s not used
- 50% No
- Do you think your KAM/ABM is most focused on:
- 56% Protecting and retaining critical clients
- 22% Cross selling
- 11% Medium and long term relationship, revenue and profits
- 6% Short term revenue and profits
- 6% Collaboration and co-creation with clients
- Do you have a process for developing each KAM client?
- 44% No – we are developing it at present
- 33% Yes – but if differs for some teams/territories/clients
- 17% No – each client team adopts their own approach
- 6% – Yes – the same across the firm
- How good are your KAM information systems – range of response from 1 (poor) and 9 (nearly excellent) – most frequent were 3 and 5
- Are there agreed criteria in your firm for a key account?
- 38% Yes but it changes
- 25% Yes it’s all agreed
- 25% No
- 13% It’s complicated
- How well do you understand the DMU and decision-making process at your key clients? There was a mixed response with delegates selecting all options from 1 – 10. Most frequent were 4 and 5
- Which of the following do you use to support implementation:
- 72% M&BD as part of key client teams
- 61% Regular internal communications
- 56% Dedicated KAM/ABM meetings
- 50% KAM information systems and reporting
- 17% Fe-earners skills training
- 17% Other
- 11% KAM/ABM as part of fee-earner assessment and reward
- Do you have a job description or terms of reference for your KAM partners?
- 56% Yes
- 39% No
- 6% Sort of
- How do you report KAM/ABM success (tick all that apply)
- 44% regular updates to the board
- 44% Teams present at departmental meetings
- 31% Dashboard for senior management
- 25% Regular reports for each client (by M&BD)
- 19% Intranet – automatic updates
- 19% regular report for firm overall (by M&BD)
- 19% Other
- 6% Regular reports for each key client (by CRP)
- Which do you see now as biggest challenge or KAM at your firm?
- 35% Fee-earners time and resources
- 24% fee-earner motivation
- 18% Fee-earner knowledge and skills
- 12% Aims, strategy and plans
- 12% M&BD skills and resources