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5 Success Factors for Global KAM Development

The call for change…..


As more companies take on the challenge of implementing KAM globally, it’s inevitable that the change factor comes up. And so it should. From Clarity’s perspective, it’s not a matter of if things need to change in the way your commercial teams approach the customer environment, country by country. It’s more about what needs to change and how to identify the operational “levers” that produce a lasting difference. It doesn’t need to be difficult. And yet according to a recent Harvard Business School article, a paltry 10% of major corporations say their new commercial strategies end up being executed effectively in the field. In many industries, the disconnect between commercial strategy and field performance can be traced back to all-too-common gaps and pitfalls: Lack of communication, the absence of consistent tracking mechanisms, HR issues, etc. In some sectors, the root causes are even more systemic and structural. Unique to implementing a global KAM initiative, many companies are caught straddling between old and new commercial models with significant parts of their infrastructure still on the drawing board or missing altogether. There is more at stake here is than just “getting KAM right.” For far too many companies, it’s like preparing for 21st-century competition with a 20th-century game plan. Those companies that can both anticipate the elements of change most in need of attention AND invest at appropriate levels in the people and processes required to manage through those changes, stand the best chance of succeeding globally with KAM development.


Success Factor #1: Create a compelling argument for change.

Moving commercial teams from tactical, transactional selling behavior to strategic key account management takes large scale change.

Sometimes, a lot of it. Multiple moving parts and dependencies are natural factors of any global KAM development initiative and plenty of times where both the will of the implementation team and the cooperative nature of recipients will be tested. For this reason, it’s imperative that the case for change be made successfully from the start. In a McKinsey article entitled: “The Irrational Side of Change Management”, a survey of 3,200 executives worldwide, revealed that only one in three transformation projects succeeded. With that as a backdrop, the authors outline four basic conditions that need to be present for employees to change their behavior. They are:


  • 1. A compelling story – Employees must see the point of change and agree with it.
  • 2. Role modeling – Employees must see those senior to them and those around them behaving in a new way.
  • 3. Reinforcing mechanisms – Systems, processes, and incentives must be in line with the new behavior.
  • 4. Capability building – Employees must have the skills required to make the desired change.

Without exception, every global KAM initiative that has succeeded or failed can be traced back to the existence of ALL 4 of these conditions or the absence of any ONE of them.


Success Factor #2: Build for the lowest common denominator.

Organizations planning a global KAM development initiative need to be mindful of who and what influences the elements of the program itself; from the design of curriculum to options for delivery to use of digital tools.

The reality is that some countries and regions are both more sophisticated in their needs and more “evolved” regarding how they can absorb and pull-through KAM development efforts. Finding the right “balance” between complexity and developing sustainable training platforms and curriculum with minimal ongoing customization is essential. The ultimate goal is to develop and roll out a KAM development model that is globally consistent, yet locally tailored and relevant. And giving every country and region a common framework and process to build upon is a great place to start.


Success Factor #3: Communicate, communicate, communicate.

While many companies suffer from, and employees complain of too many meetings and too much information when it comes to global KAM development and implementation, over-communication can be a beautiful thing.

It starts with communicating the compelling argument for change to the country or region, (see Success Factor #1 above), and helping them deliver that story in turn to their local teams. It includes communicating a new vision of customer engagement and how that concept is supported by behavior change at the KAM level and within each business unit that influences how customers are engaged in the field. Communicating a common set of operating principles and clear goals and expectations for the initiative is also critical. And part of any good communication strategy is a 360-degree feedback mechanism and regular progress updates so that individuals and teams feel that they are part of the process and can more readily embrace their roles as agents of change.


Success Factor #4: Leverage common best practices and success stories.

Given that each country will differ in buyer demographics, regulatory and pricing environments, competition, distribution channels and cost structures, it’s easy to assume that KAM best practices and success stories would be difficult to share across borders.

But this is far from the truth. Most KAMs are smart enough to know what applies to their own market and what doesn’t and yet they relish the opportunity to learn from another’s strategies since they often lead to validation or adjustment of their own.


Success Factor #5: Know which countries are ready to go with KAM.

Once it’s announced that “new KAM training” is being made available globally you’ll find many commercial leaders raising their hands to be the next country or region to be rolled out.

A common cause of failure when it comes to KAM development are countries that take it on without fully knowing what they are getting themselves into. There are some basic questions to get answered first before you know a country is ready to embrace KAM effectively:

  • Do they agree on what KAM is? (As an individual’s role vs. An organizational approach towards customer engagement).
  • Do they have the right individuals targeted for KAM development? (Or are they applying a KAM title to someone who is truly a rep?)
  • Have they “sold” the need for KAM development? (Have they made a compelling argument for change?)
  • Is commercial leadership ready to sponsor, direct and reinforce the new KAM model?

Have they thought through the HR, compensation, process, tools/CRM, and support implications for successful KAM implementation? Initiating a global KAM development program can seem like a daunting undertaking. As with any other big project, breaking it down to discreet parts and paying attention to the critical success factors above will increase your odds of success exponentially.


Read about The 4 ZonesTM – The #1 KAM Process Model for Moving from Transactional Selling to Strategic Account Management.

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