In a nutshell: Within-seller and buyer–seller network structures and key account profitability

Scientific articles contain valuable management implications, but are usually not very easy to digest. We summarize the core results so that you can use the latest research findings for your company.

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In business-to-business (B2B) markets, the success of key account management (KAM) teams depends on how they are structured and how they handle customer relationships. The authors conceptualize relationships among selling team members as a within-seller (intrafirm) network and the relationships between selling team members and buyer representatives as a buyer–seller (interfirm) network.
Drawing on both structural (buyer–seller density, within-seller density, and within-seller centralization) and functional (buyer–seller similar function ties and within-seller cross-functional ties) composition attributes of these networks, the authors examine how the interplay between these networks drives seller account profitability.
Using data from 207 key account managers across B2B industries, the authors uncover a nuanced pattern of interplay across the two networks. Densities in the two networks are mutually substitutive, but density in the buyer–seller networks and centralization in the within-seller networks serve complementary roles. Cross-function ties in the within-seller network serve a complementary role too, but only in relation to similar function ties in the buyer–seller network.
In contrast, within-seller centralization supports both network density and similar function ties in the buyer–seller network and, thus, emerges as a valuable KAM team characteristic. These findings suggest multiple ways for firms to align interfirm and intrafirm KAM networks to improve account profitability.

Key statements

Key account management (KAM) has the potential to increase the turnover of B2B companies by 5% to 10%. Most KAM initiatives fall short of this goal, however, for example because they are insufficiently anchored within the company.
In their study, the authors explore the question of how the composition of KAM teams can influence KAM success, drawing on data from 207 KA managers from a range of different industries.
The researchers conclude that KAM success depends to a large extent on how well the KAM team is networked internally, and to what extent the team constellation reflects the customer side.
The following approaches help you to anchor your KAM more securely within your company, and set it on the road to success:

  • Cross-functional teams are not enough: KAM teams are often made up of people from different areas of the company. For KAM to be a success, however, it is important not to focus on internal networks only. Make sure that contacts from the customer side are also included in the KAM team. This will put you in a better position to respond to the needs of your customers.
  • Centralization is useful: The exchange of information and central provision of data are highly important when it comes to successful KAM. This centralization makes it possible to efficiently coordinate and manage the exchange between people in your KAM team and across the company.
  • Include top management: KAM should also be a matter for top management. Assign a mentor from management to each key account. The direct line to the top strengthens KA managers in their own organization, and simplifies access to other departments in the company.

Belz, C., Müllner, M., & Zupancic, D. (2021). Spitzenleistungen im Key Account Management: Das St. Galler KAM-Konzept. Franz Vahlen.
Gupta, A., Kumar, A., Grewal, R., & Lilien, G. L. (2019). Within-Seller and Buyer–Seller Network Structures and Key Account Profitability. Journal of Marketing, 83(1), 108–132.