9 Attributes Of A Successful Key Account Manager

role of key account manager

Whether you’re a sales rep looking for a new challenge, a sales manager looking for a new direction or simply need to understand who you should be hiring to strategically manage your accounts – you’re in the right place. While most businesses look for hunters to fill sales roles and farmers to fill account management roles, key account management requires various skills, from closing sales, nurturing relationships, strategic planning and cross-functional leadership. But it doesn’t stop there; that’s why we’ve outlined the 9 attributes of a successful key account manager in this article.

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What is Key Account Management?

Key account management refers to a long-term strategy of delivering significant value over time to your “key accounts”. In other words, it is a systematic approach to managing, retaining and growing your organisation’s most valuable customers with the focus of maximising mutual value alongside achieving mutually beneficial goals. 

That’s why when key account management is executed well, key it can be an even more profitable investment than focusing on creating new sales. Your business “key accounts” are the clients that bring in the majority of your revenue. As the saying goes, 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your clients, and it’s essential to make sure that 20% are well taken care of to generate long-term revenue. 

Why is Key Account Management important?

Revenue generation is the lifeblood of any organisation, which is why Key Account Management seeks to consistently increase revenue by retaining top-earning accounts. Moreover, KAM’s importance is linked to the 80–20 Principle, which suggests that 20% of your accounts are responsible for 80% of the outcome (revenue) – true for most companies. However, there are a lot more reasons to focus on key account management; discover the benefits below:

Benefits of successful Key Account Management

  • Increases customer satisfaction: Not only do satisfied customers become repeat and loyal ones, but they recommend your products and services to their peers and other industry connections.
  • Helps gain competitive advantage in the marketplace:  By building strong relationships with key accounts, KAM provides a strategic advantage to businesses over their competitors, which leads to superior financial performance. 
  • Increases lifetime customer value: The more value you show to your customer, the more they’re willing to invest in your relationship.
  • Builds better customer relationships: By getting to know your customer’s you’ll build better relationships, allowing you to meet their needs and solve their problems with ease – creating a cycle of trust. 

What does a Key Account Manager do?

Some of your business accounts will always be more valuable than others. That’s why organisations usually employ a Key Account Manager (KAM), a highly-skilled and personable individual that ensures your key account customers will stay loyal to your business.

Key Account Managers are responsible for building long-term relationships with your company’s most valuable accounts while focusing on turning buyers into business partners by providing dedicated resources, unique offers, and periodic meetings. 

For this reason, Key Account Managers aren’t only responsible for sales but also for planning and managing the entire relationship between their company and most important customers. Therefore naturally, Key Account Managers are often one of the company’s most valuable investments and are often compensated well for their position.

The 6 roles of Key Account Management

Aside from the blanket definition of key account managers responsibilities, there are actually several different roles that account managers must fulfil to retain and grow key accounts. Below are examples of the roles that key account managers need to play for successful key account management:

  • 1. Results Driver: All successful KAM’s strive for growth and are often anxious to drive things along to see and achieve the result. They’re obsessive about growing accounts and really don’t need to have the fire lit under them to make things happen.
  • 2. Relationship Leader: Successful KAM’s are also relationship leaders who create and strengthen relationships while also helping to defend against competitor intrusions.
  • 3. Visionary: Also known as innovators, visionaries must articulate what changes your company can create for clients and the value they can co-create with clients.
  • 4. Collaborators: are internal team builders that create bridges of trust and help to involve the right people at the right time to produce the most favourable outcome.
  • 5. Technical Expert: helps technical buyers understand new ideas by facilitating deep-dive solution discussions.
  • 6. Project Manager:is organising the process of capturing revenue from the account by getting the necessary resources in place, formulating an account plan alongside tracking actions and their outcomes.

Key Account Manager vs Account Manager: What’s the difference?

Although there is a distinct overlap between the skills and responsibilities of traditional account managers and KAMs, the two roles are different. 

To begin, key account managers have a lot more at stake than account managers. They are designated to work with high revenue clients and are trusted to build and maintain relationships. While both roles focus on post-sale relationships and bringing in repeat sales, the account manager usually deals with smaller revenue than the key account manager. 

Next, the account manager will treat every customer the same, while the key account manager needs to know how to customise products for each customer based on their unique needs. Since the key accounts bring in a large portion of revenue, the KAM needs to understand their customer’s company and offer products and services to fit those needs. 

Ultimately, the main difference between an account manager and a key account manager boils down to responsibility. The key account manager has a lot more to lose (and gain) than a traditional account manager. 

