20 Jun How to define a strong KAM Training Path
In a first post dedicated to KAM Skills & Competencies Development, we have explored how to define a solid approach to KAM Training based on 5 fundamental principles.
In this second post, we explore how to develop KAM Skills & Competencies and how to build the KAM Training Path that supports this goal. This article focuses on the individual competencies required from the Key Account Managers. In the third post of this series, we will look at how to deliver a high-impact training. Other articles on this blog explore the collective KAM capabilities an organisation must develop to be successful with KAM.
Defining Skills & Competencies. In these 3 posts, with Skills, we mean a combination of knowledge and mastery of techniques which enables people to perform specific tasks. With Competencies, we mean combining Skills with motivational factors and the ability to understand a context in order to adopt the adequate behaviours which lead to results.
What is your KAM Competencies Reference Framework?
As already discussed in the first article, the goals, target audience and format of your KAM skills development efforts must be coherent with the state of development and maturity of your KAM initiative.
If your KAM programme is just starting, you should focus on equipping the KAM Programme Director and the Key Account Managers with the knowledge and skills requires to take your initiative off the ground and manage the challenges specific to this early phase. If on the contrary, your KAM practice has been existing for a while, without a formalised approach to develop KAM Skills and Competencies, you will have to explore the current situation to be able to define the best way forward.
A crucial tool to help you build your KAM Training path is the KAM Individual Competencies Reference Framework.
It provides you with a precise description of the skills and competencies required from a true Key Account Manager (not a plain entreprise customers sales rep). A well designed competencies reference framework allows to assess the competencies of each Key Account Manager, whatever their degree of experience. Although it is possible to define a generic KAM Competencies reference framework, such a tool works best when fully customised to a company’s context.
3 Types of KAM-relevant Competencies
Another critical element in the definition of a strong KAM Training Path is to identify and prioritise 3 types of KAM-related competencies.
- KAM-specific knowledge & competencies. These cover understanding the key principles of KAM as well as the company’s KAM strategy, methodology, processes and tools and being able to implement them sucessfully. For the KAM Programme Director and their support team, it is about the ability to design and implement an adequate KAM Programme and Methodology. For Key Account Managers, it is essentially about leading the design and implementation of a relevant and impactful Key Account Plan and overcoming the challenges of implementation.
- Supporting soft skills & Change Management competencies. Implementing KAM is about finding new ways to collaborate and create value. For an organisation and its members, it is a big change. Therefore, people involved in KAM need strong collaboration-oriented soft skills as well as very good Change Management competencies. Key Account Managers, must be able to form and lead their (virtual) Account Team and to manage without power. In an international environment, a high-level of intercultural proficiency is also a must.
- Supporting business accumen and complex sales competencies. These cover general business knowledge as well as sales and negotiation competencies. In an ideal world, a high level of mastery of these competencies should be a pre-requisite before taking a Key Account Management work. In the real life, it is common that specific competencies development measures are required. Part of these skills are quite universal (for example understanding financial matters) whereas others strongly depend on the company’s activity (for exemple supply chain management or product development and joint R&D). In complex business environments, it is important to recognise that Key Account Managers must be highly proficient in complex sales as the capacity to identify and influence key stakeholders – the essence of complex sales – is crucial in KAM.
The initial KAM Training: simple and focused
For all companies starting a KAM initiative, the initial KAM Training for Key Account Managers, and possibly for selected members of the Key Account Teams, should be dedicated to understanding the company’s KAM methodology, managing the Account Team and driving the Key Account Planning process. This core need is well covered with two modules, a module can be made of several sessions and combine various formats (see the third post for details). The first base module is dedicated to the KAM Strategy & Methodology. The second one is focused on the Key Account Plan: how to create and implement it. This second module should also include some basic elements on managing the Account Team
A well designed KAM Strategy and Methodology first training module equips participants with a useful general knowledge on what KAM is and how it comes to life in various organisations while also explaining why and how their company wants to implement KAM.
