Over the last three articles we’ve looked at what KAM actually is, selecting key clients and developing them. But the biggest barrier to success lies not in the theories but in the practices. Whilst most firms agree that KAM is a fundamentally important part of their business development armoury, internal politics and resistance stop even the most prepared from getting a positive return from it. Indeed, in many cases it never even gets off the ground. So, in our final article we talk a little about how to make it work in your firm.
You can set out the most logical, prepared and sophisticated KAM programme but if you don’t take into account personalities then it will fail. You heard it here. Going back to our statement in our first article, it’s important to remember that we’re selling relationships and that goes just as much for internal relationships in putting together the programme. Understandably, when someone has worked hard to bring in a new client and to deliver on the legal services required, a bond is formed. A relationship has been sold and bought… developed and nurtured. It stands to reason that imposing a KAM programme on the top of this is rather like forcing someone to go to marriage guidance counselling… when they didn’t know they had a problem in the relationship. It can feel like you’re taking a perfectly good relationship and, seemingly, telling them they have to change it. When you view it in those terms you can understand why people are protective of their own clients and resistant to a ‘top down’ KAM programme.
Here are some of our suggestions for getting started on KAM, in your firm, in a positive way:
- Shared vision – Success lies, first, in agreeing a shared vision. What does success look like across the firm? What’s the point in doing this? Why are we bothering? How you describe this is important. It’s not about policing but about helping all fee-earners to do a better job. They’re in the driving seat. Communicating it as a collaborative approach, where the programme has been set down by a unified team, with a shared vision, helps the wider firm to consider it something worth doing.
- Create an advisory board – Hearts and minds can be won by drawing from the experience of those with strong client relationships. That’s why we always advocate, at the start of a programme, creating an advisory board that can help you to identify quick wins and massive hurdles. This board should work with marketing/BD/client care professionals to structure the KAM programme and get things right. Ask them what their clients value and what makes the relationship so strong. Use this as a blueprint to influence the basic standards of client care and service. If your team is just passionate KAM evangelists it’ll soon look like a fad, but if you include individuals known for resistance people will stop and think. Help everyone to feel involved in the process. By involving a wide group in the discussion process (and setting out the vision) it demonstrates collaboration, rather than a dictatorial programme. It also gives you a chance to work out the barriers to success before you start, so you can take them into account in the planning.
- But… structure your teams properly – Ok, so we have an advisory board but who will actually deliver? Of course, you need a tactical team responsible for doing all of this. Our suggestion is to set up a dedicated KAM team that is separate from the fee-earners working for key clients. These people must have clearly defined roles (perhaps one looking at training, one at research, one at product/service development, one at cross selling, one at reporting… it will be up to you to select roles that are relevant to your firm and approach…) as well as the shared vision and clear objectives/goals. This team is responsible for ‘making it happen’ and it’s important that they have the right mindsets (and time availability) to drive this forward.
- Don’t do it all – You don’t have to get everything right, from the start. How do you eat an elephant? Piece by piece. Yes, you may have a full programme in mind but actually identifying three key clients is a success. A step forward. Perhaps to start with the KAM team will partner with the fee-earners to build relationships with clients together. They don’t have to swing in and take over. Break the programme down into small pieces and build confidence in the theory behind the programme, as well as the members of the KAM team. Demonstrate success and, from there, expand it.
- Get your communication right – You need to tell people what you’re doing and share success. If you just farm out a load of spreadsheets and forms and tell people they suddenly have to have a load more surveys and meetings with clients they’ll dig in their heels. Even more so if you tell them that ‘strangers’ are going to start having client meetings for them. But if you explain what you’re doing and why… in those small, bite sized pieces, their trust will grow with the programme. Share success stories and case studies internally, do a road show and get people talking about their experiences and work. And above all, involve them.
- Pick your spokesperson - Make sure that the programme has the support of firm leaders (and by that we don’t mean managers). Every firm has a handful of senior people that are looked up to… get them on side from the start and use them to spread the word… not of what they’ve done, necessarily, but of the value it has brought to their client relationships.
- Train people up – A really positive benefit of a KAM programme is the added insight you gain into clients and sectors. You can use this to demonstrate the value of the programme. Train up sector and service experts, using this information. Encourage them to share knowhow internally and explain that this insight came from the KAM programme.
- Review, review, review – Our final piece of advice (because, let’s be honest… it’s time to stop analysing and get going…) is don’t forget to objectively review your own progress. How have you performed against the objectives and goals you set? What needs to change? What should you do more and less of? This may be better done by someone outside of the KAM team, to get a full objective viewpoint.