9 attributes of a successful Key Account Manager

If you are going to be a successful key account manager, it’s important to be knowledgeable, efficient, and a great communicator. Here are the 9 attributes you should have in order to be successful in this role. 

1. Expert communication skills

The top skill any key account must have is excellent communication abilities. If you’re an expert communicator, you will make a great key account manager. Anyone in this sales role needs to have a knack for verbal and non-verbal communication to interpret how the conversation is going. 

Key account managers must also be comfortable addressing the c-suite and be confident in their company and demeanour, as they often work directly with other business executives. Moreover, because Key Account Management is a process that doesn’t just include sales, KAM’s will have to liaise with other departments to meet customer expectations across the board. 

If your confidence or communication skills are lacking, it’s a good idea to improve them to be a successful key account manager. 

2. Market expertise

If you’re going to be a successful liaison between your major customers and your company, you will want to be sure that you have the knowledge needed to help your customers. Think about it this way, if you were purchasing a product and your main point of communication had no idea what you were talking about, would you continue to use that company? Probably not.

Make sure to become a master of your industry and know the ins and outs of your company and your clients to help keep these accounts long-term. Since key accounts are usually highly customised clients, it’s essential to know what they are all about and offer products that might better suit their needs.

3. Strategic perspective

Being able to strategise effectively is where the responsibilities of key account managers and account managers differ significantly. Account managers focus on short-term gains, whereas key account managers need to create strategies that promote long-term revenue and retain customers.

They must juggle many moving parts to orchestrate deals and long-term plans alongside identifying mutually beneficial arrangements between their company and the clients.

That’s why salespeople generally aren’t the best fit for key account management, because while selling skills are essential – key account managers must be able to prioritise long-term relationships and opportunities over short-term gains.

4. Leadership skills

Key Account Managers are visionaries. They don’t just envision different products and services for their clients. They keep everyone in the organisation excited about what’s possible. That’s why individuals in these roles need to create an environment of respect between their company, clients and staff – to do this; they must have impeccable leadership skills. Did you know that there are eight types of leadership styles? We’ve curated a summary of each type of leadership style – check it out now to find out what type of leader you are!

5. Masterful negotiators

The ultimate goal of any successful KAM is to build the lifetime value of their customers. To achieve this, they must have honed negotiation tactics and know the ins and outs of closing a deal. A significant detail, as you will need to ensure that your key account manager can close deals that benefit both parties. Overall, this requires understanding the importance of an adequately timed offer, persuasive presentation skills and the confidence to push forward or fall back with a sale

6. Value providers

Customers want to know that they are getting the best deal possible, so it’s crucial to offer them a deal they can’t refuse (and ensure that they know they are getting the best deal possible). Statistically, customers who can sell on value by using your company are 25% more likely to be repeat customers. Therefore, key account managers should understand your industry and business to effectively communicate that the product they are offering is the best deal (and back it up with facts and statistics to drive their point home).

7. Relationship savvy

Key account managers’ primary focus is to build a highly intricate web of relationships between the client’s people and their company, which is why they are incredibly socially savvy in understanding when to lead relationship development – and when to leave it to another professional. 

Moreover, key account managers understand that partnering is the highest quality selling relationship and know that success depends on: 

  • A relationship born on shared values.
  • Everyone clearly understands the purpose of the partnership and is committed to the vision.
  • Shifting their approach from selling to supporting. 

8. Lifelong learners

All successful key account managers and salespeople at that – should have a keen appetite for learning. However, key account managers understand that markets, industries, and trends are constantly changing, becoming more complex and creating a competitive landscape that requires learning a stream of constant knowledge to keep up.

For this reason, they’re always open to ideas of training and development in the workplace – creating even more trust and respect from others who see they are consistently improving their abilities. That’s why you’ll often find these lifelong learners looking for opportunities to improve in areas they have identified as necessary.

9. Results oriented

Successful key account managers are laser-focused on the end goal – getting results for the customer. For this reason, they often possess a “fail fast” mentality to ensure that they are always ahead of customer expectations. To achieve their goals, they must coordinate multiple resources to reach the decided-upon outcome – and will often take the blame for failures and give credit to their team for successes because overall, they prefer results over inflating their ego.

Grow valuable accounts to protect your competitive market advantage with SOCO®

Key Account Management training supports account managers to develop the application skills needed to systematically review and grow their most valuable accounts. While also helping them create actionable plans to grow long-term relationships as trusted advisors who provide immediate, measurable, sustainable business results to key clients.

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