A good Key Account Planning training module is based on the company’s tools and on carefully selected fundamental KAM best practices. It focuses on analysing a Key Account and its business with the vendor along various dimensions: business strategy, network of relationship, depth of customer intimacy, nature of opportunities, competitive positioning. The training module also covers how to build an Account Strategy and the associated Action Plan. If possible, it should also cover the definition of one or several Account-specific Value Proposition. It must also include some base knowledge and practice on the constitution of the Key Account Team: identity and roles of the team members.
The importance of Reinforcement
After the initial KAM training, in order to anchor the acquisition of knowledge and help people in the early phase of practicing, adequate reinforcement measures should be taken. The most efficient approach is to support and coach the Key Account Managers while they are finalising the first version of a Key Account Plan and driving its implementation. The coaching process should combine individual coaching with peer-learning and experience sharing.
The second phase: Build a KAM Training Path
After the initial phase of the KAM Training and while driving the reinforcement and coaching process, the KAM Programme Director and the Learning & Development Team can start working on a more medium- to long term-view on KAM Skills & Competencies development.
How exactly this should be done depends, on one hand on the identified KAM-related Competencies development needs , and on the other hand on the Learning and Development resources that can be leveraged. The KAM Skills & Competencies Reference Framework mentionned at the beginning of this post is a powerful instrument to guide the design of the training programme.
Below is shown an example of a fully developped KAM Training curriculum with the KAM-specific backbone (the core), the supporting soft skills and the enabling business acumen and sales skills. Of course, this is in no way a one-fit-all solution.
Example of a fully developped KAM Training Curiculum
Core KAM Training Path
- Basic – Module 1: KAM Strategy & Methodology, Module 2: Key Account Planning
- Intermediate – Module 3: Ensuring the Key Account Team Dynamic – Module 4: Deepening Relations and Influence with a Key Account
- Advanced – Module 5: Driving growth initiatives and co-creation with a truly strategic account.
Supporting Skills & Competencies – Soft Skils & Change Management
- Understanding Personality types and communication styles
- Managing without power / Building Trust & Influence
- Fundamentals of Change Management
- Intercultural skills & Conflict Resolution
Business accumen & Complex Sales competencies
- Fundamentals of Finance and P&L Management (base level)
- Negotiation (base level)
- How to work strategically with Purchasing (advanced level)
- Supply Chain Management (if relevant)
- Complex Sales & Articulating Value (base level)
- Strategic Sales & Influence (advanced level)
Build a Training Path in line with your company’s resources
All in all, in real life, the number and nature of modules that are integrated into a KAM Training Path are influenced by a company’s view on how strategic KAM and the Key Account Managers are for the company, what is required to “do the KAM job”, and by the available resources.
Large (and/or rich) companies with a broad Learning & Development offer, well developed job descriptions and the associated reference skills profiles, can afford to build a rich KAM Training programme. Smaller organisations, even if they also have formal Training Paths, have a somewhat simpler, leaner approach. That is not necessarily less effective. In both cases, a good design and a good implementation (including reinforcement and coaching) bring better results and return.
At one of my current customers, a large industrial firm, in addition to the initial core KAM Training, we identified 4 additional topics on which a specific skills development effort would help the Global Account Managers progress in their job. With a smaller company, in the financial services space, in order to support the initial phase of a KAM initiative, we defined 3 base modules which, delivered across a time period of a 6 months and complemented by on-the-job coaching, helped the Key Account Managers start their new mission. As the KAM activities develop, 2 advanced modules were defined and implemented in a second phase, 2 years later as the company and the people had gained more experience.
In addition, as the KAM initiative develops, you should consider developing a KAM Training Path for a broader audience. Of course, both the format and nature of the Training Path should be simpler than for the Key Account Managers.
Last but not least, if KAM is really a stategic instrument at your company, you might decide to implement a KAM Certification Process in order to recognize the seniority and proficiency of your Key Account Managers. This certification process can be driven internally – an increasing number of organisations use such certifications as part of their Sales Enablement activities – or they can be done in collaboration with associations, such as AKAM or SAMA.
In the next post on KAM Training we will explore the format of the training, who should deliver and how to measure.
Key Account Management is a rich and complex area and few practitioners write about it. If you have found this article interesting, you might want to read the first post on the KAM Training approach, the third one, as well as other posts on KAM, Complex Sales and Sales Enablement on this blog.