Building relationships within key accounts - Sales Management

The objectives of developing relationships with key accounts are to:

  • build a network of contacts throughout the account with persons involved in any aspect of the account’s business which impacts on the actual or potential sales of your products
  • establish a relationship of trust with key contacts that can be built on in negotiating and influencing the account to takeover decisions.






Within a key account organization there is normally a network of managers who take decisions or influence decisions that impaction the opportunities for your products to develop through the account. Even within an entrepreneurially owned key account the owner will normally be supported by a management structure.

Therefore it becomes critical in effective key account management that the key account manager develops:

  • detailed knowledge of the internal management structure of each key account organization, including any power or political factors
  • relationships with all the managers who have any input to the buying, testing,specification, use, merchandising and marketing of the product category in general and your products or brands in particular.

For any particular account the key account manager must make a list of the network of contacts to be developed (who can normally be categorized as illustrated in Figure ),and allocate time to developing his or her relations with this network, as all will have various inputs to, and influence on, the buying process.

Once the network of contacts is identified then the key account manager can build his or her knowledge, getting to know the buyer and the buying organization in depth. We can build on Figure as illustrated in Figure , focus now on collecting, collating and building on information about the buying organization, covering:

  • the buyer and the buying company’s motivations
  • the buying organization’s business
  • the market environment the buying organization operates in (getting to understand the buyer’s industry, markets,competition, etc.)
  • your role, function and importance as supplier to the buying organization.

Contacts to develop and follow up with

Key account management is all about teamwork, both linking to the buying team and within your own organization. Align your organization with the account.

  • For retail customers ensure merchandising experts such as those with space planning skills are in contact with key account merchandising departments, and that your field sales management is working with key account field management (store controllers or branch managers, etc.) as locally appropriate.
  • For industrial customers put your technical experts (engineers and researchers) in touch with those in the client company concerned with technical issues(specifications, performance,maintenance).


Contacts must be maintained and developed,and Table indicates some typical job functions where liaison may be advantageous. An account manager is responsible for driving this process, but must also delegate appropriately to allow time to work on priorities and key result areas. The degree or level of interaction will depend on the sophistication of the account and the depth of your backup services available.

Supporting relationships with value-adding approach to account management

The starting point in looking for ways to add value is to recognize the different objectives of the supplier and the customer account within the market place, and look for ways to add value to the account’s business through help in achieving its objectives for its business rather than relying solely on relationships. Table highlights typical focuses of objectives for a supplier and industrial or retail key accounts.



This table helps us develop a model that recognizes the importance of relationships in a very competitive trading environment and also the need to find ways that add value to an account’s business, and Figure illustrates the two-pronged approach to motivating and managing key accounts.

The professional account manager will work to excel in his or her development of relationships, but will also ensure that every call has a value-adding theme, aiming to sell more of his or her product while enhancing the customer’s progress towards achieving its own goals and objectives.



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