What can big and small business learn from each other about effective KAM?

6th June 2017, Università della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano, Switzerland


By far the most common economic pattern across the world is of quite small countries whose economy depends on a large number of SMEs (small and medium enterprises). KAM is often talked about in terms of big suppliers to big customers, but is it equally important for SMEs? Does it work in the same way?

In Lugano presenters and breakout discussion groups agreed that size wasn't necessarily a crucial factor - SMEs often have an appropriate instinctive approach to key customers, but they may miss formalising some elements that would help KAM work better if they were clearer. Big companies are under more pressure to standardise initiatives because there are so many people and systems that have to be informed, but they may then fail to deliver the individual, tailored approaches that key customers expect. Or they can easily become entangled in their own complexity. Company culture plays an important part, for better or for worse: indeed, Prof Ivan Snehota suggested that companies are – and should be – shaped by their key customers.

Armelle Dupont demonstrated the importance of objective, criteria-based account selection over the intuitive and often backward-looking selection applied by SMEs (and bigger companies too). The Loccioni story was told from the point of view of a key account manager, Mattias Bernhard, which highlighted a different selection and operating approach for only partly dedicated key account managers in a common SME situation, where they may be focused on a narrower range of products/services with a potentially more technical sell, in addition to other roles in the company.

Dr Nima Hierati of Queen Mary University, London distinguished between product-focused services (like maintenance, guarantees etc) and customer-focused services (e.g. financing, cooperative marketing). Manufacturers seem generally focused on the former and often neglect the opportunities offered by the latter. Research into customer responses to servitisation is on-going: manufacturing companies who can contribute via a short interview. please contact n.heirati@qmul.ac.uk.