<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://pool.admedo.com/pixel?id=152384&amp;t=img">

Building customer engagement and collaboration with world-class key account management

By Cranfield Executive Development
KAM blog image
James Bugden, Sales Manager for Velux, explains how his team of key account managers developed from generalists to specialists with new skills.


I started my role in at Velux in 2019, and one part of my remit was to change the way we do key account management. I had researched a lot because what I needed was a process, a template, a way to go about doing world-class key account management – and that’s what Cranfield advertised. It was about doing value propositions and walking in the customer’s shoes, all of those things that were kind of in my head, but not in an organised way.

I looked at a few different options from different places and the Cranfield one just stood out for the content, the way it would run, and its reputation as a well-renowned management school.  I remember reading on the Velux global website that our CFO Peter Bang did a degree at Cranfield, so there were a few things that pointed me in that direction.

Ultimately my task within Velux was to deliver a world-class key account management programme to our business, and Cranfield provided the first step in that.  


The Key Account Management programme experience

The Cranfield Key Account Management Best Practice course (KAM) definitely met expectations. The cohort was very mixed, with people from different backgrounds.

The challenge from a Velux point of view is that we’re a market dominant brand, so we have competition law which means in terms of value propositions that we can’t change price and we can’t do some of the things that would alter a value proposition to some other businesses.

So, I was concerned at the start that there was going to be a lot that would be irrelevant to me because of those restrictions.  But what was brilliant about the way KAM worked was that it took you through the steps; you went on a journey, so you weren’t just jumping to the end.  

One of the things Velux were guilty of in the way we did key accounts was that we knew the answer, like in an exam where you don’t show your working out. When we walked through the process in really baby steps on that first day you realise that if you follow the steps you discover towards the end what you want to do and, crucially, why. I think that was the beauty of the way they taught it. By breaking it down into sections, it allowed you to focus on each part.

What was also great was that they advised us to bring a case to the course, because you can almost do it live while you’re there. In the break-out sessions you can transfer what you’ve just learned into something that’s real to you. There were no hypothetical cases or case studies as such, it was yours and you could take the learning and make it into something that was relatable to you.


Embedding the learning back in the business

What I learned on the KAM course I’ve now rolled out now to my team of key account managers. So, a key account manager at Velux now goes through the customer journey, they go through our journey, they go through the account plan and the objectives, and they think about the value proposition.


I was able to go to our managing director, present this to him and say ‘We have a world-class key account management programme now. This is what it is, this is how it works, and this is what I think it will do.’


We’re on that journey now. We have the tools and we have the platform to do world-class key account management – and that’s come from the Cranfield course. I had done some reading, but KAM was the final step for me in piecing it all together into something that we could use.


Developing the key account management team

I’ve got a key account manager in my team who’s a high performer, they know what they need to do, but don’t know why. If they were asked why we're doing what we're doing, they wouldn't be able to show that.  Someone from outside the team might look at the process and think ‘I’m going to go through all this and get the same answer’ – and that might be the case, and I think in a couple of cases it has been. But my team member's feedback has actually made me think about the ‘why?’ rather than the ‘what?’, and that has been fantastic.

Another key account manager in the team is very experienced and, in terms of the theory side, probably doesn’t necessarily want to go through those steps because they know what they need to do and why they need to do it. But, again, their feedback was that it took them out of that bubble they had been in and got them thinking about some of the macro environmental things that they hadn’t considered before.


The business impact

We’re seeing that, even in the six months we’ve used it, this initial process has brought many different skills out of our key account managers in the way in which they approach customers. They’ve been able to go to our customers with not just an objective, but a strategic objective, because there’s a reason for that objective now.

That’s because they’ve gone through a process – with their customer in some cases – of ‘this is what we need to do together’ and ‘this is why we need to do it’ and suddenly there’s that engagement and collaboration. Previously, we’ve been very much ‘We want to do this, are you in?’ and they say ‘Yeah, ok’ whereas now there’s a bit more excitement.

We’re in a very strange year for our industry in that we’ve got supply shortages and a lot of reactive stuff is still coming at us.  But by having this process and this template, the element of being proactive is easier because we can keep going to the plan and we can say ‘Well, we did plan for this and we did think this might factor, so what’s our contingency?’.


Building credibility in the team

My background was in key account management, so I wasn’t new to it. I was really open with the team about what I was doing and why, and as soon as I finished KAM I said to them ‘This is coming. This is what I’m going to work on for the next month or two. I’m going to put this plan together and we’re going to have this world-class key account management process'.

We’ve got that credibility in key account management now, and I think that’s a big thing. In our industry the way we used to do it was OK, but it’s about raising the bar and saying ‘That’s good, but it’s not world-class’.

I think the team appreciates the efforts we’ve gone to to raise their credibility within the business as well.


We’ve done this with quite a bit of fanfare, because we wanted to deliver a key account management process that was world-class and we’ve done that, and the team are part of that. I think they’ve enjoyed being on that ride.


We’ve raised the profile of key account management within the business. I am seeing the difference. It’s very subjective, but no one’s necessarily doubting what we’re doing any more, and no one’s necessarily questioning the role they’re playing in driving sales growth because they know that there’s logic to it and there’s context there to why they want to do something.


The journey from generalists to specialists

I’ve always said that key account management relies on what I call non-traditional sales skills, so it’s the element of relationship-building, having that element of farming, of maintaining, but keeping that element of hunting as well.

I think sometimes in key account management you think you’ve just got to tick it over.  What this process has shown is that we can do that because we’ve always done it, and it’s ok and it doesn’t necessarily not work, but it isn’t necessarily generating anything or challenging anything either. Whereas if you did implement this process at the same time, something better might actually grow from that. It’s persistence. It’s an element of grit.

Velux are there to be shot at, because we are a market leader. The key accounts within this industry are going to be big players, so there’s commercial acumen you need to have. It’s a specialism, and when we’ve gone on this journey we can’t be generalists if we’re doing world-class key account management – we’re specialists.


The skills to manage relationships and communicate are key; it isn’t about how many calls you can make and getting a deal done. There are elements of that, but those skills wouldn’t be top of my list.


Taking it global

Velux is a global business. I want to be in a position where, if we can do this well here in the UK, it’s something that we can share with Holland, Belgium, the Nordics, which are all part of our European family. I want to be able to share an example of best practice and say ‘How do you do key account management? This is what we do.’

Ultimately, we’ve taken what we learned at Cranfield and we’re using it now in a big global branded business in the GB market. It’s early days, but in the six months we’ve been trialling it we can see the effects that it’s had and it’s working well.


Download the Key Account Management Best Practice brochure to discover more: 

This interview was conducted as part of Cranfield's Design for Impact 2021 report 


Tags: entrepreneurship, article, small business

New call-to-action